There was starter Kyle Rudolph, a former 5-star and the No. 1 prospect at his position in 2008.
There was backup Mike Ragone, a former 4-star and the No. 2 tight end prospect from 2007. And there was a sure-fire No. 3 in senior blocking tight end Bobby Burger, a player so far ahead of Eifert in terms of that necessary skill set that comparisons would have been laughable between the two.
So he caught passes. Plenty of them, but on the scout team. From Evan Sharpley.
Fast forward to March 2013 and Eifert is still catching passes from Sharpley, the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in nearby Elkhart.
"John Goodman got hooked up with him to throw, and my agent was looking around for a quarterback to throw to me," said Eifert of the Sharpley connection, a former Notre Dame backup who last played in 2009. "I think Brady Quinn's name was in the equation, but me and Sharp, we were on the scout team freshmen year, so we had a little connection. Once I found out he was throwing, he throws a good ball. I like catching passes from him."
No offense to Sharpley, but Eifert is well-equipped to catch passes from most.
The Notre Dame record-holder for career receptions and yardage at his position, Eifert shined in February's NFL Draft combine. His physical measurables (6'6" 251 pounds, 4.68 40-yard dash, 35.5 inch vertical leap) impressed scouts and general managers enough that Tuesday's Pro Day was more about finishing strong in his final South Bend appearance than proving his wares.
"I never thought I wouldn't run routes," he said of his decision to participate. "Its something I work on, its what I do a lot, so I had no problem going out there and running around a little bit.
"At the combine, I don't know how I looked on the outside, but I was nervous. It was a stressful period. You have a lot on the line there. I was happy to have that (40-yard dash) over so I could just focus on more football-specific drills to get ready for Pro Day, which is what I've grown up doing instead of being like a sprinter getting ready for a track meet."
Broad jumps, shuttle runs, sprints and bench press repetitions are in the past for all NFL Draft hopefuls. Most are relieved at that reality. For the top tier football players such as Eifert, between the lines is what matters most.
"It gets hyped up that way with everything being on TV from the combine. But at the end of the day, it is your film that really matters," Eifert said. "People that have been doing this for awhile have been reminding us of that. Its not make or break if you don't do well at the combine or the Pro Day. You've shown what you can do on tape and that's what really matters.
"Those are the things I feel most comfortable doing on the field," he continued of his pass-catching intensive workout Tuesday. "The things I've been doing since I've been little. I thought I did well, ran good routes, caught the football, showed good explosion getting up the field."
Legacy KeyThe moniker of Tight End U for Notre Dame is well-documented and deserved. Dating back to 1972, only two full-time starting tight ends through Eifert's graduation -- and assumed draft selection -- failed to make an NFL roster, either at tight end, offensive tackle, or linebacker.
But none of Notre Dame's 2000s trio -- Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph -- was selected in the draft's first round. Nor were mid- and late-1990s pros Jabari Holloway, Dan O'Leary, Pete Chryplewicz, or Oscar McBride.
Not since Derek Brown (1992) and Irv Smith (1993) were tabbed as back-to-back first round selections has the program put its tight end among the draft's elite.
Eifert is hoping to change that. Asked if he's excited about his prospects regardless of where he's drafted in April, the Irish star offered, "No, I want to be the first tight end taken. I'm doing everything I can to be the first tight end taken, and that's what I hope to be."
First or second behind Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (of whom Eifert noted is, "a cool guy"), Eifert has already sought the advice of those in the know.
"I've talked to (Kyle) Rudolph," he said of his immediate Tight End U connection. "We don't talk a lot about football, it's more about the transition to the NFL, what that's like.
"He says he's lucky, Minnesota is a young locker room. But some other places, you get some older guys with wives and kids going home to their families, and you're going home to an apartment by yourself. That's something you just have to be ready for. Its part of the transition process."
Change is inevitable for Eifert off the field. His on-field transition though is both timely and likely seamless because of one key attribute:
He can catch the football.
"I'm thankful for the guys that have played before me. (Rob) Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph, to set that stage. Its a good time to be a tight end. I feel lucky to be coming in when I am."
Thanks to a season spent working as an in-line tight end, a detached, move pass-catcher, and Notre Dame's "W" (boundary) receiver, Eifert is well-equipped to make an immediate impact in the modern passing game, though he fully recognizes areas for improvement.
"My strength, my blocking," he noted of his chief focus. "Obviously I work to improve on everything. Catching the ball, I've dropped passes before. I 'm always working on my hands. I work on everything, but the one thing is, my blocking, just getting bigger and stronger, putting on a little weight.
"Teams like my versatility," he added of recent interviews. "This year I explained to them that I knew our entire offense. You could put me on any position on the field and I knew what to do. That gives some offenses a little bit of flexibility to move me around and create some mismatches, or things a defensive coordinator has to be worried about.
"I think I have that ability to help whatever team I'm on."
From the Scout Team, to the national runner-up 2012 Irish, to wherever he lands hereafter.