HENDERSON, Nev. — There was something oddly familiar to Tom Flores, the Las Vegas Raiders‘ Hall of Fame coach, as he watched video highlights of the team’s second-round draft pick from his home.
A bulky but fluid tight end, racing across the middle of the field, catching anything close to him when he wasn’t clearing defenders out of his way as a just-as-effective blocker. And wearing a Notre Dame jersey, to boot?
Michael Mayer, meet Dave Casper.
“I liked what I saw,” Flores told ESPN.com of Mayer’s highlight reel. “He has the size, he’s well-built and he moves well.”
Yeah, the last time the Raiders drafted a tight end from Notre Dame worked out well for both parties. And Flores was there to coach Casper when the Raiders took him in the second round of the 1974 draft, No. 45 overall, as he began his own Canton-bound career.
In Mayer, the Raiders got significant value as they also drafted him in the second round, trading up three spots to No. 35, after having him listed among their top 15 overall prospects.
And not only did the Raiders get a top-rated tight end, they addressed a key position of need after they traded former Pro Bowler Darren Waller to the New York Giants for a third-round draft pick earlier in the offseason — Waller had missed 13 of the Raiders’ last 23 regular-season games with injuries — and allowed Foster Moreau to walk in free agency.
“[Mayer] has a skill set to come in and make an impact for us in Year 1, and how far that goes, I’m not going to put any expectations on him to say he’s going to be this or that, but definitely feel like he can come in and make an impact for us in the passing game,” said Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler, who acknowledged he contemplated trading up into the first round to select Mayer.
“Michael is going to be here for a long time from a contractual standpoint. But high ceiling for him if he continues to grow and learn the nuances of the game. You’re going to see some different coverages and some different matchups than you see in the college game, but he has a very good skill set to make an impact for us.”
Especially, Ziegler said, on third down and in the red zone with such “short-area quickness” and size at his disposal.
“Probably in terms of our scale of traits, one of the highest guys on our board in that regard, too,” Ziegler added.
Last fall, the 6-foot-4, 249-pound Mayer led the Fighting Irish with 67 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdown receptions — a school record for a tight end. He left Notre Dame holding school career records for a TE in catches (180), receiving yards (2,099) and receiving TDs (18) and caught a pass in all 36 games he played.
Coming to the Raiders, Mayer, who ran a 4.7 40 at the combine and was the third of 15 tight ends drafted, said he wanted to continue working on his blocking.
“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,” he said. “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 … 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.
“I’m going to come in and I’m just going to try to absorb as much information as I can [from Hooper and Howard]. Those guys, they’ve played a lot of football, that’s for sure. And so, I’m going to come in and I’m going to learn a lot from them. We’re going to complement each other well and we’re going to have fun doing it. And we’re going to win ballgames and it’s going to be fun.”
Beyond the Raiders’ tradition at the position, Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels’ offense has always shown an affinity for playmaking tight ends.
“So, I think I’m going to fit very well into the offense,” Mayer said. “I think it goes back to kind of what I was saying before; it’s coming in, it’s doing what they’re asking me to do, and not doing anything more. Because it’s about winning football games and that’s kind of what they drafted me to do.”
That’s what the last Notre Dame tight end drafted by the Raiders did, too. Casper, as Flores noted, was not the fleetest of foot, either.
“But David could run,” said Flores, who was the Raiders receivers coach in Casper’s first five seasons before ascending to the head spot. “He was deceptive in his running. He had speed. You saw that in the ‘Ghost to the Post.’
“He was a bright player. Sometimes too bright,” Flores laughed. “But he was great. He caught everything that was close to him. That he could run routes as well as he did was a pleasant surprise.”
“Casper did not waste any movements,” Flores said. “Dave was brilliant.”
Casper had the sure-handed Fred Biletnikoff and the speedy Cliff Branch, both of whom would also have busts in Canton, clearing out “alleys” for Casper in the middle of the field, Flores said.
The current Raiders have an All-Pro wideout in Davante Adams and a former Pro Bowl slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow, in addition to signing Jakobi Meyers in free agency and drafting Tre Tucker in the third round.
And as Flores saw it, his old team drafting a quality tight end was necessary, given the talent at the position in the rest of the division with All-Pro Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ Gerald Everett and the Denver Broncos‘ recently acquired Adam Trautman.
“We have to be strong at tight end,” Flores said. “The AFC West is Tight End World.”
Could rookie Michael Mayer provide ‘Ghost’-like impact for Raiders? – ESPN – Las Vegas Raiders Blog