TUSCALOOSA — A little over a month ago, Jared Mayden was understandably nervous about the future as he drove nearly 600 miles home to Dallas.
It was just days after the University of Alabama shuttered the Mal Moore Athletic Complex doors to all non-essential personnel following the Southeastern Conference’s suspension of all on-campus activities March 13 — including the football team’s scheduled Pro Day on March 24.
With no place to train, and no one to train with, the former Crimson Tide senior safety opted to return to Texas and continue his pre-NFL Draft preparations near his hometown of Sachse, a suburb of Dallas.
Over the next several weeks, though, doors began to open up for Mayden as more and more NFL teams reached out remotely since the NFL suspended all in-person scouting efforts due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I feel like now I’m at a good spot where I can kind of figure out where I’m going to end up in the draft,” Mayden said Tuesday. “Everything I could control I pretty much did.
“At this point it’s kind of out of my hands and I’m good with where it’s at, where I left it at. At least with the circumstances (the way they are), I gave myself the best shot to get drafted. Now I can just sit back and wait for my name to get called.”
A one-year starter as Alabama’s first-string free safety last season, Mayden might not have garnered some of the same national acclaim as former Tide teammates and likely first-round picks Tua Tagovailoa, Jedrick Wills Jr., receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III or fellow safety Xavier McKinney — all widely considered among the Top 3 players at their respective positions.
Still, the attention he was able to receive — especially from NFL personnel — throughout Alabama’s 2019 season should certainly give Mayden a leg up on several similarly talented defensive backs projected to go on Day 3, especially since the coronavirus has limited or downright inhibited NFL teams from gathering intel on players from less publicly prominent programs.
“It’s been crazy,” said Mayden, who spoke with the New Orleans Saints midday Tuesday. “Really ever since the end of the Senior Bowl, you talk to so many people during the day and then when the quarantine started, the next week I want to say I had talked to the Patriots, the Jaguars — a lot of teams called. And things have been consistent, probably 2-3 teams per week, but probably the last two weeks, … I’ve been talking to at least two teams per day.”
Most of those conversations have been varying degrees of coaches and scouts getting to know Mayden on a more personal level, trying to understand the man underneath the helmet. Of course, some interactions have given him pause, including during multiple discussions with the New England Patriots.
“It was just a little different, like they were trying to … do stuff to see how you react,” Mayden said. “Like you might stop talking and they won’t start talking again so there’s an awkward silence. They did that a lot. … They did it at the Senior Bowl too.”
Awkward silences aside, Mayden has grown to appreciate the pre-draft process and all his interactions with NFL teams over the last couple of months. They’ve also given him and his family a sense of confidence entering this weekend’s festivities.
“Every team I’ve talked to told me I’d be drafted,” Mayden said. “But the draft can be unpredictable, so if I was to be a free agent, I’m pretty sure every team that I talked to — and I’ve talked to pretty much every team — would want me as a priority free agent. But I’m confident, my agent’s confident, my parents, my coaches, pretty much everybody’s confident that I go anywhere from 3-6.”
As do many draft evaluators such as the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, who lists Mayden as his No. 114 overall player and projects him as an early Day 3 option Saturday. The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off with Round 1 on Thursday night, with Rounds 2-3 on Friday night and Rounds 4-7 going from 11 a.m. through about 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m a fan of his — he’s my 114th (ranked) player,” Jeremiah said during a conference call Thursday. “I thought he was somebody that definitely belonged at the (NFL) Combine. So, I think he’s going to get picked. I think he’s going to go in the fourth or fifth round.
“He can play in the deep half, he can cover in the slot, he can match up with tight ends. He plays very aggressive. You’ll see the big hits. (He) just needs to do a better job of wrapping up and finishing some tackles, but he’s got good ball skills and he can run. There’s a lot to like about him, and I think he’s a good player.”
Also working in Mayden’s favor is the on-field profile he’s been able to establish with NFL scouts/teams, even if he wasn’t able to showcase his sub-4.5-second speed or football intellect with coaches at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
“Mayden is different. If you’re a non-combine player (but) you’re at Alabama and teams have seen you, seen you (play) in the Fall, seen you at all-star games, they’ve had exposure to you, they’re more comfortable with you and they’re going to be more comfortable turning in the card,” Jeremiah said.
“Now, some teams will even have a problem with those guys because they might not have medical on them. But the non-combine (or smaller school) players where you didn’t get a chance to get medical, where you didn’t get a chance to visit with them, it’s going to penalize them a little bit, unfortunately, and it’s going to be the benefit of the guys that were big school players or guys that have been to the combine.”
The “Alabama Factor” is known far and wide — and even used in recruiting pitches — but it’s hardly a fabrication, especially not for the NFL scouts that regularly line the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields throughout the Fall.
“There’s scouts at practice every day here (at Alabama), you see them walk throughout the building, you might say ‘hi’ or ‘hello,’ you might even talk to one of them when caught in the elevator or something like that,” Mayden said.
“That’s just one of the advantages of coming here. The junior day where I was able to run my (4.45-second) 40, that helped me a lot, because … since I didn’t get an official time at the Combine, they can go back and reference the 40 that they have on file from last year.”
Mayden remembers one exchange at the Senior Bowl in late February when a Carolina Panthers scout raved about his work ethic and how impressed he was after watching several Tide practices last season.
“You know it’s crazy, I never thought about it much when I was younger, my freshman or sophomore year, you’d always see them (around at practice),” Mayden said.
“But this year when I started playing, you really start noticing that the scouts really look how you interact with your teammates, how you interact with your coaches, are you leading in the drills — and they’re there for the whole practice — are you talking back to a coach.
“There’s a lot of things that go into (their evaluations), so it helps them form an opinion of you for when it’s time to draft. Alabama really puts you ahead because they’re going to have a full portfolio of Alabama players, how we are at practice, how we do things, versus other players where they only bank on a combine or a pro day to even get face time with a coach.”
Instead, Mayden has had plenty of socially distant face-to-face opportunities with NFL coaches across the league, enough to enter this weekend with a greater sense of certainty about what’s going to happen Saturday. It’s why the Texas native is planning a small socially acceptable gathering of friends and family — “10 people, I guess, but probably going to be more than that, I’m not going to lie,” Mayden said — at his family’s house for Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
“I’m expected to go anywhere between Rounds 3-6 — at least that’s what I’ve been told — so Saturday I’m going to have my family over so that if I get picked on Saturday, at least everybody’s there,” Mayden said. “I feel like Saturday’s a good day to have everybody come over.”
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