There’s no doubt that Notre Dame is the one school that has produced the most good to great Tight Ends over the years. Penn State is LB U. USC is tailback U. Texas has been called DB U. Notre Dame is Tight End U.
This is my opinion on the greatest Notre Dame Tight Ends of all time.
1. Dave Casper. Casper surprisingly caught only 21 passes while at Notre Dame or he would have been an easier choice for #1 on my list. He is still my #1 pick but it was a tough decision. Played Offensive Tackle at Notre Dame before moving to Tight End. Casper had 378 NFL catches and a lot of those seemed to be well timed as in the winning score or a huge first down. He had 52 NFL TD receptions.
Casper was 6-3, 250 and was a freak of nature with great strength and quickness. He was extremely well rounded, good at everything and is on most NFL lists as one of the great Tight Ends of all time. Consensus All-American in Notre Dame’s National Championship 1973 season. Taken with the 45th pick of the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders and he spent the majority of his career with the Raiders. Casper was 6-3, 250 which isn’t huge but he was extremely big and fast for his time period. Guys just weren’t huge 40 years ago like they are today. I loved Mark Bavaro, but Dave Casper is in both the college and NFL Hall of Fame and was a special player. Rules were changed because of Casper and he is a true legend of the game.
Casper played high school ball at Chilton, Wisconsin and his high school team only played 8 games but they outscored their opponents 363-0.
2. Mark Bavaro. Tough choice between Mark Bavaro and Dave Casper. Bavaro caught 55 passes during his playing days in South Bend and he had 351 career catches in the NFL while being a star with the New York Giants. Great blocker, very tough and had good hands. Played at Notre Dame in 1983 and 1984 and was a 4th round draft choice of the Giants in the 1985 draft. Wasn’t the best Notre Dame Tight End while at Notre Dame, but was possibly the best overall using his college and NFL stats combined.
Bavaro was not only a great Tight End, but he had the size and the look that if you met him in a dark alley you would want to get out of his way. He was 6-4, 245 in his prime.
Mark Bavaro was only a 4th round pick by the Giants and was one of their biggest talents on some World Champion teams.
3. Ken MacAfee. If you are just going off of what the Tight Ends did at Notre Dame, McAfee would be hands down #1. He was an outstanding player for the Fighting Irish and was a 3 time All-American. He won the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and was 3rd place in the 1977
Heisman Trophy. McAfee was a 1st round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers and the 7th overall pick. MacAfee was a freaky 6-5, 260 Tight End that had good speed and blocking ability. He caught a phenomenal 128 passes for 1,759 yards and 15 TDs. Some of those passes came from the great Joe Montana when MacAfee and the Irish won the 1977 National Championship with a convincing win over the previously #1 Texas Longhorns and their great Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell.
He started 2 years in the NFL and caught 46 passes in those 2 seasons. Bill Walsh wanted to move him to Offensive Guard and MacAfee then quit to become an oral surgeon. He is well known in the state of Massachusetts for his charity work which says a lot about his character. MacAfee is from the same city that produced great boxing legends, Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the great city of Brockton, Massachusetts.
4. Pete Holohan. Holohan was a big Wide Receiver at South Bend but I am counting him as a Tight End because he played there in the NFL. Plus, he has to be on the list because he has the almost perfect Fighting Irish football player name, Holohan. Holohan was playing Wide Receiver for the Irish during the famous Chicken Soup game when the Irish beat the Houston Cougars with no time left on the clock on January 1st, 1979. He caught 63 passes while at Notre Dame with a 1/3 of those coming from the legendary Joe Montana.
He was a 7th round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers in the 1981 draft and played for the Chargers from 1981 through 1987 and then played for the Rams, Chiefs and the Browns. Holohan played 12 seasons in the NFL and had 363 career NFL catches for 3,981 yards and 16 TDs. Originally from Liverpool, New York.
5. Anthony Fasano. Fasano is another Jersey boy, hailing from Verona, New Jersey. Fasano was a tremendous athlete at Verona High School standing out at Tight End and Defensive End. He was highly recruited and a High School All-American. Fasano was also really good in basketball, baseball and track and field. He would have to be mentioned as one of the top all around athletes to ever play for the Irish.
Fasano left Notre Dame with 92 career receptions for over a 1,000 yards and 8 TDs. He was 6-4, 260 at the NFL Combine and was later drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd round. Fasano played briefly with the Cowboys and then the Dolphins and now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 228 NFL receptions so far and it’s climbing. Could be moved up on this list with more NFL achievements.
6. John Carlson. 6-5, 250 and from Litchfield, Minnesota, John Carlson was also a 2nd round NFL draft choice but by the Seattle Seahawks. Also like Fasano, Carlson was a tremendous athlete in high school. He was a highly recruited Tight End. But, besides football, Carlson was a talented basketball player and helped led Litchfield to the Minnesota State Championship 3 times. Not only that, but Carlson was an All-State Tennis player. I can’t imagine a 6-5, 250 high school tennis player and I am sure he was plenty intimidating up against some of those 5-6, 140 competitors.
Carlson caught an even 100 passes while at Notre Dame, good for 1,093 yards and 8 TDs.
He played for the Seahawks from 2008 to 2011. Then, returned home to Minnesota for 2 seasons and now will play for the Cardinals in Arizona. He’s already caught 177 passes for 1,906 yards and 14 TDs. Carlson and Fasano are pretty similar and both could continue moving up this list, or at least past Holohan.
7. Kyle Rudolph The 6-6, 260 Cincinnati product is NFL another active Tight End that could continue to climb this list. He was the highest rated Tight End prospect in the country coming out of high school and lived up to the hype starting as a freshman for the Fighting Irish. He started every game at Tight End for the Irish and nobody else has ever done that. Possibly, I should have Rudolph at #4, but I am also fine with #7 for now. Part of the reason for the lower ranking is that he battled through injuries while at Notre Dame and then declared early for the NFL. He did manage to catch 90 passes for Notre Dame.
Rudolph was also a 2nd round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2011 and has done really well for them, making the Pro Bowl in 2012. Has 109 receptions good for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs. At his current rate, may deserve to be up there with Dave Casper and Mark Bavaro some day.
8. Tyler Eifert. It’s just one Tight End after another coming out of South Bend. Rudolph was taken in the 2011 draft and Eifert was taken in the 2013, but Eifert was the 1st round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unlike the previous Tight Ends, Eifert was only a 3 star recruit coming out of high school at nearby Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was recruited by the Irish and the local schools such as Indiana, Purdue and then by Minnesota. He was a power forward in basketball crazed Indiana so he was a gifted athlete and I am not sure I get the 3 star ranking other than his offense did not feature him much. Eifert is 6-6, 250 and he put up big numbers for the Fighting Irish before declaring for the NFL.
The jury is still out on Eifert’s NFL career but looking good so far as he had 39 receptions in his rookie season for 445 yards and 2 TDs.
9. Irv Smith. One of those fabulous Jersey boys coming from Pemberton Township, New Jersey. He’s not the tallest of the Notre Dame Tight Ends at 6-3, but still a big guy at over 260. Caught 28 passes for 360 yards and 5 TDs at Notre Dame with 20 of those catches coming his senior season in 92. Best memory of Smith at Notre Dame just might be the Indiana game when he was hit by
defenders at about the 20 yard line and pretty much carried everybody the last 10 yards. That’s the way the Tight End position should be played. No 180 pound DB should be able to bring down a 260 pound Tight End.
After standing out at Notre Dame, Irv Smith was a 1st round draft choice in 1993 by the New Orleans Saints. In the NFL, Smith caught 183 passes for 1,788 yards and 15 TDs. He never really lived up to his potential in the NFL but still played 7 seasons.
|Dean Masztak, Tony Hunter and Pete Holohan|
10. Tony Hunter. Hunter had a nice career for the Irish from 1979 to 1982, catching 120 balls for 1,897 yards. He graduated from Notre Dame and was drafted with the 12th pick in the famous QB draft of 1983 and his main claim to fame with that is he was drafted 2 spots higher than Hall of Fame QB, Jim Kelly. Hunter was 6-4, 237 and came out of the famous Cincinnati Moeller High School that also produced Notre Dame Coach Jerry Faust. Hunter was a talent that played only 4 years in the NFL for 2 teams and had his career cut short by a leg injury. Yet, still, Hunter caught 134 passes good for 1,501 yards. He is considered a bust because he was the 12th pick in the draft and only played 4 years, but I disagree. He just had some bad luck with injury and that doesn’t make him a bust in my book.
11. Derek Brown. Big Tight End out of Merritt Island, Florida at 6-6, 260. Derek Brown was the prototype NFL sized guy big enough to be a good and effective blocker while being a big enough guy to create mismatches in the passing game and possessing good speed. Brown was a high school All-American coming out of Florida and had 62 receptions in 4 years in South Bend. Drafted #14 in the first round by the New York Giants and played for the Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals. But, he only had 43 career NFL receptions with all of those teams.
12. Dean Masztak. 6-4,227. Masztak played one season with Joe Montana and followed legendary Tight End Ken MacAfee. Masztak was instrumental in the 1979 Cotton Bowl come back game and caught 62 passes over 4 years at Notre Dame. His best season was the 1979 season when he had 28 of those catches. In the life is not always fair department, Masztak saw a possible promising career crushed by injuries. His last 2 seasons for the Fighting Irish he only played in 11 games and had 21 catches. Masztak still qualifies as one of the best because of his early playing days there.
13. Pete Chryplewicz Pete was another big Tight End in a long line of big guys at that position. Pete, and you notice I am not respelling his last name, played Tight End for Notre Dame from 1992
through 1996 redshirting in the middle of that time in 1994. He didn’t catch a lot of passes for the Irish but he did manage 48 for 585 yards and 5 TDs. Pete was a 5th round draft pick by the Detroit Lions but only played 4 years in the NFL and had 9 catches.
14. Robin Weber. Weber is from Dallas, Texas. Weber belongs on this list if for no other reason than he made ‘the catch’ on December 31st, 1973 in the Sugar Bowl to pretty much clinch the National Championship for the Fighting Irish. Robin Weber was a 6-5, 260 Tight End back in the early 1970s when even most Offensive Lineman were smaller than that and he ran like a deer which he demonstrated to the world in the Sugar Bowl with the catch. Weber was an outstanding blocker but had his promising career ended by injuries, unfortunately. Guys that big that ran as well as he did are not even all that common in today’s game. But, he was on the same team with Dave Casper, another freak, and later with Ken MacAfee.
Another reason I like Weber is that he’s a nice guy and he answered my emails. I realize that right now as a blogger I am an absolute nobody and have just been blogging for a little over 3 months and he did not have to return an email. But, he did and that meant a lot to me because he is a Notre Dame legend.