Kyle Rudolph must have been pleased with his NFL draft evaluation. The Notre Dame junior, who is likely to be the first tight end selected in April, will forgo his final season in South Bend, Ind.
The Cincinnati product's career with the Fighting Irish ended with 90 receptions for 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder started three games as a freshman, but shoulder and hamstring injuries kept him shelved for nine games the following two seasons, including the final seven this year.
"Notre Dame is such a special place and because of all the people I met over the last three years this decision was very tough for me," Rudolph said in a statement released by the school. "I truly feel I have grown up here and this has become a home away from home for me."
Rudolph, originally pegged by most draft experts as a sure first-rounder, averaged 11.5 yards per catch and was a reliable blocker for the Irish.
"Kyle Rudolph has a very bright future ahead of him and he will instantly make some lucky NFL team much better next year," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in the school's release. "I know this was a tough decision for Kyle because of the great relationships he formed at Notre Dame and he will be missed in the locker room next year. But we are happy for him and his family and are excited to watch him represent the University of Notre Dame during this next chapter of his life."
The only sophomore voted as a Mackey Award finalist in 2009, Rudolph hobbled through fall camp with a sore right hamstring that eventually resulted in an evulsion (when the tendon comes off the bone to which it is attached) in a victory over Pittsburgh in October.
In his first three games this season, he paced Notre Dame with 21 catches and two touchdowns, including a 95-yard score against Michigan. His production dropped off significantly in the following three contests. He had surgery days after the Pitt game and many believed he would return for his senior season.
In his place, sophomore Tyler Eifert caught 27 passes for 352 yards and a pair of scores in his first season on the field.
Wes Morgan covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com.