During the 15 years he served as the NFL Network’s chief draft analyst, Mike Mayock worked hard to earn the respect of the league’s personnel people and scouts.
Which is why, when the Philadelphia native was named the general manager of the Oakland Raiders this past New Year’s Eve, the reaction around the league’s scouting community to his hiring was extremely positive.
“I talked to at least 20 different scouts after Mike took the job," said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, a longtime friend and colleague. “They all said the same thing: ‘It kind of feels like one of us got the job.'"
It wasn’t always that way. When Mayock first got the NFLN job in 2004 and started showing up at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine and college pro days, it took a while for scouts to embrace him. Even though he had played in the NFL with the Giants and been a four-year starting defensive back at Boston College, he was viewed as an outsider.
“I’m showing up with my book bag, like, ‘Hi, I’m Mike.’ And they were like, ‘Get the F out of here, Mike,’" Mayock told reporters earlier this year.
Slowly but surely, though, the coach’s kid from the Main Line convinced them he knew more than a little something about the imperfect science of evaluating football flesh.
That definitely was the case in 2006, when most of the league’s teams had Vince Young and Matt Leinart as the top two quarterbacks on their draft boards. Yet Mayock kept touting Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler over both Young and Leinart, despite the fact that talent-challenged Vandy had won only 11 games in Cutler’s four years as the starter there.
Young, the third pick in the draft, ended up making just 50 career NFL starts and threw five more interceptions than touchdowns. Leinart, taken 10th by Arizona, started just 18 games before he washed out.
Cutler, taken 11th by Chicago, played in the league for 12 years and started 153 games. Threw for 35,133 yards and 227 touchdowns.
“Everything I’ve done over the last 15 years has helped me get to a point where I feel comfortable stepping in a room and talking scheme with Jon," Mayock said, referring to Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
When NFLN started up and hired Mayock to be its draft expert, the people in charge of the league-owned network told him to make the job into whatever he wanted it to be.
“He did it as if he was a league GM," Davis said. “He was in 32 buildings. He was actually training for this [a GM job] even though he wasn’t doing it.
“Other guys like [former Lions GM] Matt Millen, he wasn’t doing that. He was a broadcaster [for Fox]. Same with [49ers GM] John Lynch. John’s a smart, savvy guy and I wish him nothing but the best. But his new job is nothing like the one he had as a game analyst with Fox. That’s a big transition.
“Mike was at all the pro days. He was at the Senior Bowl. He was at the combine. He’s spent the last 15 years watching tape and evaluating players. I’m biased, but I think he has a great chance for success because of how he works."
“At the end of the day," Mayock said, ‘’evaluating is evaluating. When I sit in the room and watch film now, it’s no different than what I did for the network."
Mayock enjoyed his job at NFL Network. But while he might have been considered “one of us" by the league’s scouting community, he knew there was a big difference between them and him.
They were playing with real money. He was playing with Monopoly money. Their jobs depended on the evaluations they made. His didn’t.
“What I missed kind of more than anything being a lone ranger [with NFL Network], it’s awesome to sit in your office and watch film all day long and get on the phone and talk to teams," Mayock said. “But having a team you’re associated with and have skin in the game with, to me, is the reason I’m here [with the Raiders]. I can’t wait until the first regular-season game. I can’t imagine what that will be like."
Mayock had received feelers from NFL teams before, including an earlier one from the Raiders when current owner Mark Davis’ father Al still was alive. But the timing or the situation never seemed to be right. Now, at 60, with his children grown, he figured why not?
“What made it right for me were the people [in Oakland]," he said. “I’ve had some opportunities in the past, and maybe it personally wasn’t the right time for me or I didn’t feel I had the right fit in that particular organization.
“The nice thing here is I can walk over to the coach’s side of the building any time of the day or night and have a conversation with Jon, with [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther, with [special teams coordinator] Rich Bisaccia or [offensive line coach] Tom Cable, because I’ve known them for 15, 20, 25 years.
“I’ve always believed that the biggest dysfunction in an NFL building is an inability for the coaching staff and the scouting staff to be philosophically on the same page consistently. But here, I walked into the building Day 1 and knew all of these coaches, and immediately, there is a bond."
One other huge difference between his old job and his new one is that he no longer is a lone ranger. He is in charge of an entire staff of scouts and personnel people, which, even now, nearly four months after his hiring and days before his first draft, he still is evaluating.
He already has let a few scouts go and likely will cut a few more loose after the draft as he makes the staff his own.
“There probably are a couple of guys [on the staff] who were thinking, ‘Why didn’t I get that job?’ " Charles Davis said. “Other guys, Mike might feel just aren’t good fits with him. He’s already had to do some of that. That’s par for the course. ...
“Through this draft, it will be more of a holding situation. Then, after that, he’ll be able to put more of his own imprint on things."
The key for Mayock – and the Raiders – will be his relationship with Gruden. The two have known each other for more than 20 years. While Mayock is the general manager, Gruden, who was given that crazy 10-year, $100 million contract by Mark Davis in January 2018, has final say over all personnel decisions.
Mayock didn’t sign on with the Raiders to be a yes man for Gruden, and Gruden didn’t bring him in to be one. But the Raiders’ coach has strong opinions about what he likes and doesn’t like. When push comes to shove, will he listen to Mayock? We’ll see.
Gruden said he will work “hand in hand" with Mayock. “I’m sure there are going to be disagreements," he said. “But he is going to have plenty of authority making the calls that are necessary for the Raiders."
The Raiders, who won just four games last season after Gruden traded away two of the league’s best players – edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper -- have four of the first 35 selections in this week’s draft, including three first-rounders – Nos. 4, 24, and 27.
“I think Mike’s going to be great for Jon," said Davis, who once coached with Gruden at the University of the Pacific. “When the head coach/boss comes in and says, ‘I want this guy,’ most guys will say, ‘Well, coach, this, this and this.’ And he’ll say, ‘But I really want that guy,’ and they’ll say, ‘OK, coach, you want him, you got him.’
‘’Mike’s going to say, ‘I’m not sure that’s best for the team, Jon.’ I’m sure they’ve had some long conversations well into the night. But that’s what Jon needs."