Introduction and those that just missed the cut…
#4 – Tight End Tyler EifertHe's easily one of the team's two best players and its top offensive weapon, so isn't this at least two spots too low? Not if you consider the talent behind him and, to be direct, the frightening importance of the three remaining players on our list.
Eifert amassed 803 receiving yards on 63 receptions last fall, breaking two of Ken MacAfee's three longstanding single-season records for tight ends at the program. With another 39 catches and 605 yards this fall, Eifert will pass MacAfee on the career lists in both categories as well. If in good health, he's a lock for both.
He's the team's best red zone weapon, its best third-down player (and might have been last season despite the presence of Mike Floyd) and its best bet to make the tough catch in traffic down field. Eifert will line up at wide receiver, in the slot, detached, motioning from the backfield, and on the line of scrimmage. He'll be the straw that stirs the drink for Brian Kelly's third Irish offense, regardless of the Quarterback du jour.
But the three players ranked higher than him on this list cannot miss extended time, period. Eifert has two potential future standouts in sophomore Ben Koyack and junior Alex Welch behind him. The pair isn't in his class, but in tandem, could mitigate the damage incurred by his loss. They're the "starting pair" for 2013 and at least one if not both (at times) will serve as the equivalent of a starter this fall with Eifert as the main man.
In addition to Welch and Koyack, converted linebacker Troy Niklas would still be available to act as the battering ram tight end in the Irish running game.
The drop-off from Eifert to the pack would be significant, I'm not arguing otherwise. But as with replacing a wide receiver (Michael Floyd) or running back (Cierre Wood as posed in our previous column), replacing a tight end in an offense can be about the sum of the team's parts. It's not as simple as A minus B.
(In fact, I considered #5 on our list, left tackle Zack Martin, for this spot ahead of Eifert.)
Reliance and tendency would have to change, but the loss would not be impossible to overcome.
The team needs Eifert to again be an All-America next fall if it is to thrive. But it needs the next three players on the list just to survive.