When the New Orleans Saints got to the final round of the 2019 NFL Draft last weekend to make the 231st overall selection of the 7th Round, one name they were rather surprised to still see available was a young man who not only could end up being yet another draft "steal" for the organization, but also a player that has the potential to eventually become their #1 starting tight end of the future — which ironically had been one of the team's original goals heading into the current off-season.
But it was quite evident that the Saints obviously didn't expect 6-foot-4 inch, 250 pound former University of Notre Dame tight end Alizé Mack (his first name is pronounced Alli-ZAY) to still be there; and at his post-draft press conference following the annual event's conclusion, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis expressed his delight that they were able to do so.
With the selection of Mack, the Black and Gold have acquired the services of a young man who although he still needs more time to fully develop his playing skills, will be given an opportunity to become a "weapon" and ultimately carve himself out a huge role within the team's offensive scheme.
And that's something that Loomis acknowledged will happen over the course of due time.
REPORTER'S QUESTION: Alizé Mack was interesting, because he was a top recruit and went to Notre Dame, but didn’t meet his potential at Notre Dame. Are you intrigued by prospects like that knowing how much potential they started with?
Loomis: “Yeah. Obviously he was a really highly decorated high school player, and whether he met their expectations or his, that’s for someone else to say. But we like the talent, and we like where we got him. He’ll have an opportunity and he’ll get every opportunity to succeed here.”
REPORTER'S QUESTION: It’s so easy to come in here when you have a guy who was team captain, team leader, the coach’s son, all of those things. But when it’s a guy who has had a suspension, how do they have to sell you that they are going to succeed here?
Loomis: “That’s all part of the information gathering process that we go through, and that we’ve gone through for the last few months. Somebody has red flags on them. We’ve got to get a comfort level for those red flags, and can this be different. What are our concerns, are they legitimate or are they not legitimate? We had a 30-minute visit with Alize’ and it went well. Obviously it went well or we wouldn’t have taken him.”
REPORTER'S FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: Was there anything in particular that you like about his attitude?
Loomis: “Yeah, I think he was pretty accountable. He talked about how he matured and still has room to do that.”
Even though the Saints recently signed 32-year old former Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook in NFL Free Agency to become their brand new starting #1 tight end for this season and the next, the organization had always planned to address the lack of depth at the position this off-season; and the selection of the "Mack Daddy" should allow them to do just that.
It's something that Mack — the young 22-year old Las Vegas, Nevada native who at one time was the undisputed #1 tight end prospect in the entire nation coming out of high school — told those same reporters in a pre-arranged conference call not long after his selection.
“I’m going to take full responsibility and full advantage of this opportunity, and I can’t wait,” Mack explained. Mack told reporters that he loved his previous experience in NOLA; which came when he made an official pre-draft visit and toured team the team's Training Facility in suburban Metairie, before he met privately with the offensive coaching staff, particularly with Saints assistant head coach tight ends coach Dan Campbell. “It felt like home as soon as I came down there.”
When asked by NOLA.com reporter Josh Katzenstein what the Saints are getting with him, he replied, “A weapon".
"You’re going to get a guy who can do it all, a guy who can line up in-line, a guy who can line up on the outside and be a mismatch problem vertically down the field, a guy who can be a huge red zone threat.”
“And more so than that, you’re going to get a dude that’s going to come to work every single day regardless of what’s going on, I’m going to come in every single day ready to go, ready to compete — no doubt.”
As it turns out, Mack's path to this reach this point hasn't always been what you'd call 'smooth sailing'.
Mack arrived at Notre Dame and came to the legendary Fighting Irish football program with great expectations, after he had earned the label of the nation's best tight end for Las Vegas high school football powerhouse Bishop Gorman; where he personally won the Nevada State Championship 4 times, at a school which eventually won six straight state high school titles as well as the mythical USA TODAY National High School Football Championship in one of the seasons (2014) while he was there. The school would repeat as National Champions (2015) the following season after Mack's departure.
After declining a handful of scholarship offers from a variety of other big-name colleges and universities, Mack accepted the scholarship to play at Notre Dame and started five games as a true freshman in the 2015 Season; as he caught 13 passes for 190 yards (14.6 average) in 13 games.
Mack would be declared academically ineligible in 2016 and did not play, which severely hindered his development.
Fortunately, Mack was still allowed to practice with the team that fall, and then he feverishly worked throughout the Spring and even the Summer of 2017 to raise his grades academically, so that he could be eligible to play in time for the start of the 2017 Season.
He then started six games as a junior, and hauled in 19 passes for 166 yards (8.7 average) and a touchdown on a team that lacked any sort of consistency or fundamental execution in their passing game.
Then last season as a senior, Mack started 12 games for the Irish (who went undefeated in the regular season and earned one of the four spots in the College Football Playoffs), as he caught 36 passes for 360 yards (10.0 yards per catch) and 3 TD's.
Now while it's evident that Mack's production numbers-wise wasn't on par with some of college football's other top-caliber tight ends, they didn't tell the "true story" of why Saints team brass were so high on him.
Alize Mack is a human highlight reel pic.twitter.com/1P0xgnJkNE
— Athlete Swag (@AthleteSwag) November 11, 2018
Even though his stats weren't mind-blowing by any means, what they clearly didn't reveal was how EFFECTIVE that Mack can be in the passing game. As it was noted by the good folks over at Pro Football Focus, Mack lined up all over the field for the Irish offense; which demonstrated how he likely would be utilized in the Saints high-powered offensive attack:
- 51.1% of snaps inline
- 30.6% of snaps in the slot
- 16.7% of snaps in the backfield
- 1.5% of snaps at wide receiver
Those numbers accurately reflect the ratio of what head coach Sean Payton, Campbell and the rest of the Saints coaching staff like to normally see from their tight ends, because it gives them the capability to create mismatches against smaller linebackers and defensive backs.
And it's a role that Mack is quite capable of fulfilling, just so long as he doesn't experience any setbacks that could hinder or delay his eventual development. Bottom line: Alizé can definitely become a "weapon" in the Saints offense, just as he said he would.
One thing that stands out when you watch the film / tape on Mack, is that he has a very strong pair of hands and is able to snag very high passes, and thereby creating another option for the quarterback, particularly in the red zone and goal-line situations.
And once you combine that along with his size and his length, it's almost somewhat impossible for any QB — much less a future Hall of Fame living legend like Drew Brees — to be inaccurate when throwing passes to Mack.
There's really no such thing as a "bad throw:, when you have this young man as a receiving option. Often times, Mack resembles an NBA "power forward" jumping up for a rebound, when he goes up to 'high-point' the football.
What makes the selection such a "steal" if you will, is that Mack has UNTAPPED POTENTIAL to ultimately succeed as a "receiving TE" throughout the course of his professional career in the NFL, thanks mostly to his vertical ability and ball skills. Regardless of whether he was lined up next to the formation or in the slot, Mack's vertical speed is an outright mismatch for linebackers; and his size also creates problems for smaller defensive backs.
Mack can "lull" you to sleep with his very deceptive speed and quickness, and he also possesses the innate capability to outrun defenders and figuratively even run OVER them with his hard-nosed and aggressive playing style,
So why did Mack last all the way to the 231st overall selection of the Draft's 7th and final round?
Two words: route-running.
Scouts have often noted Mack's issues with running poor routes at times, and it's a deficiency in his game that's undoubtedly played a significant part in his not being taken in the mid-rounds (he was projected to be anywhere between a 3rd and 5th Round pick) last weekend.
Until Mack is able to further develop that aspect of his skill-set, it's very likely that he will initially begin his career as the team's #3 tight end behind Cook and #2 back-up TE Josh Hill. But being mentored by both players should prove to be very beneficial for Mack and the team, since they both can have a huge role in helping him get better in that area.
And with Dan Campbell additionally giving him guidance along the way, you'd have to imagine that Mack can be what the Saints had been looking for this off-season at the tight end position, all along.
Alizé Mack appears to be yet another NFL Draft "steal" for the New Orleans Saints — and it's an unexpected but much welcome surprise....