Tight End U. It’s a completely meaningless distinction for a college football program — but let’s face it, all sports are meaningless at their core. We’re all just looking for something exciting to watch on weekends and bond with our loud, drunk friends over. There’s so much joy to be extracted out of the things we arbitrarily decide to get excited about. Come on big guy, hit the other big guy!!!
So really, we should be proud to be the school with the Tightest Ends. We’re the team that takes the biggest, fastest young men who can block and catch passes from around the country and turns them into bigger, faster young men who block and catch passes for lots of dollars in the National Football League. We’re the best at it — it’s tight, and that’s where the discussion should end.
But this week we play Stanford, and all I’m hearing is how big and fast and tall and strong all their dudes are. I’m not buying it — so I turned to Science (capital S) to analyze every tight end Notre Dame and Stanford have produced in the Kelly / Shaw era.
And when I say every tight end, I mean every tight end — I’m counting every player listed on an ND or Stanford roster as a tight end during this period, no matter how long they lasted or how many snaps they played. And we’re only counting tight ends — Devon Cajuste isn’t here, because Stanford listed him as a wide receiver. Take it up with them. For our purposes, we’ll start tracking when Kelly took over in 2010, the year before Shaw went from OC to HC — you’ve got to have a controlled test group for it to be real Science.
From there, I used more Science to rank them all and create the definitive ND and Stanford Tight Ends From the Past Eight Years Power Ranking. It’s not the catchiest name, but it’s Science — here at NDOB, we’re about substance over style. Facts and figures, baby.
TIER 8 — Who the hell is that guy??
Arturo Martinez (ND)
Mike Heuerman (ND)
Tyler Luatua (ND)
Ben Suttman (ND)
Jacob Matuska (ND)
Chris Bury (ND)
Jack Henige (ND)
Tommy Tremble (ND)
Xavier Lezynski (ND)
George Takacs (ND)
Davis Dudchock (Stanford)
Brandon Gottfried (Stanford)
Matt Kasner (Stanford)
Eric Cotton (Stanford)
Alex Frkovic (Stanford)
Chris Harrell (Stanford)
Ben Snyder (Stanford)
Luke Kaumatule (Stanford)
Taeveon Le (Stanford)
Kyle McCombs (Stanford)
Tucker Fisk (Stanford)
That’s a lot of names. Honestly, I know nothing about these dudes, so I put them in the bottom tier. What more do you want from me? I’ve got nothing.
Some of them were walk-ons. Some of these guys are currently rostered and are just too green to have seen the field yet. Poor Mike Heuerman and Tyler Luatua couldn’t stay healthy and had to retire. A lot of the Stanford guys moved to defense or became H-backs. Regardless, the Science presses onward to bigger men.
TIER 7 — That guy has a funny name!
Bobby Burger (ND)
Scooter Harrington (Stanford)
Obviously, having a funny name is enough to rescue a player from obscurity. Sir Scooter and Mr. Burger are lucky in this regard — particularly Mr. Burger. Even when it comes to funny names, we come out on top, because Burger is a really funny last name. And this was all before Bob’s Burgers was even a twinkle in the eye of whoever created that show (I could Google it but it would be disingenuous to act like I know). Really, our friend Scooter isn’t in the same stratosphere of funny names — it earns a chuckle where Bobby Burger (BOBBY BURGER!) earns a full-on belly laugh — but we have to cut them some slack.
TIER 6 — Oh, I sort of remember that guy! But only because he played for Notre Dame
Jake Golic (ND)
Alex Welch (ND)
Mike Ragone (ND)
Chase Hounshell (ND)
Yeah, it’s exactly what the title suggests. I remember these guys like I remember freshman year dorm parties — they’re fleeting memories that were exciting in the heat of the moment, but dedicating my finite mental energy to thinking about them now is probably a total waste.
There’s a Golic! I remember when Alex Welch committed from the same high school Kyle Rudolph went to! And didn’t make an impact, and transferred. Mike Ragone… was a player on our roster! And didn’t make an impact, and transferred. I forgot Chase Hounshell even spent time at Tight End! He eventually transferred too.
I think if you asked Stanford fans about this group, they’d have the same reaction I had up in Tier 8. Who?! Maybe they didn’t make the biggest splash on the national stage, but there are some relatively memorable names in here. So they move up a tier from the total unknowns.
TIER 5 — This guy contributed something
Nic Weishar (ND)
Brock Wright (ND)
Konrad Reuland (Stanford)
Ryan Hewitt (Stanford)
Greg Taboada (Stanford)
When you take a look at the big picture for all of these Tight Ends, Nic Weishar comes out looking pretty decent. The numbers won’t blow you away, but this will be his fourth season making a contribution on the field, and steady production is definitely worth something. Taboada is similar — honestly, I’ve never heard of him, but he saw the field for three seasons with the Cardinal and caught four touchdowns. Not bad! Those guys matter.
Brock Wright’s story has yet to really be written, but I like what I see so far. He was the top Tight End prospect in the nation coming out of high school, and he’s got some versatility as an H-back (happy, NDNation? That counts as a fullback). Plus he caught a touchdown last weekend! That’s still cool and fresh in my mind so it’s taken into account here.
Hewitt was another in Stanford’s endless line of impact H-backs (cool that we might have one now). He had the kind of career we’d be thrilled to get from Wright — four years of steady play, six touchdowns and plenty of good blocking and positional versatility. He did his job, and he’s still hanging around doing it on Sundays with the Colts.
Also… we’ve got a TRAITOR ALERT! Konrad Reuland started at Notre Dame in the Weis years before transferring to Stanford, finishing his career, and earning a cup of coffee on NFL practice squads. I’m tempted to split his spot in the rankings 50/50, but he never played for Kelly and made his money playing under Shaw, so begrudgingly I give him to the Cardinal.
TIER 4 — Big, fast and good at catching passes, but doesn’t give you nightmares
Ben Koyack (ND)
Alize Mack (ND)
Cole Kmet (ND)
Colby Parkinson (Stanford)
Ben Koyack was never the first guy opposing defensive coordinators circled when planning to face the Irish, but he was certainly an impact player. In his senior season he pulled in 30 catches as a reliable safety valve, and I will certainly never forget this game-winning touchdown the year before.
That shit ruled, I was there!!! After landing with the Jaguars as a seventh round pick, he made a minor contribution for two seasons before an undisclosed injury put him on IR for the year. Feel better, Ben!
Alize Mack has struggled with consistency — he’s yet to total more than 200 yards in a season and has only caught one touchdown in an Irish uniform. Woof. It kind of hurt to look up those stats considering his undeniable talent. The upswing is that there’s lots of room for improvement, and with Ian Book looking his way often it’s time for Mack to step up and finish his career the right way. If he does, the NFL beckons based off his physical traits alone (traits! I sound like BK) — there’s upside here.
Maybe I’m also overrating Cole Kmet here if we’re going off production alone, but don’t forget the Scientific phenomenon known as the Irish Hype Constant. Whenever a Notre Dame player receives rave reviews at camp, is an absolute physical monster, and is too young for anyone to really know how their career will pan out, we give them a Scientific bump called the Benefit of the Doubt. Kmet gets it this season.
Parkinson is only a Sophomore, but he was the top tight end in his recruiting class and he made plays in his first season. His 2018 season is off to a hot start, with three touchdowns in four games. He’s 6’7, making him a red zone go-to for Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello that has to be accounted for. Check out this play he made to seal last weekend’s comeback victory against Oregon.
TIER 3 — Legitimately big, fast and good at catching passes to the point of inducing nightmares
Troy Niklas (ND)
Durham Smythe (ND)
Dalton Schultz (Stanford)
Levine Toilolo (Stanford)
Austin Hooper (Stanford)
Kaden Smith (Stanford)
Troy Niklas will always be an enigma. First, there’s the hair. It was glorious. Second, there’s the physical tools — you’re not going to find a lot of 6’6, 270 dudes who can move like our boy Troy. He was majestic out there, and when he finally put things together his junior year the results were impressive — 32 catches for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns. Enough to make you not want to come back to school, apparently! So he left, the Cardinals grabbed him in the second round, and he struggled to break through — Arizona jettisoned him after four disappointing years, and he hasn’t found a home on a roster yet this season.
Durham Smythe was the definition of a pleasant surprise, and the kind of player that reminds you that we are, and always will be, Tight End U (even if we didn’t have Science to back it up). He never played more than ten games in a season, and all his production came in his senior campaigns (regular and graduate), but that production was meaningful. Four touchdowns in 2016 and some prodigious blocking ability made him a fourth round pick for the Dolphins. Honestly, I was surprised to see him go so high, but maybe I was just sleeping on him all along.
Schultz is a similar story — he put up three seasons of play, flashed strong blocking ability despite middle of the road production catching the ball, and was a fourth round pick in 2018 by the Cowboys.
Levine Toilolo was fucking tall! And he still is, signing with the Panthers this year after a few seasons with the Falcons, who snagged him with a 4th round pick. The dude is listed at 6’8 and was a massive pain in our Irish asses.
Hooper was smaller at 6’4 (we get it, they’re all tall), but equally equipped to piss me off. He only contributed in two seasons with the Cardinal, but still managed to rack up 74 catches for 937 yards and 8 touchdowns — not bad. He gave up his final two years of eligibility and helped the Falcons upgrade from Toilolo when they took him with their 3rd round pick in 2016. There’s a circle of life / The Tree of Life / The Giving Tree joke in here somewhere.
And we’ve already said enough about Kaden Smith — he’s big, he’s scary, and he’s going to be a problem this weekend.
TIER 2 — Elite, and I’ll admit it even if they didn’t go to ND
Zach Ertz (Stanford)
Coby Fleener (Stanford)
These dudes hardly need an introduction. Big bodied, fleet of foot, locked in with their quarterbacks as go-to targets — Ertz and Fleener were certified studs at Stanford who made the NFL transition flawlessly.
They’re two of the most statistically impressive receiving tight ends in this gigantic group of gigantic men. 1434 receiving yards for Ertz, 1543 for Fleener. 15 touchdowns for Zach, 18 for Coby. Whoa! Those are big numbers. And Ertz caught a very nice 69 passes in his senior season!!!
These guys were money makers for Andrew Luck, and he knew how to get the best out of them. Kevin Hogan and cohort aren’t the reason Stanford went 12-2 in 2012, Zach Ertz was (and Stepfan Taylor I guess).
It’s easy to take Fleener lightly now, as he all but washed out of the NFL with the decline of his BFF Luck, but he was an absolute monster in college. Ertz, on the other hand, is an impact player on one of the league’s best teams with the Eagles and is a recent Super Bowl champion. I think things are going alright for him.
TIER 1 — Truly Elite AND went to ND
Kyle Rudolph (ND)
Tyler Eifert (ND)
Kyle Rudolph is like the platonic ideal for tight ends. He’s the oversized, physical-yet-mobile kind of pass catcher that the ancient Greeks would have chiseled out stone (if they were football fans), or that a mad scientist would have created with cyborg limbs and a recycled torso…or something. Rudolph only had one year with BK (Kelly’s first), and his stats won’t jump off the page at you compared to a guy like Eifert, but it’s hard to rack up absurd numbers when you’re competing with guys like Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. He totaled over 1,000 yards in three seasons, and his talent was undeniable. The Vikings spent a second round pick on him in 2011 and he’s excelled in the NFL since. He was really good at ND, and he still is. Oh, and he’s got the longest reception in ND history, which is cool.
And Tyler Eifert…Tyler Eifert! The size, the explosiveness, the catch radius, and ability to win jump balls. What more do you want from your tight end? The 2012 season was (mostly) a blissful time, but remembering Eifert’s dominance brings a bigger smile to my face than almost anything. Just throw it up to him, and he’d come down with it. Always. 140 total catches for 1840 yards and 11 touchdowns — it’s no surprise the Bengals took him with a first round pick. He’s our all time leading receiver among tight ends, and we might never see a guy make plays like this again in an Irish uniform. He was that good.
Those guys ruled. So! Now for our final calculation…
I’ve developed a very scientific method to determine which school has developed the Tightest Ends — every tier is given a point total, ranging from 1 point for a Tier 8 player to 8 points for Tier 1. Then I combine the players from each school and add up their points to determine a total Tightest Ends Score. Here are the results.
Stanford — 69 TES Points (nice)
Notre Dame — 75 TES POINTS!
So there you have it! We win! This is your definitive Tight End U ranking, clearly free of recency bias, or pro-ND bias, or any other specific biases that negative experiences in Stanford games could have tucked deep into the recesses of my brain. Nothing is rigged. This is Science, I am a Scientist, and you shouldn’t bother fighting it. Let’s go win on Saturday so we can knock all these Cardinal dudes down an extra tier.