NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock held a marathon media teleconference of roughly 2 hours, 40 minutes to discuss draft prospects entering the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. A look at some of Mayock's key points:
1. Manziel a Flutie-Tarkenton hybrid
In describing former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as a combination of Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkenton, but also seeing some flaws from Manziel's poor performances against LSU and Missouri, Mayock's five most succinct words were these: "I believe in the kid."
2. Is Clowney motivated?
How badly does Jadeveon Clowney want to be a dominant NFL player? That's the question Mayock has about the former South Carolina defensive end whose mental makeup is expected to be placed under a far more powerful microscope at the combine than his unassailable physical skills.
3. Mizzou's Sam 'a tweener'
The NFL's first openly gay draft prospect, former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, has been cast by scouts essentially as a third-down player in the NFL who will provide a pass rush off the edge, but little else. Count Mayock among those who view Sam this way, but with the NFL putting a premium on pass rushers, Sam could still be picked as high as the third round. Mayock said Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith, also undersized like Sam, projects for the same role and in the same area of the draft (rounds 3 to 5).
4. Deepest draft in a while
Mayock's thoughts on the depth of overall talent in the draft were strong. "Deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years," he said. "I had a GM tell me the other day that having a top 20 pick this year is like having a top 10 pick last year. There are some positions that are stacked, where you can get a quality player through three or four rounds."
5. Ford to the Eagles?
Mayock brought up Auburn defensive end Dee Ford on multiple occasions on the conference call as a potential impact pass rusher at the next level and finds him to be a potential fit with the Philadelphia Eagles. "He doesn't have as much length as you might like," Mayock said. "He's a guy with some real edge burst, and a guy who can fit what the Eagles do."
6. Hot and cold on Hageman
Mayock said Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman looks like a first-round pick in some games, and in others "he disappears for three quarters" and looks like a fifth- or sixth-round pick. Mayock said a good evaluation of Hageman must properly balance both the best and worst of his body of work.
7. LSU's Hill a risk/reward RB
The combination of a troubled past and playing a non-premium position will conspire to hurt LSU running back Jeremy Hill, Mayock believes. Hill, who is scheduled to be on probation through July 2015 after two arrests, is the most gifted SEC running back in the draft. "I think he's going to look good at the combine. He's got really good feet for his size. The bigger thing for this kid is being able to look teams in the eye and explain what he did and why he did it. ... He's certainly a risk/reward guy. ... If he was clean off the field, I'd say second round in a heartbeat. With a second-round offensive grade, he'd be fortunate to go in the third or the fourth."
8. Hyde's draft projection
Speaking of running backs, Mayock is impressed with Ohio State's Carlos Hyde, although not impressed enough to project him for the first round, as NFL Media analyst Charles Davis did in his latest mock draft. "I love his feet. For a 235 pound guy, he's got great feet. Pass protection, I think he needs to get a little bit better," Mayock said. "He can be a three-down back. He's got everything you're looking for. I think he probably goes in the second round. He cuts well, has good balance. Has good ability to make you miss in the hole."
9. Three WR options for Ravens
Asked about potential wide receivers who could be available to the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 16 or 17 pick, Mayock sees a variety of possibilities. "(Sammy) Watkins will be long gone. Then you start to get into what flavor do you like?" Mayock said, citing USC's Marqise Lee, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin and saying they are completely different receivers. "I really believe when the Ravens get on the clock, at least one, if not two, of those three will be available. They bring different things to the table."
10. Plenty of OTs to be found
As high as Mayock is on the depth of wide receivers in the draft, he was equally effusive about offensive tackles beyond the first round. "If you're not going to jump on a tackle in the first round, you can get into the second round, or even later in the second round," he said. Mayock named Virginia's Morgan Moses, Clemson's Brandon Thomas, Nevada's Joel Bitonio and Ohio State's Jack Mewhort as a few good examples of players who could be found in the second or third round and are likely to be starters.
11. High on TCU's Verrett
For NFL defenses that were shredded by slot receivers last year, Mayock sees Texas Christian CB Jason Verrett as the best answer as a nickel back prospect. "My favorite nickel in the draft is Jason Verrett from TCU," Mayock said. "The only reason I wouldn't say he's a top-20 pick is because of his size. He's 5-(foot)-9, probably 185 (pounds). But he's ideal for the slot, because he's quick-footed, and he's tough. Remember, the slot guys, what gets overlooked is that you've got to tackle also. And this is a tough kid."
12. Sankey the next Bernard?
Washington RB Bishop Sankey is among the players Mayock most looks forward to seeing at the combine, and he compared him to Cincinnati Bengals rookie Giovani Bernard. "I want to see him catch the football. I don't get to see enough diversity of catches and routes off his tape. I think he can be a lot like the kid out of North Carolina (Bernard), if he can catch the football like that," Mayock said. Two more combine happenings worth watching, according to Mayock: The speed of Southern Cal WR Marqise Lee, and the way former Oregon TE Colt Lyerla handles questions about his off-field troubles.
13. Fuller underrated
In noting that long speed is the primary question for cornerback prospects Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech, Mayock let on that he is far more excited about Fuller than most draft pundits. "If they both run well, I think they're going to climb even higher, especially the Fuller kid, who most people have in the second or third round, and I think he's a first-round player."
14. Top 3 QBs fit Browns
Mayock noted that some quarterbacks fare better in high winds and cold weather than others. Big hands, he said, also help in that regard. But on the subject of the Cleveland Browns' best quarterback option, Mayock believes all three of the draft's top passers -- UCF's Blake Bortles, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel -- could be a good fit for Cleveland. "Bortles is kind of the bigger, stronger guy. People think he's got the biggest arm. I'm not sure if he does or not. But I also think he's the least developed of the three. Bridgewater is the most ready-to-play NFL-style quarterback in this draft. Manziel's got that 'it' factor where I don't think it matters."
15. Patriots on the clock
Asked about tight end and defensive line possibilities for the New England Patriots with the No. 29 overall pick, Mayock cast two names for the Belichick braintrust: TE Jace Amaro of Texas Tech and DT Ra'Shede Hageman of Minnesota. "A lot of people who like Amaro point to Hernandez and say he's that kind of guy," Mayock said, referring to former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez. Mayock said Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is more similar to Rob Gronkowski, and that if the Patriots look for help at tight end they are more likely to target someone in the mold of Hernandez.
16. High on Mack
The best edge pass rusher in the draft after Jadeveon Clowney? It's not a defensive end, Mayock says -- it's Buffalo's Khalil Mack. "You can line up on a tight end, and he'd be OK. I think the important thing is that if you're drafting him as a 4-3 team, that in nickel and sub situations, you're freeing him up to go get the quarterback. ... I think after Clowney, I think he's the most gifted edge guy in the class," Mayock said.
17. Bears should hope for Jernigan
If Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is available to the Chicago Bears with the No. 14 overall pick, Mayock believes the club should have its track shoes on. "The defensive tackles are kind of a mixed back. My top two guys, (Louis) Nix and (Tim) Jernigan, couldn't be more different. I think Jernigan can step in and be special early. ... If he's sitting there when the Bears are on the board at No. 14, I think you sprint to the podium."
18. Black Mamba's value
Mayock had this to say about Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, one of college football's most electrifying offensive players, as a wide receiver prospect: "Because of his speed and playmaking ability, in today's NFL he's more valuable than he would have been six, eight, 10 years ago. He probably goes in the fourth-round area. ... He's a kickoff guy, plus we got to get him 10 touches a game. How do we manufacture those 8 to 10 touches a game so he can make those plays for us that he did at Oregon?"