The Curious Case of the Notre Dame Tight End

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Tight end Durham Smythe
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Tight end Durham Smythe /

We hear a lot of Irish fans call Notre Dame “Tight End U.” The numbers, however, lead us to question whether or not that nickname fits.

Over the years, Notre Dame has often been deemed “Tight End U.” And although I have heard Notre Dame discussed as the place for all things tight end many a time, I recently got to thinking about what is really means to be “Tight End U.” Does this distinction center more on recruiting or more on production? Or is it about about performance in the NFL?

With the help of the 247Sports historical composite rankings, I took a look at the recent historical trends in Notre Dame tight end recruiting. I put together a list of the tight ends who played at Notre Dame since 2008 and their national rank for the tight end position at the time of their recruitment:

2008: No. 2 Kyle Rudolph, No. 9 Joseph Fauria

2009: No. 21 Tyler Eifert

2010: No. 10 Alex Welch

2011: No. 3 Ben Koyack, No. 14 Troy Niklas

2012: N/A

2013: No. 8 Mike Heurman, No. 9 Durham Smythe

2014: No. 7 Nic Weishar, No. 10 Tyler Luatua

2015: No. 1 Alize Mack

2016: N/A

2017: No. 2 Brock Wright, No. 3 Cole Kmet

2018: No. 14 George Takacs, No. 21 Tommy Tremble

The average recruiting ranking of Notre Dame tight ends in this span of ten years is 8.9, and that is not even accounting for the most recent hard commitments from No. 2 Kevin Bauman and No. 3 Michael Mayer from the class of 2020. Averaging a top nine tight end for the duration of ten years is certainly a worthwhile discussion point when considering whether or not Notre Dame is indeed “Tight End U.”

But after the recruiting is all said and done, how did the tight end position perform in this same span of time, and is there a trend in the way that the tight end has been utilized in the Notre Dame offense in recent years?

After digging through statistics provided by, I created a list that reflects the overall offensive performance of Notre Dame tight ends in this same ten-year span.


In the first five years represented on this chart, Notre Dame tight ends accounted for an average of 50.8 receptions, 623.4 yards, and 4 touchdowns per year. In the last five years, Notre Dame tight ends have accounted for 30 receptions, 372.2 yards, and 3.8 touchdowns per year.

The first half of the last ten years undoubtedly screams “Tight End U” as it relates to offensive production. But the last five years does not, at least in relation to the first half of this span of time, as the average yardage gained by tight ends dropped by almost half and the receptions dropped by nearly 20.

One could argue that offensive production ultimately means touchdowns scored. In this case, Notre Dame tight ends averaged almost the same amount of touchdowns in each of the five year periods. But one could also argue that producing the kind of offense in yardage reflected by the 2008-2012 numbers should put a team in better position to score more touchdowns (regardless of who scored them) rather than the kind of yardage reflected in the 2013-2017 numbers.

This was not the case, however. From 2008-2012, when Notre Dame obviously integrated the tight end more frequently into the offense, the team averaged 45.4 touchdowns per year. From 2013-2017, when there seemed to be a drastic drop in the use of the tight end at Notre Dame, the team averaged 51.6 touchdowns.

But at the end of the day, it is all about wins, right?

From 2008-2012, five seasons where Notre Dame utilized the tight end quite often, Notre Dame was 41-23. From 2013-2017, five seasons where they did not use the tight end nearly as often, Notre Dame was exactly 41-23 again

Of course these numbers don’t account for different coaching philosophies. The numbers don’t account for injuries. The numbers don’t account for quarterback vision and decision-making. Any they don’t account for years with a stellar running game or a stud wide receiver that would take the ball away from the tight ends.

So much more goes into winning games than one particular position.

However, I constantly hear people proclaim Notre Dame as “Tight End U,” and I am still confused as to what that even means. If it means recruiting numbers, then Notre Dame has consistently been a home for quality tight ends over the years — at least at the time of their recruitment. If it means offensive production over the last ten years, then the first half of those ten years means “Tight End U,” and the second half of those ten years means “Tight End Mediocrity.”

And in more recent years, I hear a lot of people talk about reintegrating the tight end into the Notre Dame offense “like they used to.” When people say “like they used to,” they typically mean that the results in that past were more favorable than now. But if the ultimate desired result is wins, the numbers show their has been precisely no difference in wins and losses depending on the degree to which Notre Dame utilized the tight end over the last ten years. 

As for Notre Dame producing NFL-caliber tight ends as the main reason for the namesake of “Tight End U,” the last ten years is equally shoddy. Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert are really the only legitimate players who could help Notre Dame in this criteria. Although others have been drafted, they have not proven to make the splash in the league that those two have.

So after all of this statistical analysis, I am still left in a quandary. I still don’t know what it means to be “Tight End U,” and I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether or not Notre Dame’s use of the tight end wins them more games.

If anything, I can say that  tight end use had little-to-no impact on the final win-loss records.

Next. Boykin Has Emerged As The Top Receiving Target. dark

In short, the case of the tight end position at Notre Dame is a curious one. Perhaps in all this digging, I learned more about the public perception of Notre Dame being “Tight End U” and how the idea that tight end position helps the Irish win is simply incorrect.