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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 86 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit

Cooper Flanagan Notre Dame

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 240 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: An incoming freshman, Flanagan has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Notre Dame stockpiles tight ends, meaning Flanagan will be on the scout team this entire fall, with four names ahead of him on the depth chart. Even if injuries plague the Irish tight ends again, two would need to be out for the season for Flanagan to sniff any version of genuine playing time.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and the No. 17 tight end in the class, per, Flanagan did not pay attention to offers from Alabama, LSU or Michigan after he committed to the Irish 15 months before he could sign his National Letter of Intent. From an Oakland suburb, he also spurned Cal, Utah and Oregon.

Northern California has plenty of football talent but also widespread competitive levels, sometimes making evaluations difficult. Notre Dame sought the opinions of known Bay Area sources to confirm its thoughts of Flanagan. (He comes from the same high school that produced Isaiah Foskey; the Irish have contacts in the area with proven track records.)

“Cooper Flanagan is the best player in the Bay Area,” then-Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said in December when Flanagan signed his NLI. “That was the consensus from the people we know and trust out there. This isn’t a hybrid receiver. Exactly what he does translates to what he’ll be asked to do here at Notre Dame.”

What will he be asked to do in South Bend? Rees’s departure for Alabama should hardly change that answer, particularly not after tight ends coach Gerad Parker was promoted to offensive coordinator.

“He’s not a wideout body split out the whole time,” Rees said. “His hand is in the dirt, he’s blocking a defensive end, he’s working a combination with the tackle. He splits out, he goes out for a real route tree. …

“He knows how to do the things that are hard for young players, which is play in the box as a tight end, and that’s something he’s been asked to do and translates really well to our scheme.”

If this caption rivals anything Shane Falco or Maximus Decimus Meridius ever said, that’s because it’s a Tyler Durden quote.

“Flanagan’s height will eventually make him an enticing passing target, but for now, his strength will be run blocking. …

“Cane Berrong’s outgoing transfer will open up more possibilities for Flanagan down the line, as will being in the rare Irish recruiting class with only one tight end, something of a shock now that it is realized.”

Notre Dame lost one tight end (Michael Mayer) to the NFL and another (Cane Berrong) to the transfer portal. Yet, junior Mitchell Evans, sophomores Holden Staes and Eli Raridon, and senior Kevin Bauman all stand between Flanagan and a 2023 role.

Even if the Irish suffer the same rash of injury misfortune that befell them last year, with three tight ends meeting season-ending injuries, Flanagan would still be No. 2 on the depth chart. And in that worst-case scenario, former walk-on fullback Davis Sherwood would probably find himself running routes.

Of course, such injuries worries is not how Flanagan wants to find playing time. If he flashes polished hands in preseason practices, perhaps his length could propel him to playing time out of the gates, but otherwise, Evans and Staes each already offers the ideal mix of route running with run blocking, and that should provide the bulwark of Notre Dame’s tight end production in 2023.

More often than not, the Irish sign two tight ends in a recruiting class. Whether that was originally a Brian Kelly thought or a Tommy Rees want, it became the Notre Dame standard. The Irish did not sign exactly one tight end for seven straight recruiting cycles, from 2016 to 2022, though in two of those, 2016 and 2019, Notre Dame did not sign a tight end at all.

Tight ends signed during the Brian Kelly Era2022: Eli Raridon and Holden Staes2021: Mitchell Evans and Cane Berrong2020: Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman2019: NONE2018: George Takacs and Tommy Tremble2017: Brock Wright and Cole Kmet2016: NONE2015: Alizé Mack2014: Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua2013: Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman2012: NONE2011: Ben Koyack2010: Alex Welch and Bruce Heggie

So signing only Flanagan stood out in 2023. It should create a ripe chance for him down the line. All of the tight ends currently on the Irish roster will have eligibility after 2023, but none with as much as Flanagan. And given the injury histories of Raridon and Bauman (both coming off injury in 2022), he could accelerate past them quicker than expected.

It does not feel rash to project Flanagan as a future Notre Dame starter, which then heaps NFL draft expectations onto him — 11 straight Week 1 Irish starting tight ends have been drafted — so the question will be, “When?” Logic suggests it will not come before 2025, but Flanagan should be a contributing offensive piece in 2024.

WHY NO. 86?
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published before Notre Dame announced Flanagan will wear No. 87 this season. That version guessed at his jersey number.
Flanagan wore No. 17 late in his high-school career, digits currently claimed by early-enrolled receiver Rico Flores Jr., but earlier in his career, Flanagan wore No. 86, the jersey Notre Dame handed him for a photo shoot last summer. Perhaps he finds a different number when he arrives later this summer, but this is one hypothetical number assignment that feels like a strong prediction.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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