Mike Mayock: Combine Thoughts and Analysis

On Sunday afternoon, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock took the questions of those reporters still in the media room of the 2008 Scouting Combine. Mike talked about small-school kids, running backs and receivers, and why it's so important for quarterbacks to accept the invitation to throw in all the drills.

Thoughts on Indiana WR James Hardy?

"I think James Hardy is a hard player to do because on tape he reminds me of Plaxico Burress and that's a high benchmark. I did their bowl game and I was disappointed. He dropped a few balls and showed a lack of concentration. I think he ran well today and helped himself, but I don't see him as a first-round player. I think he's the kind of guy that goes in the first half of the second round."

Do you take anything away from when a quarterback decides not to throw at the Combine (Matt Ryan)?

"My general impression? Let's take all the positions but quarterback first. All the other positions but quarterback, I think they ought to work out. I think it's an apples-to-apples comparison. Ninety percent of the players are working out. If you're one of the top guys, why not compete when there are 32 teams here, as opposed to a pro day when you'll only get 10 or 12. The quarterback position is a little different. Their theory is - and I'm not necessarily buying into it - along with their agents is 'I want to wake up in my own bed with my own receivers at my own site throwing in comfortable circumstances, knowing that when they break it off at 10 to 12 yards, it's going to be 10 to 12 and not a wide receiver that I don't know.' So I understand that and I empathize with it.

But I go back to the whole 'Bright Lights' theory that Tony Dungy and a lot of other guys espouse to me -- it's that they want competitors. They want guys not afraid to compete. The guys doing the evaluations are smart enough to realize that if the ball hits the ground it's not necessarily the quarterback's fault. The unfamiliarity with the receivers plays into that. They want to see where your footwork is. They want to see how the ball comes out of your hand and they want to see you compete out here. Every pass doesn't have to be completed. The key to evaluating quarterbacks, I've found over time, is that I can evaluate them over time, but I have to see them in person. I need to see the velocity. I need to see whether the ball is flat or the ball has some touch and accuracy to it. I think the tape is great, but you have to see them in person."

Do you see a point where it hurts someone like Matt not throwing today?

"I told Joe Flacco a while ago, and two years ago I told Jay Cutler the same thing at the Senior Bowl. I talked to his (Cutler's) parents and they asked me if he should throw (at the combine). I told them, 'The way your son throws the ball, anytime someone from the NFL asks him to throw the football he should do it. No matter when, where how or why. Your son throws the hell out of the football. Throw it.' I told Joe Flacco the same thing. Joe Flacco has the biggest arm in this draft. On the way home tonight if they ask him to throw the ball in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, I'd do it."

Mike, how did Darren McFadden help himself today?

"He absolutely helped himself. He is what I thought he was. He has great burst and acceleration. His official time was 4.33. I believe that was at 211 pounds. So you juxtapose that to a year ago, (Adrian) Peterson was 217 (pounds) if I remember correctly and he ran a 4.38 or 4.40, I think that was his official time. So that's pretty darn impressive. I would also add that all four of what would be perceived as the first-round running backs had excellent days. You look at (Rashard) Mendenhall at 225 (pounds), he ran in the mid-4.4s. To me, that's just as impressive as what McFadden did. Jonathan Stewart at 235 (pounds) the numbers he ran are just as impressive. I look at those three guys and thought they had great days."

How did you feel about Rutgers RB Ray Rice?

"Yeah, I had him grouped speed-wise off tape with Michael Hart. I thought it was interesting. Michael Hart, I love him as a football player. But I knew he didn't have long speed. I was surprised at how fast Ray Rice was today. It was 4.44, is that what it was? Those kinds of numbers were really impressive for Ray Rice. And what it does is it makes me go back to the tape. I saw him get caught from behind on tape a couple of times, so I'm going to go back and look at his tape and check. That whole manufactured speed vs. functional speed, I think, is a legitimate perception to me."

Who among the pass-rushing defensive ends could make a good second-round pick in your opinion?

"There's a whole bunch. Kendall Langford from Hampton. You can go down the list of what they call the five technique defensive ends and what you're looking for are long guys. Calais Campbell is a guy that is probably a first round pick. Derrick Harvey showed up at 291 pounds and that's a guy that I don't think is going to make it into the second round.

But looking at the late second round?

"(Kenny) Iwebema from Iowa, Kendall Langford from Hampton, Tommy Blake - I'm not sure what he's going to be. Jason Jones from Eastern Michigan. Jeremy Thompson from Wake Forest. Those are the guys that would be second, third or fourth-round five technique defensive ends."

Can you talk about guys that have to make the transition into the 3-4?

"It's a process and I think the guy that has done it the best the past two years is (Dallas') DeMarcus Ware. I remember watching him on tape a few years ago and I didn't really care what he weighed. He was a natural pass rusher. He was tough. The transition to the 3-4 means that you have to be able to drop athletically into coverage. But 75 percent of the time you're still rushing the quarterback. It's a skill set that I believe is a two-year process, plus or minus depending on the kid. That's one of my favorite parts of this week, tomorrow afternoon (Monday), when they ask the 15 to 20 kids to do exactly that. When you watch Chris Long or Vernon Gholston or Calais Campbell or any of those guys, you really start to get a feel for how far away they are."

Mike, how do you assess the wide receiver class this year?

"I have mixed emotions. I haven't graded the wide receivers as some people have. There might be three or four first-rounders this draft but I'm not convinced there is a true first-round wide receiver. Philosophically I'm getting to the point where I think you can drop down into the third or fourth round and get a James Jones who can contribute. If you look at the history of the Top 10 picks at the wide receiver position, it takes them two to three years to transition into productivity. I think there's some depth. Personally I think you look at the second, third and fourth round and there are definitely some players."

Mike how did Arkansas RB Felix Jones do today?

"Felix Jones had a real good day. Yes, he ran well. He's hard to do on tape because of the way they use him, kind of like a Percy Harvin at Florida where he's not a traditional I-back. The backs are hard to do. There are a lot of spread offenses these days, and that means that there's a lot of slow developing plays. It's very different than NFL offenses. So that spread offense is causing problems."

Mike, looking at the Tampa Bay Bucs, three things they really need right now are wide receivers, defensive tackles and corners. Who do you see as potential fits for their system at those three positions?

"Sure, it depends on where you want to spend your money. The corner position is one of three positions that are really deep at the top end. The other two are offensive tackle and defensive end. So depending on - where are they picking, No. 20? - so if you get to No. 20 you have to look at your board and decide if the wide receiver that I covet is available and will I spend No. 20 on him, because I think they're deeper at corner and maybe I can get a corner in the second round like a Patrick Lee. And boy wouldn't that be a great find at that position in the second round as opposed to a receiver. But it all depends on what's on the board at that time."

Mike, could you assess West Virginia RB Steve Slaton's workout today?

"I thought he had a good workout. My biggest problem is this. You know he's going to come in and run fast. He ran in the mid to high 4.4s and that's what he is. He's a 5-foot-9 and change, 197-pound scat back who's productivity diminished drastically in the second half of the year and I think that's what NFL teams are trying to do is figure out why. His yards went down, his carries went down. I think he had 18 carries for over 30 yards his sophomore year and then just three his junior year. So there's some real productivity drop and that has to answered, most likely in the meetings at night."

Is Glenn Dorsey dropping down?

"No. Dorsey is hard to do because you have to get a medical opinion first to make sure that everything he's gone through the past two years, if you take him at two or three, you're getting a guy with a clean bill of health. You want to make sure it won't be a debilitating injury going forward. I have Dorsey ranked higher (than Sedrick Ellis), but with the caveat of his injury concerns. I put the national championship tape on a week ago and it was the best defensive tape tackle I've seen in a couple of years and that was the first time he'd been healthy all year long. It was a dominating performance. So he's difficult. You want to love the kid because he's a warrior and played hurt. But you better make sure you're not buying damaged goods, and I'm not saying they are. I'm just saying you better be sure."

What are your thoughts on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?

"Interesting kid. I got a tip on him way back in September from a guy in the league who is a friend of mine. He told me, 'You better get some tape on him.' So I jumped on him early and thought he was hard to do on tape. He's a real athletic kid, moreso than the level he was playing at. I thought he stoop up to the challenge at the Senior Bowl. You never know with the small school kids.

How hard is it to evaluate small-school kids?

"Well, to use the example of Rodgers-Cromartie, every year we see a couple of kids at that Senior Bowl and some seem in awe of the situation and some take advantage of it. They look like they belong. He looked like he belonged. He was physical in the game, which was one of the questions about him and I'm anxious to see him run. When you're a small-school kid, there's more pressure on you. There's a level of comfort with NFL teams when you can sit there and hang your hat on the production coming out of the SEC. You can hang your hat on that and feel like your job is safe. You go out and put yourself on the line for a small-school kid, it's more difficult. So I thought Rodgers-Cromartie had a great Senior Bowl."

How did you think Jake Long did?

"Jake Long was highly impressive. I've done enough tape on him and what he is to me is an elite, Pro Bowl right tackle who may struggle with elite speed on the left side. It doesn't say he can't be a left tackle. What I'm saying is that he doesn't have Joe Thomas' speed. But he's a better drive blocker."

Do the big backs, the really big ones, have to make the transition to fullback to find a job?

"There are enough schemes out there and you're seeing more and more teams use two and three backs out there now. It's not just one guy getting 30 carries anymore. Whether it's (New York's) Brandon Jacobs with the Marshall kid (Ahmad Bradshaw) coming in behind him, whatever it is. There are more and more homes for a guy, especially if he can show some versatility. If he's willing to block, if he's willing to knock linebackers and defensive linemen down, they he can find a spot for himself as a fullback or a one-back guy depending on the scheme the team runs."

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