SAN ANTONIO — Steve Wiltfong expressed a sentiment gaining popularity among those in the recruiting analyst industry regarding standout Notre Dame tight end signee Michael Mayer.
“He’s going to be the best tight end to come out of Notre Dame since Tyler Eifert,” said Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting.
Eifert became Notre Dame’s all-time leader in receptions (140) and receiving yards (1,840) by a tight end before the Cincinnati Bengals selected him No. 21 overall in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Cole Kmet is in line to become the highest Irish tight end drafted since then. He received a second-round grade from the College Advisory Committee before declaring early.
Becoming better than Kmet would bring the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Mayer in elite company. The Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic product’s impressive week at the All-American Bowl only made Wiltfong more confident in that projection.
So much so that Mayer may receive a bump to five-star status.
“He’s a guy who will be in the conversation,” Wiltfong said. “We give just 32 (five-star ratings), but he’s a guy that we will certainly talk about.”
Mayer’s four-star distinction on both 247Sports and Rivals may change when the recruiting sites update their 2020 class rankings following the Polynesian Bowl on Jan. 18. 247Sports ranks Mayer as its No. 3 tight end and No. 69 overall player, while Rivals pegs Mayer No. 3 at the position and No. 37 overall.
Since Rivals started ranking players in 2002, only one Irish-bound tight end garnered a five-star rating: Kyle Rudolph (2008). That excludes Greg Olsen (2003), who signed with Notre Dame but transferred to Miami before his freshman season. The amount of five-star ratings Rivals offers each cycle varies. The 2020 class consists of 33 five-star recruits, but that’s subject to change.
Adam Gorney, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals, said last week that Mayer could join Rudolph’s five-star pedigree. Woody Wommack, Rivals’ southeast recruiting analyst, considers Mayer better than Arik Gilbert. He’s the No. 1 tight end and No. 11 overall player on Rivals.
A 37-spot increase on 247Sports, however, would be considered a drastic fluctuation. But after watching Mayer another time, Wiltfong believes he’s better than five-star tight end Darnell Washington. 247Sports ranks Washington No. 2 at the position and No. 15 overall.
“He’s got first-round ability,” said Wiltfong of Mayer. “His senior year was terrific and really his whole body of work as a two-way player. In high school, he was pretty ferocious. What a reliable catcher of the football. One of the more physical football players out here.”
The All-American Bowl saw Mayer catch a 39-yard touchdown pass from Clemson quarterback signee DJ Uiagalelei for Team East in its 33-20 loss to Team West in San Antonio on Saturday. Rivals and 247Sports regarded Mayer as one of the standout players in the four practices that preceded the high school all-star game in the Alamodome.
Maybe the most impressive play in practice from Mayer came against Noah Sewell in a one-on-one coverage matchup. Oregon’s five-star linebacker signee held onto Mayer’s uniform after losing him at the line of scrimmage. Mayer powered through the contact, leaving an off-balanced Sewell behind before making a reception downfield.
“He’s just a unique player. He’s the surest thing in Notre Dame’s class,” Wiltfong said.
Wiltfong also weighed in on Notre Dame’s three other signees that competed at the All-American Bowl below.
• OL Tosh Baker, 6-7, 271; Phoenix Pinnacle: While Wiltfong pegs Mayer as the surest signee in Notre Dame’s 2020 class, he considers Baker as the one with the highest ceiling.
Baker could not add credibility to that opinion last week, exiting Tuesday’s practice with an MCL sprain in his knee. The injury is not considered serious. Though he ended his week after day one, Baker still made an impression on 247Sports analysts.
“He was the best offensive lineman on the West in their practice on Tuesday, according to my colleagues,” Wiltfong said. “He’s really just at the tip of the iceberg since he’s a multi-sport guy. If he’s physical at the next level and mean, he’s got everything else: the frame, the length, the athletic ability.
“If he’s got some nastiness to him at the point of attack, I don’t see how he doesn’t ultimately become a first-rounder.”
Not until Baker’s junior season did he claim football as his sport of the future and play for Phoenix Pinnacle’s varsity squad. He had previously considered basketball as his top sport and landed a few Division I scholarship offers. Wiltfong denounced concerns regarding Baker’s raw technique and physicality.
The athleticism and quick feet Baker translates from the hardwood to football, paired with his length, helped compel Wiltfong to compare him to former Notre Dame offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley.
“He’s going to redshirt for sure,” Wiltfong said. “But man, one year in the hopper and he’s going to be a starter and eventually one of the best offensive tackles in college football.”
• OL Michael Carmody, 6-5, 283; Mars (Pa.) Area: Carmody spent most of the week operating at right guard, though both 247Sports and Rivals project him as an offensive tackle.
Wiltfong remains uncertain on which position best suits Carmody. He projects him as a three-year starter regardless.
“I’m still extremely high on him just because of how athletic he is and how well he moves,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a guy that’s going to get to Notre Dame and develop physically. He’s a multi-sport kid right now. What he’s going to be strength-wise is nowhere close to what he is right now.”
Carmody compares to Baker in that he took basketball more seriously earlier in his high school career and developed into an offensive tackle later in the process. Baker makes more sense as an offensive tackle in college, but Carmody could still grow into the position.
Both are playing basketball for their high schools this spring before coming to Notre Dame in June.
“Tosh Baker can bend and move. He’s long. He has looked tough and physical here. I just think he’s going to be special,” Wiltfong said. “And then Carmody, I think he’s going to be really good because he has a lot of that same skill set. He’s just not as long and big (as Baker). But he can bend, too.”
• WR Jordan Johnson, 6-0, 182; St. Louis DeSmet Jesuit: The highest-ranked wide receiver to ever sign with Notre Dame, per Rivals, made a couple notable catches during Wednesday’s practice.
In a one-on-one coverage matchup against four-star cornerback Ayden Hector, Johnson hauled in a deep pass on a go route in one-handed fashion. Johnson nearly decleated the 6-0, 198-pound Stanford signee on another deep reception after jamming him at the line of scrimmage.
Johnson never looked like the fastest player on the field, yet he continued to create separation against high-end corners like Hector. His lateral quickness and start-stop ability coalesced into a polished style of route running. He caught two passes for 28 yards in Saturday’s game.
“He got better as the week went on. He’s smooth,” Wiltfong said. “He can separate from defensive backs. He showed at times that he can stretch the field as well. He needs to be more consistent catching it. But overall, he had a really nice week.”