Learning a little more about draft's top prospects

From now until the draft, I will get a chance to interview many of the top picks every week on my Sirius NFL radio show.

Occasionally, my partner Tim Ryan and I will get a few minutes with the draft-eligible players off the air as well. And as we spend time with these young men, we get a chance to get deeper into football issues and things that are important to figuring out the draft puzzle. Some of these guys really get what it will take to play in the NFL. Special thanks to our producer, Sean Butler, who is always able to find the young men coming off a practice field or coming out of the weight room and getting them to share their experiences.

Here are my favorite interviews from last week:

Clay Matthews, LB, USC

This was my first opportunity to talk with Matthews about his fast rise from walk-on to potential first-round draft pick. He was a few minutes late for the interview because he was on the phone with an NFL linebacker coach, just talking ball. Matthews was so impressive discussing technique, scheme, and of course his rise from obscurity through special teams and finally into the starting lineup.

He may be the son of NFL great Clay Matthews, but he really is a throwback player who knows the game. I asked him what he plans on doing at his pro day and his answer was "Everything. I'm a competitor and I want to improve on everything I did at the combine." After 20 minutes of letting him just talk about the game and why he could easily put on 10 to 15 pounds and play outside in a 3-4 or stay at 240 and play Sam in a 4-3, it's clear why coaches are excited about him.

Mock drafts

Pat Kirwan has Baylor's Jason Smith as his top overall pick. Here's how the first round looks as of now for Kirwan and other NFL.com and NFL Network experts.

Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State

Brown was as impressive as Matthews. It's the second time I had a chance to talk with him and we got into his family and his childhood years. His dad was tough on him and never allowed any excuses. I asked him about his freshman year at Florida State when things were rough and if he called home.

"I did but it didn't do any good," he said. "My dad was on the coach's side."

Brown already has his degree, even though he's leaving school early and he goes with the blessing of his parents. I asked Brown what his dad did after he played his worst game in college. Did he meet his son at the locker room door when he came out after a shower? Everett said his father didn't wait that long; he texted him before he got to the locker room to point out that he missed three sacks! This young man is going to be a very good investment for some club. He was raised right!

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia

This was the third time I had a chance to talk with Moreno about the job of a running back. I felt like this kid gets as much satisfaction from blocking people as he does from running with the ball. He told me he ran into Eagles coach Andy Reid at a function and sat for a while talking football. I can't imagine Reid didn't come away from that encounter thinking about Moreno in an Eagles uniform.

Moreno told me he played on the same Pop Warner team as Donald Brown, the running back from UConn who also is a first-day draft pick. And he said that team didn't win too many games. Can you imagine a Pop Warner team with those two guys and not winning all the time?

Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State

This guy is confident and he believes he's the best QB prospect in the draft. I spoke with Freeman hours after his pro day. He said 23 teams showed up and he was scheduled to throw 45 passes to a variety of receivers. His best receiver, with whom he worked for weeks leading up to pro day, couldn't go. So he ended up throwing to defensive backs as well as receivers. He also wound up throwing 65 passes.

I asked him if he could recall any drops or bad throws. Immediately he recalled five drops and two bad throws. I followed up on the bad throws and right away he recalled a backside glance route he overthrew and a "go" route to his left. I asked him to self-correct the two bad throws and he knew right away what he did wrong. I was impressed.

He also told me the Jets sent a mini playbook late last week to prepare for a private workout Monday. Freeman will do very well in that workout.

Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest

Talking to Curry is always a treat. This guy loves football, can't imagine himself doing anything else with his life and couldn't stop calling me "sir."

Tim and I took him to task on his pass-rush production in college and he said he wasn't schemed into the rush that often, but stayed after practice every day and worked on his skills in case they asked him to do more. He said he has private workouts scheduled with a few teams but isn't hearing from as many teams as he thought he might. That happens sometimes when a player has no flaws in his game on and off the field.

Evander "Ziggy" Hood, DT, Missouri

I know there are other defensive tackles getting most of the attention but Hood has lots to offer. Based on his weight-room numbers, running times and on-field ability, it's hard to figure how this guy isn't going to be a productive pro. He told me he does a 730-pound full squat, improved his combine bench from 34 to 35 reps, cleans 380 and 475 max on the bench.

His dad is a drywaller and his mom holds down two jobs, and this kid is as respectful as it gets. I think there will be a team looking for a 300-pound tackle that runs 4.8 and is as strong as Hood.

B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College

Last week marked my third conversation with the big B.C. tackle. We talked about being a 3-4 nose tackle or playing three-technique in a 4-3. He knows most defensive coordinators are looking at him for either scheme and he sounds ready to take on any challenge. I never get the feeling Raji is ever going to politic for either scheme. We talked about his combine performance and he felt good about the results and didn't plan to do things over again, but rather save himself for position work and a few private workouts.

The more I talk to him, the more he reminds me of Cortez Kennedy -- a mild-mannered big man who does his talking on the field. I asked him the tough question about what he learned when he missed a season for academic reasons. He said it taught him a big lesson, especially when the team won without him.

Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers

Britt calls in every other week and is a down-to-earth kid who just wants to prove he can play this game like the big boys. He always likes to talk about what he's working on and about his desire to get better. I feel bad for quarterbacks trying to call it a day after throwing for a while, because Britt wants more and he loves when the balls come smoking in pass after pass.

Like Moreno, Britt also ran into Andy Reid and was so excited to tell me about meeting him and having a chance to talk with him about the passing game.

Mitch King, DT, Iowa

While I talked with King, I was watching a tape of Iowa against Michigan State. King was getting double-teamed a lot. He talked about his stance, his "get off," and technique used to win at the line of scrimmage. I felt like I was talking to a coach rather than a player. He doesn't care where he's drafted, but he guarantees he will be ready to go a million miles an hour when camp starts.

We also talked about his days as a competitive swimmer and how working on his starts for the freestyle really helped him develop the explosive quickness he has out of his stance.

Jason Smith, OT, Baylor

Smith may go first in the NFL draft, but you would never know it by talking to him. He is so humble and respectful of all the other draft-eligible players that you almost get the feeling those guys are his teammates.

I confronted him about the issue of blocking a power rusher, something his critics say he could struggle with in the NFL. He said, "I'm working on it and it is improving."

Smith is what you want in a first-round pick, or as one line coach said to me, "He is a 10 in work ethic, character, leadership and potential."

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