It took some wheeling and dealing, but the Las Vegas Raiders managed to walk away from the 2023 NFL Draft with arguably the best tight end in the class by taking Michael Mayer from Notre Dame in the second round (35th overall).
It’s hard to argue with Mayer’s résumé as not only was he a two-time All-American in college—consensus in 2022 and third-team in 2021—but he also left South Bend as the school’s career leader for tight ends in receptions (180), receiving yards (2,099) and touchdowns (18). That’s no small feat as the Fighting Irish have a storied history at the position with players like Raiders legend Dave Casper and Pro Bowlers Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert.
But the box score stats only tell part of Mayer’s story as a deeper dive shows how truly dominant he was in college.
Coming out of high school, Mayer was a 5-star recruit, the No. 32 player in the country and the second-ranked tight end, according to 247Sports composite rankings. His true freshman season was during the 2020 COVID-shortened campaign where he made spot starts behind Tommy Tremble, who was a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers.
The combination of fewer games on the schedule and playing behind a future pro were the main reasons why Mayer had his least productive season in college as a freshman with 42 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns. Those aren’t bad numbers for a first-year player by any means as he was able to carve out a niche on short routes by making plays after the catch.
As a freshman, the Golden Domer had the second-most receptions (31) among FBS tight ends on passes thrown zero to nine yards past the line of scrimmage and the most yards with 291, per PFF. He was elite after the catch, leading the position in YAC (167) and first downs (22)—the latter was six more than anyone else—and he tied for the lead with nine missed tackles forced. Not bad for an 18-year-old.
Mayer was also solid as a blocker in 2020, recording a 71.3 run-blocking grade from PFF. That was good enough for second place among ACC tight ends, trailing only his teammate Tremble (83.7), who led the entire country in the metric.
During his sophomore season, Mayer was the Fighting Irish’s star tight end and managed to come down with 71 grabs on 95 targets for an impressive 74.7 reception rate. That led to 840 yards and seven touchdowns, fourth and tied for eighth, respectively, at the position in the country.
That year was more of the same for him on short routes as he ranked second among all tight ends with 362 yards and fifth in YAC with 166. Also, his sophomore season was when he started to grow his game on intermediate routes and contested catches.
On passes thrown 10 to 19 yards past the line of scrimmage, Mayer had the fourth-most yards at his position with 389 while finishing fifth in yards after the catch with 136. This is also where four of his seven touchdown receptions came from—tied for the fifth-most—leading to a quarterback rating when targeted that was less than seven points away from perfection (151.4).
The Notre Dame product also went from catching just three of six (50 percent) contested targets the year before to 13 of 23, a six-and-a-half percent improvement. Those 13 receptions were good enough to rank fourth among FBS tight ends.
Mayer did regress as a blocker in year two with a nearly seven-point dip in his PFF run-blocking grade from the previous year to a 64.7 mark, however, that trend didn’t last long. This past season, Mayer posted a career-high 82.1 run-blocking grade which was the fifth-highest at his position and the third-best within this draft class.
Catching the ball remained the Figthing Irshman’s specialty, though. He logged the second-most receptions for a tight end with 67, ranked third in yards (809) and was the top dog with nine touchdowns. He also continued to be a threat after the catch with 325 YAC—sixth-best—and got even better on contested catches with 17 such grabs, four more than any other tight end in the country. He also posted a career-high 65.4 percent contested catch rate.
Mayer continued to shine on short and intermediate routes, but he also become more of a deep threat, for a tight end. On passes 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage, he came down with eight of 11 targets—the most and second-most at the position—and was the leader in yards (210) and touchdowns (four).
Also, he was nearly impossible to cover this past season. Against man coverage, the Notre Dame product recorded the second-most receiving yards at his position with 249 yards and the fourth-highest PFF receiving grade at 89.7. He was even better when facing zone coverage, logging 473 yards (ranked third) and a 90.3 grade that was second-best.
Of course, college production doesn’t always translate to the NFL. But one thing is for certain, the Raiders added one of the best tight ends in the country over the last three years in Michael Mayer.