The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team have built a nice legacy the past 10 years at the tight end position, beginning all the way back to Anthony Fasano. Fasano begat John Carlson, who then turned it over to Kyle Rudolph, who then turned it over to the best of the bunch, Tyler Eifert.
After Eifert left with virtually every tight end receiving record in school history, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. Who better to fill them than 6-foot-7, 270 pound former linebacker Troy Niklas. After only catching five passes the previous season, most dismissed Niklas as a threat in the passing game.
You can’t really blame people; he 10 earned ten starts last season, but that was so they could split out Eifert and keep Niklas as a pass blocker, leaving some to wonder if he could continue the line of elite college receiving tight ends intact.
But the flashes he has shown this year have shown a glimpse of he could become. He only caught one pass in the opener, but he made it count, taking it 66 yards to the house for a touchdown. He continued the momentum with a six catch, 76-yard performance that included a touchdown against the Michigan Wolverines.
Not bad for a ‘blocking’ tight end, right? A trend from the four previous tight ends that gives hope that there is more untapped offensive potential in Niklas.
In each of Niklas’ predecessor’s first seasons, they received playing time theat averaged 20 catches, 223 yards and 1.75 touchdowns. Obviously that’s still a lot better than Niklas’ five receptions, but we can give him a pass; it was his first year at the position playing at the college level.
In their second year (which would be this season for Niklas), they saw their receptions raise by 12 to 32 and yards to an average of 398. The touchdown totals were higher than they were at any point, at 3.25 per player. The highlight of the second year was Eifert’s 63 catch, 803 yards and five touchdown performance.
While Niklas doesn’t have the offensive prowess to match it, after hauling in eight catches in three games, there is no doubt a performance along the lines of Fasano’s 27 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns is certainly within the realm of possibilities.
And if he continues on the Fasano path, his third year would see him reach about 47-576-2 on the production line. Not bad for a former linebacker turned ‘blocking’ tight end.
Niklas will never be the receiver Eifert, Rudolph or even Carlson was; his bread and butter will always be the blocking. His size makes him like another tackle, and it’s something that teams in the NFL will no doubt see, but with his play so far this year, and judging by his predecessors, there is plenty more in the tank in terms of offensive potential, but will he get the chance to do so?
Despite his 66-yard touchdown against Temple, he still only ended up with that one catch. Against Purdue he again only got one grab. It’ll be hard to be high in the pecking order with DaVaris Daniels and T.J. Jones receiving so many targets, but with the struggles the Irish have had finishing drives, doesn’t a 6-foot-7 pass catcher sound like a perfect answer?