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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 09: Mitchell Evans #88 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes the field before the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on October 9, 2021 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅛, 250 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Evans has three seasons of eligibility remaining after appearing in every game of Notre Dame’s 2021.Depth Chart: A combination of injuries to others and his own successful debut season leave Evans as the rather clear No. 2 in the Irish depth chart, of course behind star junior Michael Mayer. The next three names on the depth chart all suffered leg injuries in 2021, and though they should be healthy this fall, they naturally lag behind as a result.Recruiting: The No. 26 tight end in the class of 2021, Evans turned down offers from Iowa State, Michigan State and Pittsburgh as he chose Notre Dame.

One of the absolute most moronic aspects of NIL restrictions in the past was that players could not profit off camps geared toward kids. If Evans put his name on a camp to welcome the youth from his hometown in Ohio as they learned about football, that would have been a violation. Deeming that win-win illicit was the epitome of the NCAA’s idiocy.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

Evans played in every game as a freshman, though not usually as a downfield option. Nonetheless, he made two catches for 21 yards, both in blowouts.

Michael Mayer praising Evans’ broadly, and then pointing out he needs to continue his springtime work of improving his blocking, could give you, the reader, an idea of Evans’ current standing in the program, but frankly, Mayer’s words were not far from boilerplate. New Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker saying similar things with a focus on defensive line scheme recognition may give an insight into how detail-focused Parker is, but it would not do too much in projecting Evans’ long-term potential.

RELATED READING: ‘Natural’ route-runner Mitchell Evans now must thrive inside

Rather, the best quote regarding Evans and what could be comes from an exchange in the Scott Stadium press box as Notre Dame blew out Virginia in November, an anecdote that leads that article from Tim O’Malley of Irish Illustrated, an anecdote relayed now with 98 percent certainty of who the two reporters in question were, two of the smarter minds around the Irish beat.

As Evans caught an eight-yard pass late in that route …

Reporter No. 1: “Why is Mayer still in the game?”Reporter No. 2: “That’s Evans.”

“Taking this first year to learn the finer points of being a tight end, from route-running to not fighting the pass to run-blocking, will be time well spent for Evans, despite that impressive performance in the spring finale.

“Mayer affords Notre Dame that luxury, perhaps more than ever, which is saying something at ‘Tight End U.’ …

“Mayer will head to the NFL after the 2022 season, and Takacs will no longer be around by then, either. But Rees will still prefer to frequently utilize tight ends — a carryover from his most successful playing days — and the Irish will still have a bounty of them on the roster.

“Evans will get his chance then, but he will have to earn anything more than that. Between Bauman, Berrong and the pair of tight end commitments from last week, Notre Dame will have a plethora of highly-touted options. Evans may be the least among them, as far as recruiting rankings go.

“That is understandable, given he was a quarterback in high school. So by no means do those recruiting rankings condemn Evans to not moving up future depth charts. But he has some work to do to make that happen.”

Rees will forever enjoy multiple-tight end sets, particularly when the Irish are as thin at receiver as they currently are. Evans will not match Mayer — no tight end outside of Georgia will — but serving as a complementary piece will help aid Notre Dame’s offense in needed ways.

Some of that will be run blocking, and to some extent, the return of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help Evans there. Hiestand will not spend extensive time with the tight ends, but any pointers he offers will aid them. As the Irish likely lean on the run game in 2022, those incremental improvements could prove pivotal.

That may be Evans’ most valuable contribution in 2022. If he can be as capable a run-blocker as he is a pass-catcher, even if both are only a bit above average rather than excellent, then Rees can stay in two-tight end packages without giving away anything to the opposing defense about his intentions. In that respect, even an 8-catch, 122-yard, 1-touchdown season from Evans would bode well.

Junior Kevin Bauman will be healthy in 2022, and Evans’ classmate Cane Berrong should recover from his torn ACL in short order, as well. Their absences in 2021 and Berrong’s limitations this spring gave Evans an advantage in the short term, but a year from now, those will be distant memories.

Furthermore, incoming freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes will both factor into Rees’ plans sooner than later.

Suffice it to say, Evans will have his work cut out for him if he wants to become the next face of Tight End U. It is more likely he is a career No. 2, though at Notre Dame, that sometimes leads to an NFL draft pick. (See: fourth-rounder Durham Smythe in 2018 and seventh-rounder Ben Koyack in 2015)

If that does come to be the reality, Evans could continue to improve the next two seasons, eventually get passed by Berrong or Raridon in the depth chart and then transfer with a season of eligibility remaining, not to mention a Notre Dame degree. That path would be similar to George Takacs’, though a few years ahead of that pace.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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