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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Evans and Co. look to replace Mayer

Tight end will be a position to keep an eye on for Notre Dame in 2023. They lose projected first-round pick and All-American Michael Mayer and will look to replace Mayer’s leadership and team-leading production in the passing game. The Irish record holder in virtually every major statistic for tight ends, Mayer leaves a big hole in an Notre Dame offense that will feature a new-look passing attack in 2023. 

2022 Summary

Prior to Notre Dame's bowl game, Mayer collected 67 receptions. All other Irish tight ends combined to record four catches. Three came from sophomore Kevin Bauman, who sat out the final ten games of the season due to injury. He did have 75 snaps in two games, however, and seemed primed to be Mayer’s successor prior to his ACL tear. 

Sophomore Mitchell Evans operated as Mayer’s primary backup, not notching a reception until the Gator Bowl. Sophomore Davis Sherwood was third on the roster with 78 snaps at the position. Freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes also got some run, although Raridon went down with an ACL tear midseason.

Key Departures

Undoubtedly, much of the Irish passing attack revolved around their dynamic tight end, as Mayer recorded 809 yards and nine touchdowns. No other Notre Dame receiver notched more than 361 yards or three receiving touchdowns. In fact, the Irish’s top two wide receivers combined for just 55 catches and 701 receiving yards. The Irish lose their biggest passing game weapon, and it’s not close. 

Key Returners

At this point, the Irish have not pursued any tight ends in the transfer portal. They’re sticking with their current pool of tight ends, which is a deep, albeit unproven, group. The returners are headlined by Mitchell Evans. Evans received the most playing time as Mayer’s backup, although he was never a target in the passing game until the Gator Bowl. However, Evans flashed improvement as a blocker, and in the Gator Bowl, he impacted the aerial attack with three receptions for 39 yards. 

Along with Evans, the Irish return freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes, sophomore Davis Sherwood and junior Kevin Bauman. Raridon and Bauman both missed significant time with injury. Bauman actually did catch three passes for 44 yards in the first two games of the season, but an ACL tear ended his campaign prematurely. The same injury ended Raridon’s season before the freshman could see significant playing time. At 6’7", Raridon could become a passing weapon and slotted ahead of Staes on the depth chart when he was active. Staes played the Gator Bowl as the backup tight end and caught one pass this season for 11 yards. Sherwood is another name to consider, as he played a versatile role in 2022, lining up at fullback and primarily serving as a blocker. He also threw the pass on Notre Dame’s fake punt in the Gator Bowl. 

Freshman Additions

The Irish add Cooper Flanagan as an incoming freshman. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees noted in a press conference on National Signing Day that they understand Flanagan to be the “best tight end in the Bay Area”, so that’s a definite vote of confidence for Flanagan. The four-star recruit is unlikely to be a passing game threat early. He did not play in a pass-heavy high school offense and is not enrolled early, so there will be a delay in learning the playbook. 

However, Flanagan comes to the Irish with well-developed run blocking skills. The Irish love to utilize their tight ends in the run game, and Flanagan’s run-blocking prowess serves as his best chance to crack the depth chart. 

Projected Depth Chart

Notre Dame routinely listed three tight ends on their depth chart this season, so this article will do the same. 

TE1: Mitchell Evans

TE2: Kevin Bauman

TE3: Cooper Flanagan

This set up leaves Evans, the most experienced tight end in the room, as the starter. He proved in the Gator Bowl that he can impact both the run and pass game. He provided a key blitz pickup on a 44-yard touchdown pass, set a few key blocks to spring big runs and caught the game-winning touchdown pass. He’s the obvious candidate to start and make a big jump. 

Bauman remains an intriguing puzzle piece within the Irish offense. Three catches in two games, despite playing with Mayer, seemed to indicate the Irish like what Bauman can do in the passing game. If he stays healthy, he could turn into a big-time weapon for the Irish in 2023. 

Flanagan gets the nod for the third tight end spot. If the Irish want the bigger passing-game threat, it’s likely going to be Raridon, or maybe Staes, depending on their offseason development. However, Flanagan’s physicality and blocking experience might make him the preferred option in run-heavy, three-tight end packages, which is what this projected depth chart predicts. Expect Evans and Bauman, should they stay healthy, to be the most prominent names, but the other four members of the tight end room should receive opportunities to carve out a role for themselves in the 2023 offense.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.