Grading on a Curve: TE

Brian Kelly's third full Irish recruiting class is complete, with 24 members joining between September 2011 and National Signing Day 2013. Irisheyes.com presents its grades for the class, position by position, with a focused eye toward both last year's 17-player haul and the team's needs for the upcoming 2014 cycle. Our third position unit graded: Tight Ends.

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Tight Ends, 2012-13, and Beyond...

A program legend moves on, two top tier talents join forces with three already on campus.

The addition of Mike Heuerman (6'4" 225) and Durham Smythe (6'5" 230) solidifies the tight end unit through the 2014 season, with Heuerman needing only bulk to augment his obvious pass-catching skills and tenacity and willingness as an undersized (collegiate) blocker.

Smythe's already massive frame suggest a 6'6" 250-pounder will stroll into the LaBar Practice Complex around the summer of 2015, not unlike his predecessor, former 6'5" 217-pound string bean Tyler Eifert, who grew to 6'6" and nearly 260 by his senior year.

The never-ending tight end parade continues its path to South Bend -- talent-rich states Florida (Heuerman) and Texas (Smythe) make for reliable producers to continue Notre Dame's 40-year span of nearly uninterrupted excellence.

2013 Grade -- A

They're technically ranked #6 and #10 overall at the position, but aside from formerly courted 5-star Adam Breneman (Penn State), its hard to imagine Kelly and his staff preferring any prospect over Heuerman. And Smythe's move away from his initial pledge to the home state Longhorns and subsequent late arrival on the Irish recruiting season made the perfect marriage.

Because the position will be hard hit in 2014 graduation (see below), Notre Dame needed two tight ends. They appear to have two developable stars in Heuerman and Smythe.

"Another tight end that we really believe fits the style of the offense that we run," said Kelly of Smythe. "He hasn't even tapped his potential at 6'5", 230, and he's 230 right now. He's going to be obviously a big, physical player for us but has the soft hands and the ability to get out and run routes."

Best Chance to Play Early: The guess here is Heuerman, but only if senior Alex Welch isn't fully recovered from a torn ACL suffered last August. Notre Dame will use (at least) three tight ends over 13 weeks -- one of the freshmen will be pressed into action if Welch can't answer the bell by at least mid-September.

Both could likely hold their own and make a play or two in competitive contests. Both, like Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and Tyler Eifert before them, would likely benefit from a season in the weight room and learning the nuances of the offense.

Quote to Note: "Ha. I don't know. It's wide open...Mike Heuerman?"
-- Running Backs coach Tony Alford in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Heuerman's speed/running skills when asked on National Signing Day who might start at running back for the 2013 Irish.

2013 Grade Coupled with 2012 -- B

No tight end was signed in the smallish 17-player haul of 2012. None was mandatory, but that's easier to note in hindsight now that the Irish have two for 2013.

Had the Irish not inked Smythe late, this two-year grade would have dipped to around a C+.

Necessary additions for 2014 as a result: One. And if the class is without a tight end prospect, it will manifest in the 2015 season when Heuerman and Smythe are juniors, and no other tight end exists save for an incoming 2015 freshman.

Welch (a senior eligible through 2014), Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack (two true juniors) exhaust their eligibility following the '14 campaign. Notre Dame must have three non-rookie tight ends assimilated to its offense when the 2015 spring session goes live. Should the Irish fail to sign a tight end in what will be an approximate 18-pledge class next February, two would be mandatory in 2015.

Were needs filled at TE over the last two seasons?

Yes, because the offense needs just one in the upcoming cycle, and that pledge need not be a top tier player, merely a developable talent that is willing to redshirt in 2014 (that's almost mandatory considering the quintet that will be on campus) and well-equipped to handle in-line blocking duties down the line.

Notre Dame doesn't need another dual-threat tight end until 2015, but bringing in a bruising, physical player that can also catch the ball when necessary is essential to future special teams success with an increased role down the line.


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