Takeaways From Mike Mayock's NFL Combine Preview Conference Call

The NFL Draft expert had his recent conference call with reporters and shared all of the information he has about the prospects he's been evaluating over the year.

The NFL Combine is an annual tradition, much like the conference call that NFL Network Draft expert Mike Mayock takes each year right before it begins.

After studying tape on seemingly every NFL Combine participant – there are more than 300 of them traveling to Indianapolis this week – he spoke with reporters and fielded disparate questions about all ends of the draft and the players jockeying for position.

With the Redskins holding the 13th pick in the NFL Draft this April, plenty of names could potentially be at their disposal. Before the workouts begin, take a look at some of the highlights – everything from trends to specific analysis -- from Mayock’s phone call.

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The wide receiver class isn’t particularly strong with first-round talent.**

Before Mayock delved into some of the names headlining this year’s class, he described a general trend that has emerged over the last few years regarding wide receivers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Since the 2013 NFL Draft, carrying household names such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, 13 receivers have been drafted in the first round and only one has made a Pro Bowl so far.

The rest have struggled in their production or dealt with lingering injuries that prevented them from competing in their first year – the Redskins saw this occur to Josh Doctson in 2016. Mayock believes some of these struggles occur primarily because of the press coverage these rookies receive when they get into the league and that bigger, taller, receivers are more reliable when it’s come to durability early on in their careers.

“I'm getting to the point where I'm kind of going, you know, there were three first round wide receivers a year ago -- Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross,” Mayock said. “All three of them had a hint of durability issues. All three of them struggled to get on the field last year because of injury. But production was way down. So I'm kind of going on top of everything else, we need to be more aware of any kind of history of injury with the wide receiver class. Also, what does it take to be successful? I think what you're starting to see are guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Devin Funchess, some of those 6'3", 6'4", 220-pound wide receivers that are physical and tough with great ball skills, they seem to be the kind of guys that can come in, and I would throw Cooper Kupp in there, and compete immediately.”

Among this year’s class, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley stands out the most. Mayock contends that the best way to analyze this group isn’t whether they can create separation with feet so much as through the body though.

“I think [Ridley] and Christian Kirk are the two best route runners in this class,” Mayock said. “Neither of them has great size, but they're both fast and quick. They run great routes. I think Ridley's challenge is going to be the complexities of defensive schemes in the NFL.

“They both have really good hands, and they're very tough catching the football with good run after catch. Christian Kirk adds some value in the returning game. Courtland Sutton is a completely different animal. 6-foot-4, 215, 220, high-level production, a lot of it is outside the numbers. Keep in mind there are a lot of ways to separate in today's NFL. We used to talk about quickness and speed and route running. There is another way to separate now, and that is with size. Back shoulder fades, the outside-the-number throws.”

Mayock believes Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward is a Top-10 pick.

Denzel Ward has been mocked to the Redskins by several NFL draftniks over the last few weeks, and the cornerback seems to be the standout from a large group of Ohio State prospects.

In three seasons at Ohio State, Ward collected 57 tackles with 26 passes defensed and two interceptions. With Bashaud Breeland potentially coming off the books and signing with another team in free agency, it may be an important position to fill early.

“I think he is [a Top-10 pick],” Mayock said. “The only question about him is how light and lean he is. He tackles. I'm not questioning his physicality, just potential durability over time. But I think he's going to be a Top-10 pick, more than a Top-15 pick.”

Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea is a “dancing bear,” while Florida State safety Derwin James is extremely versatile.

Those are the words Mayock used to describe Vita Vea, one of the few Pac-12 players he was excited to talk about outside of the quarterbacks. The Redskins have been linked to Vea as well and have the chance to bolster the nose tackle position by selecting him and planting him into the middle of their defensive line.

“He is a dancing bear. He's a freak,” Mayock said. “He's 340 pounds, and everybody says he's going to run a sub 5.40. The last defensive lineman to do that was Dontari Poe, and I think he went at No. 11. And Vea is a better player than Poe was coming out of college, more advanced. He's a plug-and-play nose tackle in any scheme. If he runs 4.85 or 4.9 at 342 pounds, to me that's more impressive than watching John Ross run a 4.”

James is also someone the Redskins could target at No. 13 and potentially pair with D.J. Swearinger in the defensive backfield. The trait that sticks out with James is his versatility and ability to match up with just about any offensive player.

“When I put his tape in the first time, I thought I was going to get to see a strong safety that was limited a little bit with movement skills, and that's not the case,” Mayock said. “It's a big guy. He's got easy movement skills. He can cover wide receivers. Rev #1 by #206 at 2018-02-26 21:27:00 GMT page 16 of 18 He can cover tight ends. He can go down in the box and hit you. So the versatility of his game is critical. And in today's NFL, which is a pass-first league, when you can drop a safety down on a slot and feel comfortable, that guy is worth his weight in gold. So he can drop down on the slot. He can play deep middle, he can play a two-deep half, and he can play a linebacker and cover a running back. Today's NFL is a match-up league, and he's a match-up player, that's why his value is so high.”

Mayock’s two best players on tape right now are Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Notre Dame guard Quenten Nelson .

While the Redskins don’t figure to have any shot at drafting either Barkley or Nelson, it’s worth noting that Mayock sees these players as the best in the draft, at least after watching tape. With a deep quarterback talent pool, it’s possible one of these players drops a little farther down, but not by much.

Despite the fact that these typically aren’t positions that get drafted in the Top-5, let alone Top-10, Mayock is confident in their star potential. For Barkley, the NFL Combine is mostly a matter of confirming what everyone knows he’s capable of.

“For a guy like Barkley who has worked so hard to develop his gifts, I mean, for him it ought to be a victory celebration,” Mayock said. “It really should. You got to come in and knock it down, one drill after another. He's going to walk out of there four days later and everyone's going to go: Wow, he's just as good or better than we thought he was. So when he goes into the meetings at night, he's going to blow people away also.”

What has made Nelson stand out? Mayock likes his nasty streak, his run-blocking prowess, but especially his ability to pass-block on the interior, a trait more offenses rely on as defensive lines continue to rotate fresh players every couple of downs.

“First, he's 330 pounds. He's got a nasty demeanor. He finishes with an edge,” Mayock said. “He's probably the best run blocking interior offensive lineman I've seen in years. Plus, in today's NFL, you've got to protect your quarterback. Every quarterback I've talked to in the NFL says what bothers them the most is immediate pressure up the middle. So you've got a guy that can set a physical edge in the middle of your lineup front and allow your quarterback to step up. That's a big deal. So he's great in the run game. He's very good in the pass game. He was coached by Harry Hiestand, who I think is one of the best offensive line coaches I've ever been around, who is now with the Chicago Bears. So he's got talent, he's got coaching, and at the end of the day, he loves football. I know this kid. He's got a passion for the game.”

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