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Joe Douglas has an interesting choice to make
When it comes to the NFL Draft, there’s long been a polarizing debate: do you draft for need, or do you take the best player available, regardless of position?
For the New York Jets, drafting for need this year means offensive line. Sitting at the 13th overall pick in the draft makes that a potential possibility, but far from a guarantee—if none of Peter Skoronski, Broderick Jones, or Paris Johnson Jr. is available for the Jets at No. 13 (as is the case in Bucky Brooks’ latest mock draft), looking elsewhere might be the most prudent move.
So who exactly should the Jets look at if the top prospects at their biggest need are all off the board by the time they go on the clock? A situation like that might shift general manager Joe Douglas into more of a “best player available” mode.
If that’s indeed the case, the best available player may very well be Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
“The best tight end in the draft,” said SNY’s Connor Rogers of Mayer last week on PFF’s NFL Stock Exchange podcast. “[He’s] the best tight end in most drafts… He’s the best tight end in like 80% of NFL drafts all time.”
But what makes Mayer so good?
Mayer the prospect
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 251 pounds, Mayer has the prototypical frame and build for an NFL tight end. He saw the field immediately for the Fighting Irish as a true freshman, catching 42 balls in the Covid-shortened season. The entire offense ran through him during his sophomore and junior years. In 2022, Mayer accounted for more than one-third of Notre Dame’s passing production on the season. Across his collegiate career, he notched a program record for most career receptions by a tight end and third most overall.
Mayer’s game is one with few weaknesses. The main drawbacks he has as a prospect come from his lack of elite athleticism. He isn’t a sudden or twitchy mover, and that will be something other tight end prospects like Dalton Kincaid and Darnell Washington will have on him.
Everything else you could possibly want out of a tight end, however, Mayer brings in spades. His frame gives him tremendous natural in-line blocking ability in both the run and pass game — a skill that will easily translate to the next level from day one. His pass-catching ability is among the biggest strengths of his scouting report, as well. He finds the soft spots in zone coverage and offers ultra-safe hands with plenty of contested-catch ability when necessary. After the catch, he has the strength to drag tacklers for extra yards.
Oh yeah, and he was a team captain this season.
Mayer the person
Before setting foot on Notre Dame’s campus, Mayer dominated both sides of the ball at Covington Catholic High School in his hometown of Park Hills, Kentucky.
“[His success] at Notre Dame doesn’t surprise me one bit,” said Eddie Eviston, head football coach at Covington Catholic. “I think everyone could see—coaches, players—everyone could see that Michael was going to be something pretty special, even as a sophomore.”
“[He’s] probably one of the more competitive players I’ve ever coached,” he said, smiling.
The same goes for off the field.
“Every year we have a team retreat, and we try to do things that have nothing to do with football…. I remember one year we had a wiffle ball tournament, and we actually had to quit playing because he almost ruined all the bats ‘cause he was hitting the wiffle ball so hard…. He couldn’t win by one, he had to win by like nine.”
Finding where that borderline-irrational competitive spirit stems from isn’t hard. Like most younger brothers, Michael grew up in the shadow of his older brother, A.J., who Eviston described as “Mr. Everything” during his time at Covington Catholic—that’s to say he played multiple sports and starred in all of them. Among these was football, where he was the starting quarterback. Michael and A.J. played together on varsity for one year, when A.J. was a senior throwing dimes to his little brother.
“I think that little sibling rivalry that they have…. I think [Michael] would even say it’s been a blessing to him and his growth.”
A.J. currently plays quarterback at Arkansas State, but with Michael being in the position he is, it feels safe to say the little brother has ultimately come out on top of the rivalry—at least in football.
At Covington Catholic, Mayer lined up as a tight end on offense, but also as a linebacker for the defense.
“To us, he might’ve been even more valuable as a middle linebacker than he was as a tight end, which is kind of crazy to say because our offense was kind of built around him.”
Eviston chuckled as he recounted times when opposing running backs would give themselves up and hit the turf on their own accord when they saw all 250 pounds of Mayer in front of them.
Although Mayer won’t play defense in the NFL, his experience playing on that side of the ball, even in high school, gives him a deeper insight into defensive schemes and tendencies that other tight ends simply don’t have.
As a leader, Eviston says Mayer led from the front but was never one to stand up and make a speech.
“A lot of his leadership, I think, came through his actions. If you’re the best player on the team, but you’re also the best practice player, and things like that, you know, people start following suit.”
Mayer himself recently said one of his goals is to be more vocal.
“There’s that saying where it’s ‘lead by example,’ but I kinda hate that saying,” he told reporters last spring. “Because if I’m leading by example I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing, so my mindset…. Be way more vocal with not just the tight ends, but the entire offense and also the entire team.”
Again, the Jets need offensive line help like human beings need oxygen — it’s tough to ignore that. But if the 13th overall pick in the draft rolls around and Douglas’s top-ranked linemen aren’t there, taking a blue-chip talent like Mayer feels like a viable option.
It goes without saying that at least one of C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin would be out the door were the team to do it. Mayer would presumably form a tandem with last year’s third-round pick, Jeremy Ruckert.
Much is still up in the air for the New York Jets 2023 season, but regardless of who’s under center, it’s a safe bet they’d appreciate a safety blanket of this caliber.
Ian Roddy is on Twitter @IanRoddy_
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