UCLA offensive guard Atonio Mafi took a curious path to the 2023 NFL Draft. Mafi originally joined the Bruins program as a defensive tackle. He even had nine tackles against Cincinnati in 2019. Mafi switched to the offensive side of the ball in 2020 before enjoying a breakout campaign in 2022, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
Mafi recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about making the transition from defense to offense, his absence at the NFL Scouting Combine, and more. Mafi is an ascending talent.
JM: You actually arrived at UCLA as a defensive lineman. You didn’t make the position change to the offensive line until 2020 and didn’t earn a full-time starting role until this past season. What was that transition like?
Atonio Mafi: It was definitely rough at first. I was trying to get a grasp on our playbook. There’s a lot more to understand on offense than there is on defense. It was a little rough at first. Once I finally got the hang of it, I think these past few seasons went really well for me.
JM: They sure did. You were outstanding in 2022, earning All-Conference recognition. What clicked for you this past year?
Atonio Mafi: I was just a lot more comfortable playing the position. Also, I wasn’t rotating anymore. In 2021, I only started a few games and I was rotating in and out through most of them. Staying in the game the entire time in 2022 definitely helped get me in a rhythm. I was able to get into the flow. It worked out well for me. I just felt increasingly comfortable as the season kept progressing.
JM: I thought you were one of the best performers at this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl. Have you noticed an uptick in the attention you’re receiving since then?
Atonio Mafi: Yeah, I definitely have. I’ve had a ton of calls and meetings since then. I’m being flown out by a few teams for in-person visits. The East-West Shrine Bowl was a blessing for me. It definitely gave me some hype and recognition. We’re keeping the momentum rolling.
JM: You recently visited the Detroit Lions. Who are some of the other teams you’ve visited?
Atonio Mafi: I had in-person meetings with the Washington Commanders and San Francisco 49ers as well. The New Orleans Saints came to me. We had dinner and a private workout together. I have a visit with the Dallas Cowboys coming up. I have virtual meetings scheduled with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. A bunch of teams are reaching out.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. You weren’t invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. I thought you were one of the biggest snubs that deserved to be in Indianapolis. They made a mistake. How did you respond to that adversity?
Atonio Mafi: I was initially pretty bummed about not receiving an invite. I quickly realized I can only control what I can control. I just put my head down and continue to put in the work. The rest will take care of itself. I’m just trying to stay positive and understand that getting my foot in the door matters more than a combine invite does. Once I get my opportunity, I‘m going to make the most of it.
JM: There’s no doubt about that. Do you see yourself playing in a gap or power scheme? I feel like you executed those assignments to perfection at UCLA.
Atonio Mafi: I’ll play in any scheme my NFL team wants me to play in. We did run a lot of gap concepts at UCLA though. You’re right about that. I’m definitely comfortable playing in that system. We ran some zone-based concepts as well.
JM: We’ve appreciated your time today. Why should a team use one of their draft picks on Atonio Mafi?
Atonio Mafi: You’re going to draft a guy that’s ready to soak a ton of knowledge up. I’m coming into the program with the right mindset. My attitude is that of a hard worker. I’m trying to get on the field and stay on the field. I’m not going to sit around and wait for my turn. I’m not going to concede anything to the veterans. I want to compete for a starting job from the jump. I’m going to put the work in. I want to help the team win.
I’m coming in to take somebody’s job. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I can’t wait to prove myself to the coaching staff.
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