Boye Mafe and the Draft Board Buzz
NFL Draft - Boye Mafe is known as an intense, high-energy personality on the field and on the sideline. But was the former University of Minnesota edge rusher and rising 2022 NFL draft prospect really so intense as a child that he used to bang holes in the walls of his home with his head?
Mafe was surprised by that very question during an interview with Football Outsiders. "What? That's on the Minnesota website? I didn't know that."
"I don't remember every day of my childhood. I can't deny, nor confirm."
OK. But did your older siblings and cousins really lock you in the laundry room so they could have some peace and quiet while playing video games?
Mafe was again taken aback. "I was a little annoyance as a kid. I always wanted to hang around the older kids. So that probably did happen."
At least tales of Mafe's youthful obsession with pro wrestling were not as greatly exaggerated.
"I'd take a couple of beds out of the bedrooms and make a wrestling mat," he said. "And I'd be jumping off the couches." Sometimes he grappled with those older siblings or cousins. Other times he suplexed his stuffed animals.
As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy!
In the makeshift mattress ring, Mafe was Triple H or John Cena. On the basketball courts near his Minneapolis home, he emulated Kevin Garnett. When he took up playground football as a preteen, he might imitate Jared Allen or Kam Chancellor. It was a typical all-American childhood until Maye's father announced that Mafe would spend his eighth-grade year at a boarding school in Nigeria.
"My dad wanted me and my siblings to get a little experience of how he grew up," Mafe said. His parents were first-generation immigrants who still spoke the Yoruba language at home and wanted to steep their children in the culture. Mafe didn't learn until late in the summer that he would be spending a year abroad starting that autumn. "I got ready for it as soon as I could. But you can't plan for everything."
Lagos, Nigeria, is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city of over 15 million people, Mafe's boarding school was just outside one of its densest urban centers. He lived in a cramped dormitory with three other young teens. He went on some field trips and visited extended family still living in Nigeria. He took courses in the local language and received crash courses in both the Yoruba culture and how to get along by yourself in a big city when your parents are a continent away.
Mafe describes Yoruba culture as respect-oriented. "Over there, you treat everyone almost as family. You call your neighbors 'aunt' or 'uncle.' You take care of each other like family."
With that mutual respect, however, comes a need for self-reliance. "If you want something there, if you want progress, you have to go get it for yourself," Mafe said, "where I feel in America there are more opportunities where people come and assist you."
Mafe returned to America understandably more mature. Also, he was suddenly 6-foot-4. High school football and basketball beckoned. But Mafe's jump shot "wasn't the prettiest" in his own words, so he focused on football. He became one of the top defensive recruits in the state of Minnesota and a priority in-state recruit when P.J. Fleck took over as Minnesota's head coach.
Mafe's collegiate career started slowly, but he exploded in 2021 with seven sacks, five of them in a three-game stretch against Colorado, Bowling Green State, and Purdue. Since then, Mafe's draft stock has continuously risen. He was one of the stars of Senior Bowl practices, then recorded two sacks and earned National Player of the Game honors in the Senior Bowl itself. He showed off his raw athleticism at the scouting combine with a 4.53s 40-yard dash, a 38-inch vertical jump, and a 125-inch broad jump. He upped that vertical result to 42 inches at his pro day.
Mafe has several team visits scheduled over each of the next few weeks and is getting first-round buzz in a crowded edge-rusher class. You can read our scouting report on him in the FO 40.
"You always tell yourself that you have milestones you want to knock out on the path to your end goal," Mafe said. "I'm on the path to getting drafted, and I told myself the Senior Bowl is the first one, then the combine, and then its pro day, and then its interviews. So I just keep knocking out these milestones and putting my best foot forward every time I have an opportunity."
When Mafe described his approach to film study and preparation during his combine interview, he sounded like someone who internalized the lessons of a year spent in an unfamiliar city as a youth. "You have to be a humble player that's capable of adapting to your surroundings," he said. "You might come up with a game plan of how to attack an offensive tackle, and maybe it's not working like you thought it might. Then you have to be able to adjust by coming up with a different plan of attack."
As for that intensity along the Minnesota and Senior Bowl sidelines? "I just try to find what is authentically me: keeping people's spirits high. The energy of the room can have a big influence. I just try to keep everybody moving in the right direction."
Mafe has come a long way from the little annoyance who may or may not have ruined some walls growing up. He's not even much of a wrestling fan anymore, though he admits that he was excited when he arrived at the University of Minnesota to learn that his strength coach had been John Cena's senior mentor when the future Peacemaker was a lowly D-III offensive lineman.
So when he has some NFL clout, will he be tempted to pull some strings and get Cena's autograph? Mafe laughed at the question. "One day, I'm gonna cash that in and ask for one."
Pro Day News and Notes
The final round of campus pro days wrap up this week when LSU prospects take the field in Baton Rouge on Wednesday and USC's Drake London performs his bonus one-man workout on Tuesday. After that, just about everything you hear about prospects rising or falling is essentially bullsnot.
Oh, that's not quite true. Injuries and arrests still sadly happen, and reports of a 4.23s 40 at Prairie Nowhere State can take a while to filter through the scouting and draftnik communities. Actual insider reports about team preferences do leak out, though every honest report is bundled with at least a half-dozen smokescreens. But mostly, the next month is all about hoopla and "Prospect A visited Team B" news, which is just busywork for beat writers and hamster pellets for rubes who don't realize that there is no correlation between team visits and eventual draft selections.
With all of that in mind, let's take one last on-field look at some of this year's top prospects and late-round hopefuls.
Purdue Pro Day
David Bell has fallen off the FO 40 and slid down our skill position-oriented Fantasy 40 after running a 4.69s 40-yard dash at Purdue's pro day. Bell also clocked in at 4.65 seconds at the scouting combine.
Yes, Bell has some impressive film. Yes, it was frigid last week in East Lafayette, where prospects ran their sprints on an outdoor track. And yes, Bell could join the list of wide receivers with sluggish 40s who thrived in the NFL: Cooper Kupp, Anquan Boldin, Jarvis Landry, and others. But prospects such as Kupp and Boldin were clearly 4.5-ish runners who ran poorly at the combine. Bell keeps demonstrating that he may be a 4.65-ish runner all the time. In a draft teeming with receiver talent, he looks more like a Day 3 pick than the first-rounder he was projected as at the end of the 2021 college season.
In better Boilermakers news, burly running back Zander Horvath bench-pressed 31 reps, which would have tied for the second-best result at any position at the combine. Horvath's 4.57s 40-yard dash on a slow track on a cold day was not disastrous for a 230-pound bruiser projected as a late-round pick.
Horvath's sizzle reel looks like Mike Alstott cosplay, but he missed a chunk of the 2021 season with a broken fibula and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. His cement-truck style of running doesn't quite fit the modern NFL. Still, Horvath could fit with a Shanahan-style offense as a fullback or play a Samaje Perine-type role as the stump-grinder in a committee backfield.
Florida State Pro Day
Jermaine Johnson cranked out 27 bench press reps in Tallahassee last week, filling out his already impressive athletic portfolio from the combine. But Johnson does NOT want to hear about how that might have impacted his draft stock:
"I think that stuff is rat poison," Johnson said at his pro day. "I don't like to look at it. If my agent wants to look at that stuff, he can. But I don't look at it. I keep my head down and I work and I train."
Wise move. The edge rusher boards below Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are in flux, with David Ojabo's pro day injury hurting his stock and players such as Mafe on a steady rise since the Senior Bowl. It's hard to filter noise from signal for a player such as Johnson who looked like a late first-round pick in December and hasn't gone "trending" in either direction since.
Johnson remains an A-tier edge rusher prospect stuck in a draft with at least two S-tier edge rusher prospects.
Western Kentucky Pro Day
Quarterback Bailey Zappe earned some kudos for performing well in blustery conditions last week in Bowling Green:
Multiple NFL scouts at @WKUFootball pro-day have told us QB Bailey Zappe was “impressive”. Hit 55-of-56, including 13 deep balls, in “freezing” 🥶 conditions that included 20+ mph winds. Many teams with established starters are locked in on @baileyzappe04 as a dependable backup. pic.twitter.com/xmJk3gUEx7
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 31, 2022
It bears mentioning that Jim Nagy is the Senior Bowl director and therefore actively capes for any and all for Senior Bowl participants on Twitter. That said, Zappe keeps taking the field in miserable conditions during the pre-draft process and not embarrassing himself in any way. He was about as effective as bigger prospects Sam Howell and Carson Strong during soggy Senior Bowl practices.
Zappe set the all-time single season NCAA passing record in 2021, but his tape against Conference USA also-rans looks like 7-on-7 footage, making it hard to determine what he would have to do if he needed to read a real defense or even move his feet once in a while. Still, I'd rather take a chance on Zappe in the sixth round than someone like Strong in an earlier round.
Texas Tech Pro Day
Colin Schooler finished his NCAA career with 482 total tackles in five seasons for Arizona and Texas Tech, including this one in 2020:
Colin Schooler made this INSANE play to save a TD late in the 3rd quarter 😳
Texas Tech goes on to win 24-23...
EVERY PLAY COUNTS 🗣
— Overtime (@overtime) November 15, 2020
Schooler participated in the College Gridiron Showcase earlier in the pre-draft process and put up some excellent numbers at his pro day.
As a fifth-year senior likely limited to a between-the-tackles role, Schooler may end up an undrafted free agent. But he has done all he can do to improve his draft stock, and his workout results suggest untapped athletic upside. Sifting through players like Schooler is what draft prep is all about. It's also what our next two segments are all about.
Air Force Pro Day
Jordan Jackson is a defensive tackle/end tweener whose two-sack, three-TFL afternoon against Nevada popped for those of us who watched it as part of our Carson Strong homework. Jackson suffered a minor injury while preparing for the combine that left him unable to work out, but he put in a strong performance at 295 pounds last week. At that size, Jackson will make a solid mid-Day 3 selection as either a rotation tackle or as a heavy end for a team that runs a two-gap-based scheme.
Cornerback Tre' Bugg also helped his stock in Colorado Springs last week. Bugg, a tough but ultra-lean ballhawk and three-year starter (with a 2020 opt-out in between), weighed in at an acceptable 189 pounds. Brent Briggerman of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Bugg added healthy weight by "working with a team of trainers, eliminating red meat and replacing it with seeds and chicken as part of a 3,500-calories-a-day diet that also included regular salads."
Wait … you bulk UP by switching from red meat to chicken, seeds and salad? Heck, Imma switch to all-pizza-and-beer and see what happens.
Oregon State Pro Day
While we're talking food, Nick Dashcel of The Oregonian reports that Oregon State linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray was on a strict diet of chicken, green beans, and rice in preparation for his pro day. When Hughes-Murray was finished working out, he planned to head straight to the nearest source of burgers and fries. "Somebody is going to get my hard-earned dollars," he said.
See, this is why prospects don't say anything interesting to the media. The fact that he planned to pig out after his workout may be the only thing you now know about Hughes-Murray, whose career in Corvallis began way back in 2016. A tenacious, undersized edge rusher, Hughes-Murray lost his 2019 season to an injury and took advantage of an extra year of eligibility despite playing through the 2020 season. He's a UDFA type who could stick as a core special teamer. And I hope he enjoyed that well-earned burger.
Running back B.J. Baylor, who rushed for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021, also earned positive pro day reviews. Baylor is a nuttin'-fancy one-cut runner whose biggest problem is that there are a dozen players in this (and every) draft class with similar skills but better receiving chops and/or measureables.
We leave Corvallis with one more quote in Daschel's article by linebacker Avery Roberts that sums up the frustrations of the pre-draft process for many players: "I ain't been training football. I've been training track."
Fayetteville State Pro Day
Twenty years ago, when I started covering the draft in my pre-Football Outsiders days, Joshua Williams would have been the kind of super sleeper only hardcore draftniks knew about. Nowadays, everyone with a computer and any curiosity about the 2022 class knows that there's a 6-foot-3 cornerback with wheels who tore up CIAA competition last season. (And if you didn't know before, you know now.) Williams' pro day numbers confirmed his tape, which is critical for a player who looked two steps faster than anyone else on the field at the D-II level. Williams is raw, but he has an aggressive style and a knack for blowing plays up in front of him to go with his raw size and speed. He's earning Day 2 buzz.
Alabama Pro Day
Evan Neal is basically an Elden Ring creature. You knew that, but his pro day workouts confirmed it. Check out the FO 40 to find out where Neal, and other top prospects, now rank heading into the draft home stretch.