It’s Friday and we have all made it through to another week and we are on the verge of another weekend of college football!
And what does that mean? It means it’s time for another Player to Watch and this week we are focusing on Notre Dame tight end, Michael Mayer.
Keith whetted your appetite for Mayer in his excellent scouting notes review of the Irish’s game against BYU last weekend. Mayer had an excellent game, the best of his season so far – 11 catches for 118 yards, with a couple of touchdowns.
However, I’ll leave the one game scouting notes to Keith and I’ll get on with a deep dive on this talented tight end prospect…
Let’s go back to the start and find out who Michael Mayer is…
6’4, 265lb, Michael Mayer has always been a high flyer when it comes to football, a 5-star prospect out of Covington, Kentucky he attended Covington Catholic High School and he was the MVP on a team that won a Kentucky state championship in 2019.
Mayer was the 2019 Gatorade Kentucky Football Player of the Year and named the Kentucky Coaches Association Mr. Football in the same year. The accolades kept coming in 2020 as he was selected to the US Army All-American Bowl.
The recruiting process yielded an avalanche of offers from big, Power-5 schools; Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and of course, his home state of Kentucky, amongst many more. However, he chose to enrol at the most prestigious catholic university in the world and head to South Bend, Indiana.
Mayer was the number one player in Kentucky and the number two tight end in the country, so there is no wonder that he was so sought after.
Once on campus, Mayer began to make an impact almost immediately – He played 12 games in his Freshman season, he was starting by game two and scored a touchdown in game three. He really was Playing like a Champion from day one.
Ever since, Mayer has been one of the brightest tight end prospects in college football… Let’s dive into the tape to see why.
In the modern NFL, tight ends are versatile weapons and can be used in diverse ways in the passing game as well as being blockers in the run game too.
The bread and butter is the passing game and being that safety net for quarterbacks, which is the area of the game that I really feel Mayer excels in. I feel this gives him an excellent floor when entering the league, and as always there’s room to grow.
This first clip shows Mayer lining up in a traditional tight end alignment and making a nice catch with soft hands for a big gain. This from the Toledo game is 2021:
25 yards as easy as that. Ok, it is against Toledo and the defenders aren’t of the quality of Notre Dame’s more high-end opponents, but a nice release up the sideline, tracked the ball really nicely and brought it in easily.
We can see that Mayer isn’t a super-quick, jumbo receiver but he’s excellent at traditional tight end things. Which I think still valuable in today’s NFL.
Speaking of traditional tight end things…
As much as being a Travis Kelce or Kyle Pitts-type X-receiver masquerading as a tight end is fun, it is important to be able to run-block and be traditional, especially in an offense such as what the 49ers run with tight ends like George Kittle.
Mayer is certainly willing when it comes to run blocking. He motions across from the opposite side of the formation in this split-zone run, he opens up the lane to spring a big run, which is all very NFL run game, a team like the Rams run this kind of play a great deal, although this wouldn’t be Matthew Stafford running down the sideline.
Again, there is the caveat of Toledo and Mayer could be more aggressive in the block. However, you can see that he knows what he’s doing; he activates his hips and gets his hands underneath the pads of the defender to leverage him out of the way.
Whilst Mayer can do a lot of the traditional tight end things, he can also split out, off the offensive line, a la Kelce or Pitts. He isn’t the athlete of either of these two, he’s not even close, to be honest, but it’s nice to see this in his locker, big slot receiver’s are in vogue right now.
What I like about this clip from last year’s game against Cincinnati, is that he can make a long reception, in traffic with defenders diving and ready to lay a big hit on him. He is also able to run down the seam and show his physicality to shrug away the defender and create some separation.
We can see this kind of physicality on show in last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State.
The added layer from the previous clip to this one is that we can add in that Mayer is a red zone weapon. Big bodies can be great in the red zone; they can body up smaller defenders and box out players on well-placed throws that only he can bring in. Mix in the fact that he can be used in a variety of ways – Y-tight end, in-line tight end, H-back and Notre Dame do so here.
The Irish are in heavy personnel, with 3 tight ends in 13 personnel which forces the Cowboys into base defense and expecting a run. There are only two men out on routes but two crossing routes put the defensive backs in a bind and Mayer has leverage and uses his physicality to get separation and it’s an easy catch and score.
Mayer also scored a second touchdown against Oklahoma State too, another red zone score which again demonstrates what his value will likely be in the NFL.
Big bodies over the middle in the red zone will never not be an option for quarterbacks. Mayer shows his hands again here with an excellent diving catch. He also shows a little bit of wiggle with a drop of a shoulder, and mix that with a nice play design and a high quality tight end means it’s going to be a touchdown as long as the QB makes the throw.
As is tradition for this article, there’s always got to be a but, the area of improvement.
It’s tough to show in one clip but I feel like you could see it in every clip I’ve got here but it centres around his athleticism. As much as Mayer can clearly threaten down the seam and he can make plays in the deep portion of the field, I feel like his lack of juice could limit his ceiling and perhaps the separation that he could attain in the NFL.
Can this get better? Maybe marginally but he is what he is at this point and he has the ready-made body of an NFL tight end which isn’t going to drastically change.
However, at the end of the day, I still feel he has a bright future in the pros.
So what can we expect this weekend against Stanford in one of college football’s most traditional rivalry games?
Well, Stanford isn’t having a great season so far, with a record of 1-4 in a fun Pac-12 conference, their only win coming against Colgate in their opening game. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame has had a little bit of a resurgence after a somewhat sticky start to the season.
Stanford doesn’t really have any great safety or linebacker who will be tasked with guarding Mayer and attempting to take him out of the game. So perhaps the best comparison and battle could be offense vs. offense, and perhaps tight end vs. tight end.
Stanford has their own exciting tight end in Benjamin Yurosek. Yurosek isn’t of the same calibre of Mayer, albeit he was a 4-star prospect out of high school. Last season Yurosek had 658 yards and 3 touchdowns to Mayer’s 840 and 7. Not a million miles away, especially when considering Notre Dame was 11-2 and was ranked #8 in the country, whereas Stanford, well, was not.
I expect Notre Dame to win but Stanford’s offense can put up some points with Tanner McKee under center, who, by the way, is the best QB in this game on Saturday.
After this season, what can we expect some draft weekend?
Carrying on from earlier in the article, I fully expect the trend of Mayer being a high-flyer to continue come the spring.
As shown above, he is a plus-pass catcher and he will be ready to contribute on an NFL offense immediately. He has an NFL body and he passes the tight end eye-test, both on the field and also in the mugshot too. Just check out his Notre Dame bio, just look at that square jaw and thick neck, those are NFL traits as much as the height, weight and on-field play.
In terms of tight end, the college football landscape and in particular the media coverage is dominated by Georgia guys like Darnell Washington and most of all, Brock Bowers. However, Bowers isn’t draft eligible until next year and Mayer should be talked about just as much, I feel he just doesn’t bring the monster, highlight plays that you see from Bowers on social media.
This shouldn’t be thought of as a negative though, Mayer does a lot of things well and he’s one of the best out there. Mayer is likely to be the first tight end off the board in April and that should mean he’s a first round player.
So to conclude…
Mayer is a traditional tight end prospect who has the skill set to fit into a lot of offenses around the NFL. He can improve in run blocking and maybe get a little faster and stronger in a professional weight programme but I do think we will hear the phrase NFL ready when the calendar turns to 2023 and we are in the thick of the pre-draft cycle.
Mayer reminds me of a player like Hunter Henry; a big body who can be a safe pair of hands over the middle and down the seams, he can be a serviceable blocker and a red zone weapon. One for your fantasy teams and for a long career in the NFL, another great prospect out of Notre Dame and one I am looking forward to watching this weekend.
Follow Lee on Twitter @Wakefield90