Finally, Five...

Prediction #11 for 2011 is the third such proclamation over the writer's three pre-seasons at IrishEyes...and he hasn't been right, yet.

Former Irish tight end and 2011 second-round draft pick Kyle Rudolph proved this prediction wrong, twice.

And had I a college football internet audience for IrishEyes in 2006, John Carlson would have done the same…as would have Mark Bavaro in my grade school days, Derek Brown in my high school days, Irv Smith and Pete Chryplewicz in my college days, and likely Jabari Holloway in my "Davie must go!" days…

All-American level tight ends, first and second-round NFL Draft picks, and college stalwarts each: but none of them finished a season with more than four touchdowns for the Irish offense.

Not since program legend and three-time All-America Ken McAfee scored six touchdowns in the national championship season of 1977 has an Irish tight end finished a season with more than a quartet scores.

Not until 2011, that, is, when future All-America Tyler Eifert finally gets the monkey off my – I mean, the position's – back.

Molnar's, not mine…

The preceding All-America claim isn't merely a mid-summer rambling from an Irish alum. Those are Charley Molnar's words, Notre Dame's offensive coordinator who knows a few things about the Irish offense and the passing game in general.

"It's really exciting watching Eifert right now," Molnar said following the team's opening practice of the spring. "He looks like an All-American-in-the-making, he really does. He plays with great confidence, he plays with great speed, and he has great ball skills. He's just such a confident player out there. He loves to play and always has a smile on his face. We love the guy."

Similar praise was offered by head coach Brian Kelly – before Eifert had participated in a college snap.

"Oh yeah. He's a very good player," Kelly said of Eifert last August, then a redshirt-freshman. "Again, I've had some good players at other schools at that position, but he's has good as I've coached."

I'm sold. And thus getting back on the horse for this 2011 prediction…

Prediction #11 – Tyler Eifert will score 5 (or more) touchdowns

Notre Dame's starting tight end position, at least in tandem, showcased All-America level football in 2010.

  • Starer (Games 1-6): Kyle Rudolph – 28 receptions, 327 yards, 3 TD
  • Starter (Games 7-13): Tyler Eifert – 26 receptions, 335 yards, 2 TD
  • Combined starting effort: 54 receptions, 662 yards, 5 TD

Logic would dictate Eifert could approach those numbers over a 13-games slate. Then again, only the aforementioned college football Hall of Famer MacAfee has done so in Irish lore.

Super…just not statistically spectacular

At look at the best statistical seasons for Notre Dame's top tight ends since Ken MacAfee produced six touchdowns – a position record – in 1977. No tight end has scored more than four in a season since.

  • Tony Hunter – 42 receptions, 507 yards, 0 TD (1982); Hunter, who bounced between split end and tight end while also spending time in the backfield, caught five touchdown passes in his career at Notre Dame and was selected in the first round by the Bills in 1983.

  • Mark Bavaro – 23-376-3 TD (1983); 32-395-1 (1984). Bavaro was selected in the fourth round by the Giants in 1985 and was a starter on the Giants Super Bowl championship team in '86.

  • Joel Williams – 13-138-3 TD (1986). Williams played (by far) his best ball as a senior for Lou Holtz's first squad, then was selected by the Dolphins in the 8th-round, 1987.

  • Derek Brown – 22-325-4 TD (1991); 12-150-3 TD (1988). Brown was selected by the Giants in the first round in 1992.

  • Irv Smith – 20-262-2 TD (1992). Smith caught four touchdown passes on just seven receptions (including the Sugar Bowl) as a backup tight end in 1991, the season in which he presented one of the greatest individual plays in program history. He was selected by the Saints in the first-round in 1993.

  • Pete Chryplewicz – 27-331-4 TD (1996); 17-204-1 (1995). He was a 5th-round draft pick of the Lions following the '96 season.

  • Jabari Holloway and Dan O'Leary – Combined for 25-372-5 TD splitting the role in 1999 (Holloway scored 3 TD). The tight end role was inexplicably reduced despite the presence of both players in 2000. O'Leary was a sixth-round draft pick and future NFL starter (while Holloway was a three-year starter at ND from 1997-2000 before being selected in the fourth round by the New England Patriots.

  • Anthony Fasano 2005: 47-576-2 TD (12 games); 2004: 27-367-4 TD (11 games); 2003: 18-269-2 TD. Fasano was selected in the second-round in 2006.

  • John Carlson – 2007: 40-372-3 TD (12 games); 2006: 47-634-4 TD (11 games). Carlson was selected in the second round in 2008.

  • Kyle Rudolph – 2010: 28-328-3 TD (seven games); 2009: 33-364-3 TD (8 full games/10 total); 29-340-2 TD (13 games). Rudolph was selected in the second round last spring.

Can Eifert become the first Irish tight end to score five touchdowns since MacAfee in '77? He has a decent chance with three seasons of eligibility remaining, but the prediction is for the 2011 season only, one in which the junior will be a focal point of the red zone passing game.

"We're doing some one-on-one stuff in the red zone with him where he can get matched up," said Kelly of the team's spring preparations with Eifert that included work with the wide receiver unit. "We're doing some drills where he has to go high-point to get the ball that he wouldn't do with (tight ends coach) Mike Denbrock. Just giving him versatility of that position."

That versatility is key to the success of Prediction #11...and Eifert touchdown #5 this fall.


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