The string of successful Notre Dame tight ends may not end with Troy Niklas.
Following in the steps of Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, Niklas emerged as an elite red-zone target in 2013 with five touchdowns. His production slowed as the season went on — those five touchdowns came in Notre Dame's first seven games — though he still was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given annually to college football's best tight end.
Niklas and Ben Koyack will return next fall and could see increased roles in an offense without the ever-reliable T.J. Jones. But beyond 2014, Notre Dame may be poised for continued success from its tight ends.
On Saturday, Coach Brian Kelly pointed to freshman Durham Smythe as someone who's impressed him in the early goings of bowl practice. Kelly said as long as Smythe gets strong enough to be an in-line tight end, he sees big things for the Belton, Texas native.
"Durham Smythe is going to be a really good player," Kelly said. "Really good player. Outstanding ball skills, he's going to continue to get bigger and stronger. I don't want to over-hype him, but he has some really unique ball skills for that position he plays."
And beyond Smythe, who's redshirting this fall, Notre Dame landed a verbal commitment from four-star tight end Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif.) on Monday.
Luatua chose Notre Dame over Alabama (where his brother plays offensive line), and also had offers from a laundry list of national powerhouses: Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin, to name a few. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound four-star prospect told Rivals.com he liked the fit in Notre Dame's offense better than how Alabama uses its tight ends.
No doubt Luatua noticed the NFL success of Rudolph and Eifert as well as that of John Carlson and Anthony Fasano, though the latter two played under a different regime.
Notre Dame also has a verbal commitment from four-star tight end Nic Weishar (Midlothian, Ill.) for its class of 2014 and is redshirting former four-star recruit Mike Heuerman this season.
The talent's there, and given Notre Dame's track record, there's a good chance it'll turn into on-field success.