Eifert Ends Streak, Te'o Extends Another

The selection of Tyler Eifert in the first round of Thursday night's NFL Draft added another link to the legacy at Tight End U. But 32 picks without the utterance of Manti Te'o's name ensured an ignominious streak would continue, and for the foreseeable future.

Just twice in the last 41 football seasons has Notre Dame's starting tight end not found future fortune: ascending to the top of the sport with an NFL paycheck of at least one season serving as the fruit of his extensive, life-long labor.

Some switched positions, some starred, some struggled, and some found Super Bowl success. But with the exception of oft-injured late-1970s star Dean Matzek, and 2002 quarterback-turned-tight end Gary Godsey, every Irish tight starter from Dave Casper (1972) through Tyler Eifert (2012) reached the sport's pinnacle -- the league.

Eifert was selected No. 21 overall last night by the Cincinnati Bengals. He's the fourth straight starter in the post-Godsey era to be selected in the first two rounds, with Anthony Fasano (2006), John Carlson (2008), and Kyle Rudolph (2011) all second round selections.

Eifert, Notre Dame's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards among its tight ends, is the first former Irish at his position to be selected in the first round since Irv Smith in 1993. Prior to Smith, Derek Brown (1992), Tony Hunter (1983), and Ken MacAfee (1978) all earned the honor.

The history of the tight end, both college and pro, cannot be written without Notre Dame. The school has produced the only tight end in both the NFL and College Hall of Fame (Casper), among the best at the position from the 1980s (Mark Bavaro) and in the past decade, has populated NFL rosters (not to mention fantasy squads) with aforementioned standouts Fasano, Carlson, and the 2012 breakout big man Rudolph.

And then there's linebacker…

A Fourth Decade Begins

The year was 1982: Ronald Reagan was president, a North Carolina freshman named "Mike" Jordan hit a corner jump shot to win the NCAA Tournament, and Gerry Faust's luster had yet to wear off completely Under the Dome.

Oh, and Notre Dame linebacker Bob Crable was selected No. 23 overall by the Buffalo Bills. 31 drafts later, no Irish linebacker has followed suit. Zero drafted in the first round since the program's all-time leading tackler Crable moved east.

Notre Dame's top tackler since Crable is Manti Te'o, who finished his Irish career third all-time in the category, and in 2012, as the most decorated defensive football player in college football history.

Te'o's name will likely be called in tonight's second round, but 32 picks and 29 teams passed on the nation's Butkus Award winner last night.

Its an odd streak for a school with 155 players including 19 linebackers drafted since Crable's selection in '82. But in those 31 seasons, only a handful produced by the program had prodigious pro talent:

  • Two-time Butkus finalist Michael Stonebreaker ranks with Te'o as the best overall college linebacker since Crable, but the former tore an ACL and broke his hip in a 1989 car accident, an injury that took away much-needed speed and quickness from a 230-pounder. He was the third linebacker selected from the 1990 Notre Dame squad behind Scott Kowalkowski and the late Andre Jones.

  • Butkus finalist Demetrius Dubose ranks as the highest Irish linebacker selection since Crable, No. 34 overall in the 1993 draft. He was the fifth Irish player selected that spring, a draft that included four first round picks in Rick Mirer (No. 2), Jerome Bettis (10), Tom Carter (17) and the aforementioned Irv Smith (24).

  • One star Irish player who dropped due partly to injuries late in his career was former Defensive High School Player of the Year Kory Minor, who lasted until the seventh round of the 1999 draft. He was preceded by teammates two years early in future NFL standout defensive end Bert Berry (third round, No, 86 in 1997) and safety-turned-LB Kinnon Tatum just one pick later at No. 87 overall.

  • On the opposite end of the recruiting spectrum from Minor, Berry, and Tatum was 2004 second-round draft pick Courtney Watson. A solid-at-best running back prospect for head coach Bob Davie in 1999, Watson finished 2002 under Tyrone WIllingham as a Butkus finalist but lasted until pick No. 60 in the 2004 draft. It's the highest a linebacker has been selected from Notre Dame since Dubose in '93.

With 32 picks down and a Jacksonville team set at middle linebacker (Paul Posluszny), followed by the inside linebacker-rich San Francisco 49ers on the clock, expect Te'o to land between Dubose (#34) and Watson (#60) as second round Irish 'backer draft picks spaced nearly a decade apart.

And if blessed with good health, expect 10-plus seasons of winning football from said team's newest inside linebacker thereafter.

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