Raiders tight end Michael Mayer, drafted by Dave Ziegler

Grading 2023 Raiders draft class: Dave Ziegler gets first-round value in round-two with Michael Mayer

The Las Vegas Raiders came into the 2023 NFL Draft with a litany of needs to address. Equipped with a ‘best player available’ mindset, general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels traded up early in the second round to select Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer. While defense was a major concern for the Silver and Black brass, it would be hard to deny the need for an every-down option at TE after trading Pro Bowler Darren Waller. The former Golden Domer is exactly what coach McDaniels looks for at the position, and should be a day-one starter for Las Vegas.

Raiders get first-round value in round-two

Michael Mayer was considered both the top tight end prospect in this year’s draft class and a surefire first-rounder. Las Vegas was thrilled to see the Kentucky native available at pick 35, and quickly traded up to select the Notre Dame record-setter. Since arriving at South Bend in 2020, Mayer saw his name called early and often in the passing game. During his freshman campaign, the former Gatorade Kentucky Football Player of the Year collected 42 receptions for 450 yards and two scores.

Those numbers would improve in the following two years. Posting stat-lines of 71-840-7 and 67-809-9 in his Sophomore and Junior seasons, Mayer set a record for scores by a Notre Dame tight end. The new Raiders’ tight end was named an All-American during each of his three college seasons, finishing as (at least) a semifinalist for the prestigious Mackey Award – an award given to the best TE in the country – during his last two years. After a career like the one laid out above, the question was not ‘if’ but ‘when’ during draft weekend for number 87.

Dave Ziegler answered that question on Day-2.

Mayer is a prospect with few flaws

Josh McDaniels has had the honor of coaching some great tight ends, and Michael Mayer has drawn comparisons to arguably the best-ever at the position.

You don’t earn the nickname “Baby Gronk” for playing the game with kid gloves. At 6’4 1/2″ and 249 pounds, Mayer is a big, physical presence that should make new Raiders’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s job much easier over the middle of the field. What makes Mayer an even-more complete player is his blocking ability. While not the most prolific we’ve ever seen at the position, the former high school linebacker does more than hold his own in the run game.

When it comes to weaknesses, the only knock many have on the Notre Dame star is his lack of supreme athleticism. No, Mayer will not be stretching the seam like his predecessor Waller, but that doesn’t mean the rookie can’t make plays down the field. What he may lack in top-end speed, he makes up for with great body control and quality route-running skills. Mayer finished his junior year with a career high 12.1 yards per reception. Turn on the tape and you’ll see box-outs reminiscent of Tony Gonzalez against smaller defensive backs, and tough contested catches that bring thoughts of Jason Witten; the latter being another popular player comparison.

It’s hard to imagine Dave Ziegler didn’t get this one right. Even if Mayer is never a superstar, he should have a long, productive career in the NFL. The Raiders’ draft class is full of question marks, but this should not be one of them.

GRADE: A

*Top photo: Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports

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