Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer declaring for NFL draft, skipping bowl

Michael Mayer snags 2nd TD for Notre Dame (0:34)

Michael Mayer snags his second touchdown of the game as Notre Dame cuts it to 38-27. (0:34)

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer told ESPN that he's declaring for the NFL draft. Mayer is the top prospect at his position, No. 8 overall on Mel Kiper's Big Board, and leaves Notre Dame as the most productive tight end in school history.

Mayer, a true junior, told ESPN that he'll be skipping the Gator Bowl against South Carolina.

He said that his decision to head to the draft after his third season at Notre Dame comes down to him being ready to be a pro, something he said he realized could happen during his freshman year.

"I've really enjoyed my experience at Notre Dame," Mayer told ESPN. "The first reason I picked Notre Dame was the NFL, it was on my mind a very, very long time. I saw a lot of good tight ends in in the NFL from Notre Dame. That was one of the main reasons I went there."

Mayer finishes his college career as the most productive tight end in school history. He leads Notre Dame tight ends in career yards (2009), catches (180) and touchdowns (18). He's third overall on Notre Dame's receiving list with 180 receptions, trailing only Michael Floyd and T.J. Jones, which is impressive considering he reached that total in just three seasons.

This year, he broke his own single-season touchdown record for tight ends at Notre Dame with nine touchdown catches, besting his prior mark of seven. He finished the year with 67 catches and 809 yards despite being Notre Dame's most obvious receiving threat.

"I wanted to come and win games be a first-round draft pick at tight end," Mayer said. "I set my sights on it, and that's what I've been working toward the last three years."

Mayer is the consensus top tight end in this draft, according to the rankings of all of ESPN's draft experts. ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said that Mayer and Texas running back Bijan Robinson project as the two "safest" picks in this draft, as their skills so obviously translate up to the NFL.

"He's a do-it-all guy," Miller said of Mayer. "I would never want to compare someone to Travis Kelce, but he's similar in that he's a great blocker, athletic enough to play in space and a very consistent wide receiver. He's just all-around solid. He's a three-down true in-line tight end who should be a top-10 pick."

Mayer got the nickname Baby Gronk as a Notre Dame freshman. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he cuts an imposing figure on the field. He said he studies Kelce more than Rob Gronkowski, as he said that he appreciates the nuance in Kelce's tactical route running.

"If I sit down and watch Travis Kelce tape, I learn 10 new things," he said. "There's a ton of things that he does in routes. I really pride myself on the route-running game."

Mayer entered Notre Dame as a top-100 recruit from Covington Catholic (Ky.) High School in 2020 and said he appreciated the older leaders on the team such as Ian Book for embracing him and teaching him how things worked at the school. He said he appreciated his high school coach, Eddie Eviston, and both of his Notre Dame position coaches, John McNulty and Gerad Parker, for helping him to reach his potential.

Mayer said it will be strange watching the Gator Bowl, as he knows he'll wish he was out there. He said he appreciated playing under first-year coach Marcus Freeman this year. "Notre Dame football is in good hands," he said. "Coach Freeman has done a fantastic job coming in and being a leader. Coach Freeman really understands and gets being a college football student athlete. He's patient and understanding. There's not a lot of yelling and screaming. If we're not winning, it's, 'How are we going to fix it?'"

Mayer said he plans to return to the team banquet later this month to give his formal goodbyes to all his teammates, coaches, strength coaches and staff. He plans to go to California on Jan. 2 to begin training for the NFL combine.

Mayer said that he and his family are appreciative of the moment and opportunity as he moves onto the NFL, as his parents Andy and Amy, and his four siblings --- including older brother A.J., who played at Miami (OH) -- all invested a lot of time and energy in his success.

"This means a lot to me and my parents and siblings," he said. "My parents and mom really put a lot of time into me to not only being the best sports performer, but the best person. Because of all the stuff they've done for me, it's a really cool thing and means a lot to my family."