Tyler Eifert surprised many by emerging as the most productive tight end in Notre Dame history over the past two seasons. However, his selection in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday was no shock to any football follower.
The former Bishop Dwenger High School standout was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 21st overall pick of the draft.
"I've seen Eifert play fullback, H-back, they line him up at wide receiver, so Eifert has to be smart," former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Oakland Raider coach Jon Gruden said on the ESPN broadcast. "He's very versatile and he has some suddenness. Eifert has excellent body control."
Eifert took over the tight end position at Notre Dame as a sophomore for the injured All-American Kyle Rudolph and never looked back. He caught 27 passes in 11 games as a sophomore, but really exhibited his ability as the full-time starter the following season.
In 2011, he caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, which led the nation among tight ends.
"The bottom line is Tyler Eifert is a steal at this point in the draft," NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "He is a tremendous football player."
In his final season in South Bend, Eifert continued to improve his size and strength (6-foot-6, 251 pounds), as well as his blocking ability to become a more complete player. He led the Fighting Irish with 50 receptions, four touchdowns and 685 yards.
Eifert is the first tight end selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma in 2011 (ironically also 21st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals). Eifert is the first Notre Dame tight end to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since Irv Smith in 1993 (20th overall by the New Orleans Saints).
"This is such an exciting time for Tyler and his family," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a release. "He was faced with a difficult decision following his junior season whether or not to return to school. Tyler returned for his senior season and that decision was rewarded today. He proved to be the best tight end in college football, solidified himself as a first-round draft pick and, most importantly, earned his degree from the University of Notre Dame."
Eifert ultimately set the program standard with career receptions by a tight end (140) and yards (1,840). After being a finalist for the John Mackey Award (given to the nation's best tight end) as a junior, Eifert won the honor as a senior.
In addition Eifert and Smith, three other Irish tight ends have been chosen in the first round, including Derek Brown (14th overall by the New York Giants in 1992), Tony Hunter (12th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 1983) and Ken MacAfee (seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 1978).
"This guy has a 35-inch vertical jump" Gruden said. "I love the way that he goes and gets the ball. You can isolate Eifert in the Red Zone and he can be a mismatch problem. I really like this pick."