MIKE MAYOCK: From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably ten years. That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a top 20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top‑10 pick last year.
So I think there's more depth. I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds.
Q: You kind of addressed this in your opening comments but I'd like a little more detail. When you talk about depth, other than wide receiver, what stands out for you in this draft? What's that based on?
MAYOCK: Yeah, well I think it’s a couple things. One is the playmakers at the top end of this draft, it's not just a couple guys. You know, there's three offensive tackles that could go in the Top‑10. There's three quarterbacks that could go in the Top‑10, and then you've got guys like I mentioned [Khalil] Mack, who is a difference maker, [Anthony] Barr from UCLA, [Sammy] Watkins from Clemson is a tremendous wide receiver.
So we're ten, 11, 12, players deep right there and we have not seen talked about the safety from Louisville [Calvin Pryor] or the tight end from North Carolina [Eric Ebron]. And I could go on and on. There's more quality at the top end of this draft than I've seen in a long time and from a position standpoint; you know, we talked about wide receiver. I think offensive tackle is particularly deep. You can go three rounds, four rounds deep this year, and get a starting offensive tackle. So from those couple of positions and the quality up top, and I think there's some pretty good corners, by the way, three to four rounds deep. So I'm really excited about this draft.
Q: On Sammy Watkins
MAYOCK: Watkins is a special player, and I usually don't get too excited about wide receivers in the Top‑10, but this kid is different.
He's physically explosive. He's got great hands. He's got good size. He's got very good speed and what I really, really liked about this kid is he's got toughness. He'll physically beat press coverage. He high‑points the ball. He's got a little attitude about him. He blocks people. You can see him getting pissed off during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers.
So he's got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is, and when you combine that with his physical ability, I think it's awesome. Now, as far as vertical threats, there are not in my Top‑5, I think [Odell] Beckham from LSU is a tremendous wide receiver, has a chance to go late one to mid two. [Davante] Adams from Fresno, another kind of late one to late two type pick. I really like him as an outside receiver who is going to develop over time.
I think Paul Richardson from Colorado, he's undersized, probably won't go until the third round, a little bit like Mike Wallace, didn't have quite as much production but he slides. So there are some names to get you through three rounds anyway and [Allen] Robinson you can put in there from Penn State, also.
Q: Can you elaborate more on [Khalil] Mack?
MAYOCK: Yeah, I put the tape on not really knowing what to expect. I knew he had a lot of positive reviews from around the country.
But first tape I put in was Ohio State, and he blew them up. He made plays all over the field, on the edge, dropping into coverage, explosion, hustle.
Then I think the next tape I put in was Kent State and he made a one‑handed interception. He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge. From my perspective in today's NFL, guys that have natural edge rush ability are like gold; you've got to get them when they are available.
I think he's one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles, he's tough, he can play the run game, and unlike a lot of these guys, he can also drop in coverage. So I have yet to find a hole in his game.
Q: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the Combine, whether it's highly‑rated players or some unheralded guys you've seen on tape, who are you looking to see, okay, these guys have the most to gain in your eyes, in the NFL's eyes, overall.
MAYOCK: I like that question, it's a good one. I really like the tailback from Washington, [Bishop] Sankey, and I want to see him catch the football. I don't get to see enough catches in routes on his college tape. I feel like he can be a lot like the kid out of North Carolina, Giovani Bernard, if he can catch the football like that. So I'm looking forward to seeing that from him.
I'm looking forward to seeing how fast Marqise Lee runs. I want to see the tight end from Oregon [Colt Lyerla], how he reacts to people. I watched film what little tape I could get on him from 2012, he's a gifted, gifted kid, but he's got a bunch of off‑the‑field issues.
[Darqueze] Dennard and [Kyle] Fuller, the two corners, I think they are awesome. But my concern with both of them is long speed, and if they both run well, I think they are going to climb even higher, especially the fuller kid, who most people have in the second or third round and then I want to see the freaks, [Jadeveon] Clowney,[Khalil] Mack, there's a kid from Georgia Southern, Jerick McKinnon, who is going to work with the running backs. He also can play corner, and I'm anxious to watch his footwork, and Tom from North Carolina.
There's a bunch of guys at each position I'm excited to see and 6 little archer is another one of those guys I can't wait to see.
Q: With the Raiders having pretty much a clean slate in terms of salary cap and a full complement of draft picks, how do you expect Reggie McKenzie to proceed with rebuilding this team and who makes the most sense do you think at No. 5?
MAYOCK: Who makes the most sense is a quarterback if there's one there that they believe in and I don't think there's any doubt about that. I was sitting here the other day looking at the Raiders' roster, and in big letters I wrote, "No. 5, quarterback," then "best player available."
They have got to get the quarterback if possible and they do have so many needs that I think they can't get all locked into, oh, we have to get a wide out with the second round pick or we have to get an offensive lineman.
I think they have got to go get football players, and I think you're 100 percent right that now the salary cap issue has changed, I think this is the most critical year for the Raiders in my memory, because they have kind of been through purgatory and now they have got to get out of there and they have to make great decisions on; A, re‑signing their own players; B, on signing new free agents; and then C, they have to come out of this draft preferably with the quarterback that they can develop and base their entire football team around.
Q: Are Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater better prospects than Russell Wilson was, or is it more the NFL's change in the thinking about quarterbacks?
MAYOCK: I think the NFL is more open than its ever been regarding quarterbacks and I think it's a whole new breed, not just Russell Wilson and his height but [Robert] Griffin, Cam Newton, all these athletic quarterbacks, [Colin] Kaepernick.
It's about making plays and I think we are getting more and more high school and college quarterbacks that operate expressly out of shotgun and spread the field and are playmakers.
As a result, I think the NFL is a reflection of that and up until a few years ago, they kept pushing back, no, we want the big, strong, prototypical pocket guy, nobody has ever won a Super Bowl outside the pocket. All those old sayings are kind of being beaten down.
I think that if you can prove that you can make plays and that you can stay healthy, I think that the height and the size and the style doesn't matter as much anymore. NFL teams and coaches are doing a much better job of utilizing the players’ strengths as opposed to saying you just have to do it our way.
Q: Curious, given all the work you do in the fall, how late in the process you start really diving into tape and your process of evaluating players, how much do you balance watching tape yourself versus bouncing ideas off scouts and things like that?
MAYOCK: The last couple of years, because of Thursday night football, I've only got through a few players in July and August; the list comes out and I get a chance to look at some of the top rising seniors. So the predominance of my work has started the last couple of years when Thursday night football ended in December.
So I've gotten a late start. 80 percent of what ‑‑ maybe 70 to 80 percent of what I do is me watching tape and me forming an opinion. I do bounce my opinions off most of the teams in the league. And what I really want to know is if a team thinks I'm way off and why. For the most part, I've learned that if someone makes a mistake, I'd rather it be my own.
Q: Last year at this time few analysts ranked EJ Manuel among the top and he wound up being the first quarterback taken. This year are the perceived Top 3, are they safely perched atop the pack and if not, which do you see most likely to rise up after the meetings?
MAYOCK: It's an interesting question, I think the Manuel kid, the more I looked at him last year, I said, if I'm going to make a mistake, why not make it on a big athletic kid with a big arm and I think that's certainly the way Buffalo looked at it.
I do think that [Teddy[ Bridgewater, [Johnny] Manziel and [Blake] Bortles are locked in as, quote, the three top quarterbacks. I think Derek Carr from Fresno is somebody that people are trying to learn more about, and there's some interesting wild‑cards this year, I think at request also.
I think AJ McCarron is solid but he's a second or third round quarterback. I think Carr will fit into the end of the first round. Jimmy Garoppolo has really helped himself at east west in the Senior Bowl and two kids got hurt later in the year, indiscernible ‑‑ from Georgia, I think depending on how their rehab goes could be third or fourth round guys that are developmental players.
And I mentioned earlier, Logan Thomas, two years ago when I saw him play Michigan in a Bowl game I thought he would be the first pick of the entire draft, two years later, and since then, he's got two or three good tapes and the rest are really bad tapes. But he's still 6‑5, big, beautiful body, can throw the ball and the other kind of wild‑card I would say is Tom Savage that nobody talks about from University of Pittsburgh. He's a big, strong kid that can throw also.
Q: I had a philosophical question about the evolution of left and right tackle. It seems there's a shrinking distinction in what is a left tackle and right tackle for a various number of reasons. I guess the first question is: Do you subscribe to the theory that the difference between the two is shrinking, and if so what are the biggest contributing factors to that?
MAYOCK: It's an interesting question and I'll take it a step further. Not only are they shrinking, which I agree with, but I think the second most important position on the offensive line might be center.
So what I think we're seeing is that the old days, the defensive always line their best pass rusher up against the left tackle with the theory being it's the blind side of the quarterback, the offense would have to protect the blind side, and in the old days they lined up that way every snap every game.
Now we are seeing defenses getting much more creative, moving guys around, trying to get mismatches wherever they can, overload wherever they can. And sometimes they will put somebody over against a left tackle that they know can't win because they don't care. They will figure, we will try to overwhelm the right side.
So having said all of that, it's gotten a lot closer, the left tackle and the right tackle. The right tackle better be able to pass protect but I also think if you talk to any of the Peyton Manning, Tom Brady type of quarterbacks that are drop‑back quarterbacks, the thing that bothers them the most is immediate pressure up the middle.
I think the center and that interior offensive line has become more important and the center, because on top of that, they are calling the protections and coordinating the lines. I would say that left tackle followed by center and then right tackle, but it's getting closer and closer to all five up front.
Q: I wanted to ask about the influx of underclassmen, speaking with people around the league, how has that impacted the scouting process and if it creates more risk for teams that are drafting underclassmen.
MAYOCK: It's interesting, I think there's a lot of mixed emotions around the NFL because I don't think the scouts and the coaches are in any way trying to push kids out of college.
And I think it's easier to evaluate a player that's been there for four or five years; he's more physically mature and hopefully he's more socially aware and secure. You get a more mature football player so it takes some of the variables out of play.
So I agree, I think a lot of teams think there is more risk out there associated with the evaluation process. However, especially in the first round, there are better football players out there the last few years. It's really helped the first round. The first round has become more and more dominated by underclassmen.
So I think it's a mixed bag. I think in a perfect world, you'd have less underclassmen coming out, but there's at this point nothing the NFL can do about it except try to evaluate these kids and do the best job they can.
Q: On cornerbacks.
MAYOCK: The top of the draft for me, [Darqueze] Dennard can step in from day one, and I say that because he's a prep corner who can ‑‑ he can tackle, he competes. I don't think he'll be overwhelmed.
Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State, return kicks, big play guy. I think those two guys step right in without a problem and I think the [Jason] Verrett kid steps in day one as a slot ‑‑ excuse me, as a nickel playing again for the slot. I think he can go three, four rounds deep and find different kind of kids that can compete early.
I mentioned the kid from Utah, [Keith] McGill who is 6‑3 and the kid from Nebraska [Stanley Jean-Baptiste] who is 6‑2 and a half. There are a bunch of long corners out there and that's kind of the flavor of the day.