Notre Dame has long been a friend to the NFL. Arguably, the Fighting Irish have been the best friend to the pros.
According to the web site pro-football-reference.com, Notre Dame has had more players drafted by the NFL than any college – 518. Thirteen of those players now have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including quarterback Joe Montana, halfback Paul Hornung and defensive end Alan Page.
The Talk of Fame Network begins its six-part NFL draft series this week (http://www.talkoffamenetwork.com/hornung-brown-say-notre-dame-nfl-favorite/) looking at the college programs that produce the most and best players. Notre Dame was our first stop. What we found is that the quantity and quality can be found at one position in particular at South Bend – tight end.
The history at the position started with Leon Hart, the last offensive lineman to win the Heisman Trophy in 1949. Hart was listed as an end – and that was back in the day when ends lined up next to the offensive tackle and did more blocking than catching. Hart was 6-5, 255 pounds but still caught 49 passes for 15 touchdowns in his career, helping Notre Dame win three national titles and post a 36-0-2 record during his three years of eligibility.
Hart became the first overall selection of the 1950 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, one of only four Golden Domers selected with the first pick of a draft. But there have been five other Notre Dame tight ends selected in the first round and four more in the second. The NFL has drafted Fighting Irish tight ends with the seventh (Ken MacAfee), 12th (Tony Hunter), 14th (Derek Brown), 20th (Irv Smith) and 21st (Tyler Eifert) overall picks of drafts.
Notre Dame’s one Hall-of-Fame tight end was selected in the second round, Dave Casper by the Oakland Raiders in 1974. But two of the most productive tight ends to come out of Notre Dame were later round picks. Mark Bavaro, a fourth rounder by the Giants in 1985, went on to catch 351 career passes and win two Super Bowls. Pete Holohan, a seventh-rounder by the Chargers in 1981, caught 363 career passes.
Casper is the school’s all-time leader at the position with 378 NFL receptions and 52 touchdowns. Notre Dame does not have a tight end in the 2017 draft, but there’s one on the way in 2018 in 6-5, 256-pound Durham Smythe.