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Eifert continues tradition of great tight ends

Chris Allen | Thursday, November 1, 2012

The tradition of elite tight ends at Notre Dame is one that stretches as far back as the 1970s. Along the way, the program has produced Super Bowl champions and NFL Hall of Famers at tight end. But NFL Draft expert Scott Wright said current Notre Dame senior tight end Tyler Eifert has the potential to be one of the best the school has ever produced.

“Notre Dame, you can basically call it ‘Tight End U’ with the way it has been producing tight ends in recent years, even going way back to the Mark Bavaro years,” said Wright, who runs NFL Draft Countdown. “Tyler Eifert has been doing more than his part to keep that tradition going. I don’t think it’s even a question that he’s the top draft-eligible tight end in the country this year.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, when football demanded a more physical, blue-collar role at tight end, the Irish developed NFL – and College Football – Hall of Fame inductee Dave Casper among many top players. But in the modern game, where the tight end position is more geared to the passing game, Wright said Eifert is a prototypical prospect.

“Eifert definitely fits the mold of a modern tight end, fits what NFL teams are looking for,” Wright said. “The elite guys in the pro game, [Rob] Gronkowski and [Jimmy] Graham are built almost like small forwards in basketball. Eifert compares very favorably with those guys in terms of his body type.

“He’s an extremely impressive athlete. He’s got that tall, rangy frame with the long arms and in a lot of ways has the skill set of a wide receiver in a tight end’s body – reminds me a lot of [Cincinnati Bengals tight end] Jermaine Gresham. That’s because not only are they threats in the passing game that can stretch the field vertically and split the seam, but they’re both better blockers than people give them credit for.”

Eifert comes as the latest in a line of four elite tight ends to wear an Irish uniform in the last decade, following current NFL tight ends Anthony Fasano, John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph. Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said the run of tight end talent began when current Irish assistant coach Mike Denbrock joined former Irish coach Tyrone Willingham’s staff in 2002.

“Denbrock did a good job identifying some lesser-knowns that ended up being really good players,” Frank said. “Denbrock did a good job of not only identifying the talent but developing [Carlson and Fasano]. You pass on that skill to guys like Rudolph and now you have Tyler Eifert. It kind of builds. It’s been a nice tradition of really effective players at Notre Dame at that position.”

Though Fasano, Carlson and Rudolph all contribute on a weekly basis in the NFL, Wright said Eifert will be in a class of his own when he leaves Notre Dame.

“Eifert is obviously a much different type of player than the last three guys to come out of Notre Dame to the NFL at that position, especially Rudolph and Fasano,” Wright said. “The best comparison is to Carlson, but Eifert is a better player. He’s faster, he’s bigger and he’s a better pass catcher. All three of those guys were second-round picks and that is a worst-case scenario for Eifert. He’s the best of the four coming out.”

After making the offseason decision to come back to school for his senior season, Wright said Eifert dedicated himself to improving his blocking and has been better in that area.

“He’s not an overwhelming blocker, and there’s always room to improve there,” Wright said. “I still think he is a better blocker than people give him credit for. But when teams write checks to tight ends, they’re usually looking for guys who can catch touchdowns and move the chains.”

Despite occasional concerns about Eifert’s blocking and injury concerns dating to a major 2009 back injury, Frank said there is no doubt the modern “Tight End U” has produced its finest player.

“Out of those four guys – Fasano, Carlson, Rudolph and Eifert … I would take Eifert over all of those guys,” he said. “I don’t think people realize just how good of a pro he is going to be.”


Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu