Tyler Eifert led all FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards in 2011, his junior season. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, but didn't win it.
It turns out the second time was the charm for Eifert, despite 19 fewer receptions and 179 fewer yards heading into his final collegiate game. The Notre Dame captain won the 2012 Mackey Award, adding to the laundry list of honors Irish players and coaches have garnered following their 12-0 season and bid to the BCS Championship.
Most coaches and scouts have seen Eifert develop into a complete tight end this season, improving his draft stock while his quantifiable production dipped. Coach Brian Kelly threw the phrase "complete tight end" around a lot this year, and as the season progressed it became clear Eifert's coach wasn't just pumping his own player.
"This isn't about numbers this year," Kelly said in November. "This is about a guy that's developing himself as a complete tight end."
Eifert and Tommy Rees developed an outstanding connection in 2011, one which often carried over to Rees' spurts in relief of Everett Golson in 2012. But it took Eifert and Golson about two months to develop a chemistry, which finally showed in November. Of Eifert's 43 catches, 22 came in November.
"We're growing, he's a young quarterback, and he's getting better every day along with the rest of the guys," Eifert said earlier. "More time together has definitely helped."
Eifert technically has one year of eligibility left, but would be a longshot to return for a fifth year given his first-round draft stock.
"If you asked the guys at the next level about Tyler Eifert, they really don't care about how many balls he caught because they know he can catch the football," Kelly explained. "They're looking at other things that he's developed. He's going to find himself in a pretty good position in April."
Kelly nets coaching honor
Brian Kelly was named the 2012 Home Depot Coach of the Year, as selected by ESPN and ABC analysts. He's the first two-time winner of the award -- Kelly won it in 2009, his final season with Cincinnati -- and is the second Notre Dame coach to win the honor, joining Ty Willingham in 2002.
Kelly is also up for the Eddie Robinson Award, another top coaching honor voted on by the Football Writers Association of America. That honor will be announced Dec. 13.