With a change of heart, Tyler Luatua decided to stay at Notre Dame after announcing his intention to transfer to BYU before spring practice. Accepted back onto the team after a meeting with Brian Kelly, Luatua now needs to find his place back into a stacked tight end depth chart.
Luatua’s got a unique skill-set compared to the rest of his positional partners. Built more like a guard than a receiver, he could be a key piece of the running attack as an attached blocker, though he’ll need to find consistency and stay healthy.
6’2.5″, 255 lbs.
Junior, No. 13, TE
Notre Dame beat out Alabama for Luatua’s signature, where his brother played as a reserve offensive lineman. Luatua had an elite offer list that didn’t quite mesh with a modest three-star ranking, likely because of height limitations.
Still, Notre Dame was excited about landing a prospect who may not have been to their usual positional profile, but was someone they targeted early.
Freshman Season (2014): Played in 10 games, with the majority of his action coming as a second tight end. His largest contributions came against LSU in the Music City Bowl victory.
Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, starting three (Virginia, Navy and against Ohio State). Tallied no stats in the passing game, though played 212 offensive snaps in his ten games.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
He didn’t stay healthy and he didn’t catch a pass. Swing and a miss.
Want a potential touchdown vulture in the red zone? Sound smart and consider Luatua one of your dark horse candidates. When Malik Zaire is bootlegging after a nice play fake, Luatua looks like the perfect candidate to haul in a pass in the flats, rumbling for a score.
As mentioned above, Luatua’s work won’t find the stat sheet all the time. But the fact that he shed some bad weight between the fall and the spring, and the fact that he’ll be working in a slightly different offense makes Luatua one of the offense’s more intriguing under-the-radar contributors.
Notre Dame knew what it wanted when it chased hard after Luatua in recruiting. And a thumping tight end who can punish you at the line of scrimmage and also be a very difficult body to tackle in space already looks like the baseline.
While the tight end depth chart is still mostly a mystery, if Luatua is healthy I’ve got him pegged for 13 games and a ton of good blocking. Throw in a few short catches or some damage in the playaction game and it’ll be fun to see how his career progresses.
Notre Dame’s designated blocker needs to prove he can be a better… blocker. There was too much inconsistency at the point of attack for Luatua, who graded out negatively in seven of the ten games he played, per PFF College.
Those stats sometimes skew negative when your job is evaluated on a won-loss record against an offensive lineman or blitzing linebacker, but that’ll be Luatua’s niche if he can have one these next two seasons. With Jacob Matuska transitioned to the position, Luatua will battle a larger body for snaps in two-tight end personnel groupings, with the ability to keep opponents honest if there’s a roll-out or play action.
With Alizé Jones transitioning to receiver and Durham Smythe having health struggles these past few years, Luatua could very well be one of the team’s snap-leaders at the position. But he’s got to improve his technique and consistency.
Skipping spring ball isn’t the best way to get a jump start on a position battle. But credit Luatua for making the tough decision to come back and to Kelly for welcoming him back with open arms.
Luatua has too much experience not to play a significant supporting role. I don’t suspect he’ll find his way into the passing game with better options at the position, but this offense’s DNA could be that of a power-running team. And that means a significant role for the third-year contributor.
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