Notre Dame has a history of sending quality tight ends to the NFL like Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph and, someone Las Vegas Raiders fans should know well, Dave Casper. Michael Mayer is the next Golden Domer in line and should be on the Raiders’ radar in this year’s NFL Draft class as the team could use a play-making tight end.
Mayer posted back-to-back 800-yard seasons during his last two years in South Bend and ended up breaking Eifert’s school record for the most career receiving yards at the position, totaling 2,099 yards in three years.
This past season, the Fighting Irishman earned the highest overall PFF grade among FBS tight ends with a mark of 92.5 and led the position group with nine receiving touchdowns. While he’s certainly better in the passing game, Mayer can get the job done as a run blocker too, posting an 82.1 grade that ranked seventh this past season.
While the numbers are great, they only tell part of his story and the tape is equally as impressive.
Like how Michael Mayer gets physical at the top of the route and works back to the QB to create separation pic.twitter.com/efvGF30qsd— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
In our first clip, Notre Dame splits Mayer out wide as the single receiver to get him a one-on-one matchup with a cornerback. He’s facing press coverage and does a good job of attacking the corner’s leverage off the line of scrimmage to give himself more room to run this curl route at the bottom of the numbers.
The corner flashes his hands on the line but Mayer doesn’t flinch because he does well at fighting through contact. At the top of the route, he uses his size and strength advantage and works back to the quarterback to maximize his separation. The pass is thrown high but he does a great job of climbing the later and high-pointing the ball to make the grab.
After the catch, the Golden Domer shows impressive contact balance to run through a couple of tackle attempts, however, we’ve got to put a little more stick’em on those gloves to avoid that fumble at the end!
Slippery hands aside, this is an impressive rep that shows off his ability to take advantage of a size advantage, climb the latter and tack on yards after the catch.
Nice 2nd level block by Michael Mayer pic.twitter.com/ja9lFGcht4— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
Duo is one of Josh McDaniel’s favorite run calls and that’s what Notre Dame is running here. Mayer is lined up as the second or outside tight end on the strong side (left side in this instance) and his first responsibility is to make sure his fellow tight end doesn’t get beat to the outside by the defensive end.
So, he’s slow and deliberate off the line of scrimmage to make sure the first level of the defense is taken care of, while simultaneously keeping eyes on the second level to pick up a linebacker. Once No. 88 has the block secured, Mayer picks up the backer (No. 42) and pins the backer inside to give the running back an outside lane.
This isn’t a dominant block by any means, but it is a functional one that offensive coordinators will take from a tight end.
Beautiful job widening the safety by Michael Mayer pic.twitter.com/PSsh1W5Q1n— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
Notre Dame is running a read option here where the primary run concept is inside split zone where Mayer blocks across the formation. He leaves the defensive end alone since the end is the read man on the option for the quarterback and works to the strong safety on the edge.
When Mayer has a size advantage, as he does here, he’s physical at the point of attack. He also does a great job of keeping his hands inside and pumping his feet through contact to kick out the safety and create a lane for the quarterback to go put six points on the board.
Mayer isn’t a physical blocker against defensive linemen and linebackers, but he’s excellent at using his size advantage to push defensive backs out of the way.
Like the 2nd gear Michael Mayer shows here to get an easy TD of play action pic.twitter.com/Zl4Dsy7olO— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
One aspect of route running that’s different and more important for tight ends than wide receivers is the ability to sell play-action. Tight ends are on or near the line of scrimmage and involved in the run-blocking scheme, so they play a role in selling the fake and that’s something Mayer does well.
He actually lines up in the backfield here and does a good job of eyeing the safety in the box and slowing down near what would be the point of contact to help sell the run fake. From there, he kicks it into second gear and No. 25 has no chance to recover after coming too far downhill.
This is a simple route to run but there are little nuances that Mayer does well to ensure he’s wide open for an easy touchdown.
Big fan of Michael Mayer’s stiff arm pic.twitter.com/EbaZoVugbC— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
After the catch, a stiff arm is the best tool in Mayer’s tool belt.
He runs a flat route here with a box safety covering him and the safety does a decent job of fighting through the pick from the wide receiver to close shortly after the catch. However, Mayer gets his head around, finds the defender and puts his hand right on the defender’s chest to force a missed tackle and pick up the first down.
It’s also worth mentioning that Boston College’s defensive back was listed at 222 pounds on the roster last year, so size-wise, he’s pretty close to a modern-day NFL linebacker.
Now, Raider fans might get nervous with Mayer laying out for the goal line like this, but you have to appreciate the effort at least!
Nice swim move by Michael Mayer to avoid contact and create separation pic.twitter.com/CLdKXo8ea5— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 5, 2023
We’ll end with an example of how good a route runner Mayer is.
He’s running an out route here and off the line of scrimmage, he attacks the defensive back’s leverage to give himself a two-way go and keep the defensive back on his toes. Once Mayer starts working up the field, he uses his hands well with a swim move to prevent the defender from being able to ride his hip. From there, the Notre Dame product snaps the route off and works back outside, creating plenty of separation for an easy first down.
This is an excellent use of hands and route running by a tight end to create a nearly 25-yard gain.
You probably noticed that all of the negative clips above were of Mayer blocking. There are very few—if any—weaknesses in his game as a receiver but his blocking does have room for improvement. This isn’t to say that he’s bad at it by any means, just take a look at his grade at the beginning of the article, but he’s far from dominant in this area.
Mayer is what I would consider more a “get-in-the-way” blocker rather than an ass-kicker. Part of the reason for that is he isn’t very aggressive or physical at the point of attack against defensive linemen and linebackers. Aggressive defenders will be able to get to his chest and win at the line of scrimmage.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Golden Domer also isn’t good at blocking in space on screens. When defensive backs change speeds in the open field, he doesn't react and move his feet well and will get beat around the edges. That will either force receivers to change directions, likely into other traffic, or result in tackles for short gains.
As far as Mayer’s fit with the Raiders goes, he’s a good enough blocker to execute some of Las Vegas’ run concepts, like duo as pointed out above, and clearly can get the job done as a pass-catcher. The problem is he’s not worth a Top 10 pick—except for Kyle Pitts a couple of years ago, very few tight are—but he is still good enough to warrant a first-round selection.
I could see him getting drafted somewhere between the mid-teens to the 20s, meaning the Raiders would either have to make a massive reach with the seventh overall pick or trade back to get him.