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Las Vegas Raiders draft Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer early in the second round after unexpected wait

Chris Simms explains to Mike Florio why he’d be shocked if Dalton Kincaid doesn’t go in the top 15 of the 2023 NFL Draft, why Sam LaPorta was slotted No. 2 in his rankings and more.

Michael Mayer may have expected to hear his name called in the NFL draft’s first round on Thursday night, but that should not take away from that moment coming early in Friday’s second round. The Las Vegas Raiders selected Mayer with the No. 35 overall pick on Friday, the fourth pick in the second round.

By being drafted, the most prolific tight end in Notre Dame history extended one of the most impressive streaks of any university in the NFL draft. The last 11 players to start for the Irish at tight end to open a season have now been drafted. That streak stretches back to Anthony Fasano being picked in the second round in the 2006 draft after starting for two seasons in South Bend. For 19 straight years, the tight end who took the field to start the season for Notre Dame eventually heard his name called in the NFL draft.

Of those 11 players — ranging from Fasano to Tyler Eifert to Cole Kmet — Mayer set every tight end receiving record in the Notre Dame books aside from single-game yardage, a number Kyle Rudolph held onto with 164 yards against Michigan in 2010, a total boosted by a 95-yard touchdown reception in the game’s final minutes.

Mayer finished 2022 with 67 catches for 809 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, leading the Irish in all those categories. His three-year career concluded with 180 catches for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. The first-team All-American skipped his final year of collegiate eligibility to enter the NFL draft, understandably so given his first-round selection.

Physically, Mayer has seemed ready for the NFL since his freshman season, catching 42 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns while working in tandem with Tommy Tremble. Of course, the NFL prohibited his entry into the draft until this season, but it was a foregone conclusion he would head to the NFL after the 2022 season since about the time he first arrived on Notre Dame’s campus.

It took an extra 20 hours or so for that conclusion to become reality, and on the surface that could seem unfortunate for Mayer, but there is a pretty quick argument that the wait could work out in his favor.

The last pick of the first round of the 2022 draft, Georgia safety Lewis Cine to the Minnesota Vikings, signed a four-year, $11.5 million contract with a team fifth-year option available. The first pick of last year’s second round, Houston defensive end Logan Hall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed a four-year, $9.3 million contract with no such team fifth-year option. The cost of that $2.2 million difference, not to mention $4.9 million less in guaranteed funds, is Hall can reach unrestricted free agency a year before Cine does.

The fourth pick of last year’s second round, Iowa State running back Breece Hall to the New York Jets, signed a four-year, $9.0 million contract with $6.4 million guaranteed.

In other words, the last 20 hours of frustration for Mayer will mean he can start earning off his second NFL contract a year earlier, and that could be worth much more than $2.5 million. And given the floor on NFL veterans’ salaries, that expedited timeline to the second contract does not cost a player as aggressively on the tail end of his career.

As for going to Las Vegas, Mayer has already enjoyed some personal success at the Raiders’ home stadium:

If that streak of 11 tight ends and 19 years is to reach 12 and 20, junior Mitchell Evans will need to hear his name called in a future NFL draft, the presumed starter for the Irish in 2023, particularly with sophomore Eli Raridon and senior Kevin Bauman both recovering from 2022 injuries. That leaves sophomore Holden Staes to challenge Evans, and while both likely will play, Evans is the clear-cut frontrunner to start.

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