The first group of players arrives today in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. NFL Network's Mike Mayock offered a preview of what to look for this week on a conference call Monday that encompassed 94 questions and lasted for nearly three hours. Here are 10 takeaways
1. It's Another Good Wide Receiver Class
Here are some of Mayock's initial thoughts on the 2015 draft class overall:
"I think particularly deep at running back. Although it might not be as quite dramatic at wide receiver as a year ago, it's still going to be a very good wide receiver class," Mayock said. "Correspondingly it's going to be very thin at quarterback and safety."
2. Mayock Thinks Winston Goes No. 1 Overall
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the No. 1 overall pick. They already released last year's starting quarterback Josh McCown. If the Bucs decide to pick a quarterback with the first selection, Mayock thinks that it will be Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota.
"My gut tells me they're going to go with the quarterback. At this point I would guess it's Jameis Winston just because he fits what they do more," Mayock said.
"I think the bigger concern is whether or not this guy can be the face of your franchise. Let's face it. He was the face of the Florida State franchise and that didn't stop him from making a bunch of bad decisions off the field."
3. Could The Eagles Make A Jump For A QB?
Three years after Washington traded three first-round picks and a second-round selection for the right to select Robert Griffin III, could a team make a similar move this year for one of the top players in the draft? Mayock specifically mentioned head coach Chip Kelly.
"When Washington pulled the trigger, I applauded it because my point was, hey, they felt like they needed to upgrade the position and they went after it. Either way, if the kid turns into who they think he is, you've got a chance to go win a Super Bowl. If he doesn't, you're going to get fired anyway. So I think it's an interesting philosophy. The question I have this year is I'm not sure either of these two guys (Mariota or Winston) you can mortgage your future on, unless you just completely understand the kid and buy into the kid a hundred percent and you're willing to move up.
"I don't know if Chip Kelly can go from 20 to wherever, that's a long way to move. But the two quarterbacks are the most logical guys, Tennessee sitting at two. Obviously one of those quarterbacks is going to be sitting there, if not both of them. To me looking at quarterback is the most logical guy. I don't think it's going to be a position player somebody moves up to get. It's probably Marcus Mariota. And I don't see the market that we had for RG3."
4. So, What Should The Eagles Do At No. 20?
Mayock offered his thoughts on what the Eagles should do at No. 20 and his focus is on the defensive side of the ball.
"I do believe there's going to be a corner at number 20 that fits who they are. From my perspective, and by the way there could be a safety there also, I've got Shaq Thompson, who most people have as a linebacker, I have him as a safety. I have him as my number two safety behind Landon Collins from Alabama, either one of which could be available at 20.
"However, I'd rather see them get a corner, if a top corner is available. I think Jalen Collins, the underclassman from LSU, is really intriguing. He's 6-2. He fits what Philly does to a tee. I think Billy Davis would love him. He's a press corner, not afraid to play in your face, will tackle, understands how to play the game, has some physicality about him. I think he's going to be a first-round pick.
"If Trae Waynes is already gone, you have to do your homework on Marcus Peters, the Washington kid, off the field. But I think Jalen Collins really fits what they do. I already talked about the two safeties, Shaq Thompson and Landon Collins, either of whom would be an improvement."
It is worth noting that Mayock, a Philly native, played safety for the New York Giants.
5. If The Eagles Go Defense, Wait On This Position
Mayock thinks that if the Eagles want to improve the depth at the inside linebacker position it would be better to wait until after the first round.
"I'm not sure if they buy into an inside linebacker at 20," Mayock said. "I think they'd be better off getting an inside linebacker in the second or third round. I think (Eric) Kendricks from UCLA, brother of Michael. Denzel Perryman from Miami. Stephone Anthony is a guy they could get in the third or fourth round from Clemson."
6. There Just Aren't That Many Brent Celeks
It's not a strong year for teams who are looking for a tight end, per Mayock, who deemed this year's crop a "weak class." Maxx Williams is the only one Mayock has projected as a potential first-round pick. Mayock was asked about in-line blocking tight ends and praised the Eagles' stalwart Brent Celek.
"The in-line tight end that's a great blocker and also receiver is getting more and more rare. There just aren't that many (Brent) Celeks," Mayock said.
"Those guys are disappearing, mostly because they're not coming out of the college game. Most everybody is a hybrid in college football these days."
7. What Makes Evaluating Quarterbacks So Challenging
The prevalence of spread offenses and what quarterbacks are asked to do at the college level is making it harder for NFL personnel executives to project how these quarterbacks will fare in the NFL. That's what separates Winston and Mariota at this point for Mayock. Winston played in a pro-style offense at Florida State and excelled.
"You watch all this tape and you see all the individual components of Marcus Mariota, and the only conclusion I'm coming to, because it's a projection. He's not a project but it is a projection, and that is you think the kid is smart, you think the kid is tough, therefore you think if you gets enough reps in a new system he'll get a feel," Mayock said.
There is an aspect of the quarterback position that Mayock has learned from talking to the top quarterbacks in recent years that comes naturally and can't be taught.
"I'll give you one caveat, though, that I think is fascinating. Over the years, especially when I was doing Thursday Night Football games, I had a chance to ask Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, any number of those guys, how much of pocket awareness is innate and how much could be learned, and all of them said you could learn a little bit," Mayock said. "For instance, you feel the rush, you duck your shoulder down, both hands on the football, ball security, little things you can practice to get better in the pocket.
However, every single one of them, paraphrasing, basically said, however, I kind of feel like I was born with it. You either get it or you don't. So if that's the case, and you don't get to see these college kids practicing it, it's really hard. That's the problem."
Mariota has reportedly not decided whether or not he will throw at the Combine. He did not play in the Senior Bowl after injuring his shoulder in the National Championship Game against Ohio State. Mayock doesn't think Mariota can dramatically help - or hurt - his stock this week.
"The important thing for quarterbacks at Combines is rip the ball the day you're supposed to rip it, but more importantly, it's all about meeting the coaches and talking to the people for those 15 or 20 minutes you get at night, and the kid is going to shine in that people are going to be intrigued by him and like him and want to buy into him. I think everybody's going to be impressed," Mayock said. "If he runs the 40, it's going to be 4.55, maybe better, and he's going to impress people. So it's going to come down to whether or not you buy into the fact that his individual skill set can turn into an NFL pocket passer."
8. The Next-Toughest Position To Evaluate Is ...
Quarterback is the toughest position to evaluate, but what is the second toughest? Mayock offered his opinion.
"I find linebacker hard to do, especially the off-the-line linebacker," Mayock said. "It's easy to see the edge guys. The inside, off-the-line 4-3 guys are difficult because they might be coached differently. Get downhill, get downhill. He might be coached that he has a backside B gap, and he has to wait to make sure that cut back doesn't come. Unless you really know the system the kid is coming out of, you don't want to be unfair to him. So sometimes I think those linebackers for me are hard to do."
Even though Mayock played safety and has a keen eye for the position, that is another difficult group to judge.
"You don't always get to see them do what you want to see. For instance a lot of guys will only play in the box. Well can they play a deep pass, deep third and can they play man-to-man. Other guys are the opposite on the back end. You don't see him upfront in the box tackling and playing physically," Mayock said. "The challenge there is matching up body type, movement skills and toughness with what they're going to ask them to do at the NFL level."
9. Character Counts, But Not As Much Right Now
Off-the-field concerns will cause the stock of some talented players to drop. That is the biggest question facing Winston at the top of the draft. Mayock revealed his top five players at each position, but noted that he is still learning from teams about the off-field concerns. Therefore, his initial rankings are more based on pure talent.
"I like the question because this time of year is a hard time of year for me to ding a kid off the field because I don't know that much about him yet," Mayock said. "There are well-publicized incidents. You start with Jameis Winston. We all know kind of what those well-publicized things are. Dorial Green-Beckham, I have as my number four wide receiver. There's all kinds of things out there on him. The same with Marcus Peters.
"As we get closer to the draft, I'll have a better handle on some of that. I don't ever get as close to those situations as the teams do because I don't have a security group and a bunch of psychologists. But I do get some information. As we get closer to the draft, I will start to ding those kids. You'll see them start to fly down my board, some of them."
10. What Fans Should Watch At The Combine
Mayock did a good job of explaining what drills are the most applicable to certain positions. The on-field workouts begin on Friday and run through Monday.
"I don't think the 40 is that important for offensive linemen and defensive linemen," Mayock said. "I think it is very important for skill position people. I think the change-of-direction stuff, the short shuttle and the three-cone is important for the linebackers, the defensive backs, the running backs. You get to see quickness, change of direction. You see whether a guy is quicker than he is fast in a straight line, and those are important things.
"The broad jump and the vertical jump are really lower body explosion, and it's another cross-check. If a guy is a 4.5 40 guy, he probably should be jumping 35 inches in the vert. If he only jumps 30, there's a question why. It all kind of balances out. There's checks and balances everywhere, but I'd throw out some of the stuff, and it's really position oriented, and I think the important thing is after those drills are over and the coaches come out and put them through football drills, I think we really get an opportunity to see one kid after another in their movement skills, and it kind of exposes flaws.
"If you're a defensive back and you can't open your hips, things like the coaches can see immediately, and you've got 30 defensive backs in a row going in one drill, you can see which ones are natural and which ones aren't."