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NFL Draft expert: Michael Mayer could be next Heath Miller

Should Rams trade up for a tight end to replace Tyler Higbee?

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Over three seasons at Virginia, tight end Heath Miller had 144 catches for 1,703 yards and 20 touchdowns, with much of that production coming from future NFL quarterback Matt Schaub. At 6’5, 256 lbs, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw Miller as a potentially dominant pairing for second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and took him with the 30th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

As a rookie, Miller caught 39 passes for 459 yards with six touchdowns, adding 107 more yards in the playoffs en route to a Steelers Super Bowl championship. Three years later, Miller had 11 catches for 156 yards and another touchdown in the postseason, winning a second Super Bowl.

Miller won’t be going to the Hall of Fame any day, but Steelers fans will fondly remember his 11 seasons with the team and credit it him as one of the greatest all-around offensive players in franchise history. If the Rams could get someone like Miller in the draft this year to supplant Tyler Higbee and to pair with Matthew Stafford for the 2023 season, should they do whatever it takes to secure his services if he becomes attainable after the midpoint of the first round?

That’s a question that NFL Draft expert Ferragamo15 posed recently on the premier L.A. Rams website, asking if the Rams should trade up for Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, someone he sees as a potential future Miller, though others have also compared him to Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski.

Whenever the Steelers needed to convert a 3rd down pass, it felt as if they only threw the ball to one of 2 players: Hines Ward or Heath Miller. Defenses couldn’t stop either of those players.

It feels cheesy to go with someone like Jason Witten for a comp. An answer that begs the question. So, I force myself not to use that comp, even though I think Witten is a very fair comparison.

You might think that okay, maybe Jason Witten is the ceiling for Michael Mayer and Heath Miller could be the floor. Is that true, or just perception? Over the course of his career, Witten had a catch rate of 71.4%, 7.6 yards per target and 54.1% of his receptions went for 1st downs. Heath Miller had a catch rate of 71.8%, 8.0 yards per target and 59% of his catches resulted in 1st downs. Across the board, you could argue that Miller was more efficient than Witten, even though Witten had almost exactly twice as many career receiving yards than Miller.

The question remains, is there a great prospect the Rams could grab in the lower part of the 1st round and if so, would you be willing to trade the entire 2023 draft to get that player? Is Michael Mayer, Kincaid or Musgrave worth such an aggressive move?

What I’ve learned over many years on this side of writing is that fans aggressively hate the idea of giving up draft picks to move up for one player. So even when it is the right move, it will loudly be criticized as “the wrong move”, with few exceptions. This despite the fact that the L.A. Rams have wasted far more picks on bad prospects in the last five years than they have on trades.

Ferragamo15 has scouted Mayer as a uniquely gifted offensive weapon and coming off of a Super Bowl of watching Travis Kelce win his second Super Bowl in four years, against Philadelphia’ Dallas Goedert nearly doing everything he could to get the Eagles a surprising championship, it’s hard not to wonder how the Rams would look different in the future if they didn’t have the limited, clumsy, and error prone Tyler Higbee (seven drops last season) as Stafford’s number two option behind Cooper Kupp.

But that doesn’t make Mayer a sure thing or a “Baby Gronk” as people have forced:

Mayer was nicknamed “Baby Gronk” by fans. The moniker is a bit misleading, because Mayer isn’t a very good blocker, while Gronk is a great blocker. Maybe the baby part is right, because Mayer isn’t quite as big as a true big TE. Mayer is about 6’4’’ tall and a bigger NFL TE is typically about 6’6’’ to 6’7’’ tall.

If Mayer is Baby Gronk, he’s kind of an ugly baby as a draft prospect. Mayer isn’t very fast or quick, he’s not a consistent and reliable blocker, he’s not a super athletic pass catcher like Pitts or even as smooth and fluid as Hunter Henry (35th overall, early 2nd round 2016). If you randomly watched a single ND game, you might think “I don’t get it, this guy isn’t any good, what’s the big deal?” On paper, Joe Klopfenstein (Rams 2nd round 2006) might look like the better prospect. Klopfenstein is taller, with good Combine results (4.65 second speed, 4.21 sec shuttle, 36’’ vertical and did 27 bench reps.)

If Mayer is so unimpressive as an athlete and as a blocker, why is he almost universally ranked as a top 15 prospect in this year’s draft? Mayer is nearly unstoppable in the short and intermediate area.

I am calling our resident analyst Ferragamo15 a draft expert from now on. If Lance Zierlein and Matt Miller and Daniel Jeremiah get that distinction, why not Ferragamo??? I’ve seen few, if any others, in this space write as many comprehensive profiles on the draft as Ferregagmo15 does.

I wish it was easier for me to highlight everything he writes on the front page but our layout changed this year and so I’m working to keep pointing you in that direction. Go to the Turf Show Times homepage at any time, scroll down a little, and keep an eye on our fanposts section for the latest. Read them all right here!

So should the Rams go all-in for Mayer or another TE?

Well, the depth here of having a “top-3” between Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, and Luke Musgrave implies that the Rams might not have to make a move. Or at least, not a dramatic one. Sure, all three could go in the first round—probably if that happens, it continues to prove what I believe, which is that this could be a really weak draft class—something that hasn’t happened at tight end since 2017 with O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku.

Prior to then, we hadn’t seen three first round tight ends since 2002, when it was Jeremy Shockey, Daniel Graham, and Jerramy Stevens.

Yes, you’re noticing what I’m noticing. None of those six tight ends are great. The last four first round tight ends are Kyle Pitts, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, and Hayden Hurst. The five before 2017 were Eric Ebron, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Pettigrew, and Dustin Keller.

You have to go back to Tony Gonzalez in 1997 to find the last Hall of Fame tight end drafted in the first round and before him you have to go back to Kellen Winslow in 1979. There won’t be any first round Hall of Famers after Gonzalez either, but we won’t quite close the book on any of them drafted since 2019.

So what makes Michael Mayer different? It may not be what makes Mayer different, but what comes after Mayer, Kincaid, and Musgrave. Can the Rams pick another position in the second round and then assess tight end options in the third round and on day three and come away just as satisfied with a Higbee replacement?

We shouldn’t completely rule out that the next Heath Miller would be exceptionally valuable to Sean McVay. But we also can’t rule out that L.A. could find him later in the draft, although their other attempts (Gerald Everett, Brycen Hopkins, Jacob Harris) have been resounding failures.