Of all the criticism that can be directed at Josh McDaniels, his usage of tight ends isn’t one of them. The Las Vegas Raiders head coach and play caller has a strong history of deploying the position group and that isn’t going to change.
Especially with a prized prospect Michael Mayer from the 2023 NFL Draft in tow now.
The Notre Dame product lands in the perfect spot to start his pro career as the captain of the Silver & Black ship is a a tight end-friendly coach and offensive conductor. The 6-foot-4, 249-pound Mayer does everything McDaniels seeks from a tight end well — catching the ball and blocking chief among them — and is on the path to becoming a productive rookie this coming season.
Just don’t expect Mayer to say he’s an ideal fit for McDaniels’ Raiders from the jump, however.
“You know, that’s not a question for me to answer to be honest with you,” Mayer said in his introductory press conference when asked if there’s a better system fit for him than what’s in Las Vegas. “I think it’s about me coming in and doing the best in what I do, which is playing football, and wherever coach McDaniels puts me, I’m going to be ready for it. I’m going to do what he asks me to do, whether it be on first, second or third down. And that’s my answer to that. I’m excited to be in this kind of scheme. I’m excited to have one of the best coaches in the NFL, and yeah, that’s that. I’m excited to play ball.”
The Raiders’ draft war room was certainly equally ecstatic to see Mayer still available. After putting up 67 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns this past season for Notre Dame (a career total of 180 catches for 2,099 yards and 18 scores), the well-rounded Mayer was expected to be a first-round pick or at least a high second rounder. In short, seeing him on the board and within striking distance wasn’t a Las Vegas thought.
Thus, general manager Dave Ziegler made the move to up three spots and snare Mayer with pick No. 35. You could clearly see Ziegler’s excitement in the post Day 2 presser where he spoke about the tight end being in the Raiders’ top 15 prospect rankings.
“So, talked about it a lot last night, talked about it a lot today, and the fact that he was still there was a very exciting moment for us. He was one of the top-15 players on our board just in totality,” Ziegler said.
McDaniels is going to concoct plays that highlights Mayer's’ strengths, especially when you consider Las Vegas quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s penchant to eat on short/quick throws and intermediate passes over the middle. Mayer makes himself an ample target in both areas and has the ability to gain yards after the catch (YAC) with his physical running style with the ball in his hands. Mayer’s timed speed doesn’t look it (4.70 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) but the tight end can get behind a secondary and be a quality seam buster.
“A really unique thing about him I’d say is his short area quickness. He’s a bigger guy, but he still has — when you watch the tape — he has the ability to win in a short area, can win on third down, use his size down in the red zone,” Ziegler said of Mayer. “Obviously has some size to continue to develop as a run blocker. Another kid with excellent traits, very smart. Probably in terms of our scale of traits, one of the highest guys on our board in that regard too, the way we kind of measure that.”
But that’s just the passing game. Expect Mayer to get plenty of work in the trenches as an inline tight end that can be an extension of the offensive line. He did just that at Notre Dame displaying the requisite thump, power, and concentration to stay attached, maintain blocks, and wall off defenders. McDaniels is surely going to maximize that talent.
“Yes sir, that’s something I take pride in and that’s something in this past year I really, really worked in the blocking game, and the technique, and my footsteps, and things like that,” Mayer said when asked about his abilities as a blocker. “The receiving part of it has always kind of been there for me, but I really had to kind of dig deep for that blocking and it’s been really, really well this past season. Me and my tight ends coach worked on it a lot, and it improved greatly. It’s only going to keep getting better. So, that’s something I pride myself on a lot and I think being able to do both of those things that you named out there is very, very important for a tight end. And I’m going to keep working at both of them and keep trying to excel at both of them.”
With Austin Hooper joining the Raiders in free agency, Mayer is afforded the opportunity to compete and learn from the veteran who is similar in size (Hooper is 6-4, 254) and profile coming out of college (Hooper was seen as a combo tight end coming out of Stanford that can catch and block).