The addition of Belton, Texas (Belton HS) prospect Durham Smythe ensures Notre Dame another embarrassment of recruiting riches at Tight End U.
A first-round draft pick and starting NFL tight end following his graduation in 1991. A first-round draft pick and starting NFL tight end following his graduation in 1992. A tight end turned-Irish-defensive end, who later (that same 1991 season) recorded three sacks in the Sugar Bowl and became an NFL linebacker. A future starting NFL tight end following his draft snub of 1994.
That's Notre Dame's 1991 tight end depth chart -- Derek Brown, Irv Smith, Karmeeleyah McGill, and Oscar McBride -- and it will be tough to top in any historical ranking of the program's best. While its unlikely the since-broken up 2012 or forthcoming 2013 personnel collection will reach such heights, it does appear next year's tight end unit is one of the program's deepest groups, with developed, developing, and ready to be developed talent available.
Graduated John Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert gives the 2012 group an immediate leg up on next year's crew, but two incoming pledges, January enrollee Mike Heuerman, and Sunday's addition Durham Smythe, provide head coach Brian Kelly with a quartet of former four-star tight end prospects (and one five star) with a combined 13 seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining among them.
Smythe Continues an Impressive Run
Durham Smythe joins another in a long line of deeply talented, highly touted tight end units. A quick look back shows the 2007 and 2008 Irish were likewise blessed with an embarrassment of recruiting riches at the position.
The '07 group included 5th-year senior John Carlson (a 2nd round draft pick the following spring), five-star sophomore Konrad Reuland, three-star sophomore Will Yeatman, and four-star freshman Mike Ragone.
One year later, Yeatman, Ragone, five-star freshman Kyle Rudolph, and four-star freshman Joseph Fauria populated the tight end unit. By mid-season '08, only Rudolph was both eligible and upright on a football field with Reuland and Fauria transfers, Yeatman suspended (and later, a transfer), and Ragone sidelined by an ACL tear.
Two years later, Notre Dame had Rudolph, Ragone, Eifert, and transfer Bobby Burger populating its ranks.
(Few would have guessed Eifert would build a college resume to far outshine them all.)
Below is a look at the 2013 Irish depth chart Smythe will look to crack next summer:
Senior Alex Welch: Missed the 2012 season with a torn ACL suffered in August camp. Also sat out his true freshman season of 2010, Kelly's first as Notre Dame's head man. The 6'4" 250-pound target had purportedly moved ahead of Ben Koyack (below) and the converted Troy Niklas as the team hit the midway point of August camp. Welch has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Junior Troy Niklas: Moved from outside linebacker last spring and became the team's definitive No. 2 tight end in the fall thanks to consistent run-blocking and reliable hands on the few routes in which he was involved (12 targets, 5 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD, one pass interference penalty drawn). With two seasons of eligibility remaining, and at 6'7" 260 and with room to grow, Niklas appears to be the 2013 squad's leading candidate to start.
Junior Ben Koyack: Targeted for just six passes (catching three for 39 yards with two drops), the 6'5" 253-pound Koyack also has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Koyack entered college at Scout.com's No. 1 ranked pass-catching tight end and a five-star prospect, but those skills have yet to matriculate to South Bend on fall Saturdays. If Koyack can become a legitimate mid-range receiving weapon next fall, Notre Dame's offense will without question be better than it was in 2012.
Freshman Mike Heuerman: The Naples, Florida product is already on campus as one of five semester enrollees, the 6'4" 220-pound Heuerman has the receiving skills and athleticism to compete immediately -- his frame and the players in front of him will likely force the true freshman to wait until 2014 for a shot at meaningful playing time. An exceptional drive-blocker for his size, Heuerman and Irish strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo have about 25 pounds worth of early morning meetings before the former hits the line of scrimmage vs. the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and USC.
Listed at 6'6" 230 pounds, Smythe should easily fill out to 250 by the time his first spring session rolls around in 2014. While his fellow freshman Heuerman appears faster after the catch, Smythe shows an enviable lack of concern for his body as he attacks tacklers in space. (Heuerman's gait reminds me of Irish receiver John Goodman coming out of high school, with Heuerman possessing an extra 40 pounds on the 2011 Irish graduate).
Smythe is comfortable catching with his hands, regardless of location of the pass or his route. He's a target with a large wingspan running down the seam (or as Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco would say: "He has an extended catch radius") and shows excellent body control to twist and turn for a poorly thrown pass.
More important, he positions his body and absorbs contact well while securing the catch -- perhaps the most underrated skill possessed by the departed Eifert who starred in 2011 as a tight end operating inside the hash marks.
Unlike Eifert and Heuerman, Smythe resembles a more traditional tight end than hybrid WR/TE. He nonetheless uses his hands to catch bullet throws at pad level, but at 6'6" also showed the ability to make sliding catches as well as leaping grabs of high passes that are generally expected of a taller player.
Smythe appears a willing, knowledgeable blocker, twice opening up a running lane on film for his 'back by sealing an opposing defensive linemen inside. (There's no such thing as an "accomplished" blocking tight end entering college ball. The true test will come when said defensive linemen is a 6'5" 300-pound fully developed Michigan State Spartan rather than a garden-variety high school competitor.)
Eifert finished his career around 6'6" 251-260 pounds. He entered school at 6'5" 217 while the aforementioned Rudolph was 6'7" 235 in his high school senior year measurement.
Smythe's ideal collegiate weight while not sacrificing his decent speed and (most important) impressive agility would likely be south of 265. He might not have a chance to showcase his skills on fall Saturdays until 2014, but both he and the Irish will be better for it.
None of Notre Dame's 2013 tight end quintet exhausts eligibility following the upcoming season. Three of the group (Welch, Koyack, Niklas) will be gone, barring injury, following 2014. Considering the overall unit's combined skill set to date, if Notre Dame's staff brings in a tight end for its 2014 recruiting cycle, the prospect should be coveted more as an in-line hammer than potential downfield target.
Where they Fit
Links to our other "Recruit Fit" stories for the 2013 class:
Torii Hunter and Will Fuller
Initial Offensive Line Quartet