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Film Room: Breaking down Michael Mayer’s preseason performance

Rookie gets his feet wet in NFL

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Rams
Michael Mayer
Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders second-round pick Michael Mayer got his feet wet in the NFL during the preseason, logging 41 snaps in two games after missing the first contest with an injury. Mayer’s stat line was underwhelming with just three catches on four targets for 23 yards and no touchdowns, and he earned an ugly 43.1 grade as a run blocker from Pro Football Focus.

However, as you’ve probably come to know with me, the numbers only tell part of the story so let’s dive into the film and see where the Notre Dame product showed promise and where/how he can improve for the regular season.

We’ll start with the negative and go over where Mayer can improve as a run-blocker, and the clip above is literally his first play in an NFL game.

The former Golden Domer gets a bit of a ‘Welcome to the NFL’ moment as the Raiders run lead outside zone to the strong side. Coming out of college, one of the things that worried me about him is that he isn’t very strong and physical at the point of attack, and the outside linebacker (No. 97) takes the fight to Mayer on this rep.

Also, watch how Mayer’s hands are too low and late as that exposes his chest and allows the defender to make the first significant contact. He’s pretty much done for at that point as he never gains control of the block and his man gets involved in the tackle.

This is just one example as Mayer had a handful of plays like this during the preseason.

The other issue Mayer had as a blocker during the preseason was that he’d lunge and duck his head when making contact instead of bringing his feet with him. This is a similar play call as the last clip—just mid-zone this time—and while he doesn’t get blown up at the point of attack, he goes to make contact with his nose over his toes.

That’s why it’s so easy for the outside backer to get off Mayer’s block and why Mayer nearly falls on his face after contact. Without his feet underneath him, he doesn’t have a stable base to stay upright when the defender goes to shed, and it leads to another tackle for a short gain. Again, this happened too much in the last two games.

Also, somebody needs to block that weak-side defensive end!

Alright, we have to move on to some positivity and the Notre Dame product did have a few nice blocks in the preseason that were encouraging.

He gets some redemption against No. 97 this time, and take a look at how his hands come up faster and he doesn’t lean nearly as much, allowing him to fight back at the point of attack and stay upright with his feet underneath him. Also, Mayer has great pad level as he puts his helmet right in the defender’s chest.

Finally, he starts to work his hips around and position himself between the defender and the running back. This isn’t an ass-kicking block by any means, but he does do a good job of keeping his man away from the ball carrier and creating a lane for the back. It’s hard to ask for much more than that from a rookie tight end.

Mayer gets another chance at redemption here as Las Vegas makes the same play call as the first clip—lead outside zone.

With a 3-technique defensive tackle shaded on the guard instead of a 4-technique defensive end shaded on the tackle, the defensive front allows the tight end to get some help from the right tackle—Dalton Wagner in this case. Also, this Cowboys’ defender isn’t nearly as physical as the Rams’ defender, which helps Mayer as well.

But focusing specifically on what he does, he gets his hands inside and on the linebacker’s chest and doesn’t lunge at the point of contact. To finish the play, he keeps running his feet after contact and is able to turn the backer’s shoulders to create an outside rushing lane, if the running back bounces it (which the back should do). This assistance from Wagner plays a factor, but Mayer is also able to cap off the rep with his man on the ground.

Mayer did have another play similar to this against Dallas, but I do want to stress that he had more negative reps as a run-blocker than positive ones this month. That’s fine as he’s still developing, I just want to set the expectation that he still has a lot of work to do in this area while simultaneously sharing a couple of encouraging reps.

Let’s shift gears to Mayer as a receiver, which is much more positive than the run-blocking clips above.

The Raiders dial up a play-action pass and have Mayer run a deep over route. What I like about this rep is he recognizes that the linebackers are too shallow after biting on the ball fake, and he whips his head around as soon as he passes the backers to look for the ball. Then, his speed enables him to get about five yards of separation, and he has a chance to make an explosive play if the pass is on target.

Mayer also had a fade route against a press corner in this game where he didn’t get the ball, so his receiving skills are a lot more encouraging than his preseason stat line would suggest.

It’s second and eight for Las Vegas in the clip above as the rookie runs a short drag route versus zone coverage. He’s wide open thanks to the play design but what I like about this rep is after the catch, he lowers his shoulder and fights for extra yards. That helps to tack on about five yards with the ball in his hands and gives the Raiders a third-and-one situation instead of having three or four yards to go.

We’ll wrap up with a catch from Mayer on a scramble drill.

The Raiders ask him to chip block before working out to the flat, making it pretty difficult for him to create separation initially. No one else is open either so Aidan O’Connell starts to leave the pocket, and Mayer recognizes that by starting to work up the field.

From there, he hits the brakes and uses a little push-by move to create separation to give O’Connell an easy throw on the run, relatively speaking. Finally, Mayer runs to open grass (or turf) with the ball in his hands and uses a stiff arm to pick up about six yards after the catch and move the chains.

If the second-rounder can get his blocking down, he could be a dangerous weapon this fall.