Mike Mayock held a two-hour conference call with reporters Thursday to take questions about the 2013 NFL Draft. The NFL.com analyst showed off his full breadth of knowledge on this year's prospects, breaking down every name thrown his way, small or large. There were too many highlights to list in full, so here are some of the highlights of the highlights:
Mayock doesn't believe that Matt Barkley made a poor decision by returning for his senior season at USC. Many believe that Barkley could have been a top 10 pick after his junior year, but according to Mayock, he would have ultimately settled in to his true value. This year, Mayock sees Barkley falling in the lower third of the first round.
Landry Jones is another quarterback that could have come out a season early. Mayock sees the Oklahoma product as a fourth-rounder.
Mayock had a lot of praise for Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. While Nassib has some coachable footwork issues, he also comes packaged with the passion, intelligence and work ethic that coaches like in a quarterback prospect. Mayock compared him to a cross between Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins.
Nassib has been linked to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8 overall in the past, but Mayock doesn't see him or Barkley going that early. Geno Smith is a possibility if he falls that low in the draft, but Mayock is concerned with how Smith will handle cold weather.
Ohio's Zac Dysert looks like a fourth-round prospect, according to Mayock, though he has the potential to be better in the pros. Mayock cited a throw against Ohio State last season that he felt few players in the college ranks were capable of making.
Florida State's E.J. Manuel will be an enticing draft selection for either the Philadelphia Eagles or the Cleveland Browns, according to Mayock. Both teams have new head coaches who could look to make a splash with a dual-threat quarterback. Mayock said that Manuel has the highest upside of any quarterback in this year's draft outside of Smith.
On offensive linemen
Mayock was high on this year's crop of left tackles, particularly Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson. Mayock didn't see any way that any of three would be available beyond the Arizona Cardinals' pick at No. 7 overall. Several teams may be looking to trade up to snag one of the three, with the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 4 pick being the first "pressure point" if Joeckel and Fisher go in the top three.
Mayock was extremely high on Johnson, saying that the Oklahoma left tackle had "the freakiest combine of any player I've seen in 10 years." Mayock said that improvement in Johnson's game was evident from week to week, and NFL teams are excited to see just how high his ceiling is.
The New Orleans Saints are in need of a tackle prospect, but they'll have a tough time landing one worthy of the No. 15 overall pick. Mayock expected the top-three prospects to be gone, along with Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker.
While Fluker is an elite talent, he is strictly a right tackle according to Mayock. The San Diego Chargers need "any offensive lineman" and may be quick to jump on the big former Alabama lineman at No. 11 overall.
On tight ends
Mayock named Tyler Eifert as his top tight in the draft. He said that Eifert was similar to Zach Ertz and Gavin Escobar in frame, but that Eifert was faster and a better blocker than both. Mayock likes Ertz better than Escobar, who didn't run as well as many thought.
Mayock said that interest in Eifert would start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 13 overall. Interest in Ertz would start in the second round, and Escobar would fall to the third with the likes of Travis Kelce and Vance McDonald.
The Minnesota Vikings need help at wide receiver. According to Mayock, they will have a difficult decision to make concerning Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 23 or 25 overall. Mayock called Patterson "one of the most exciting players in the draft," but the Vikings may not want to deal with perceived character concerns.
The New England Patriots are also interested in a wideout. Mayock sees the Pats targeting a bigger player with vertical skills like Aaron Dobson or Terrance Williams in the second or third round to complement Danny Amendola. Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton is also a possibility, though some NFL teams are projecting him in the slot.
Kenny Vaccaro seems to be the consensus top safety in this year's draft class, but Mayock likes several prospects as potential late first-round, early second-round selections. Matt Elam, Eric Reid and Jonathan Cyprien could all fall within that range. Mayock reiterated recent hype for Reid, calling him a "big good looking kid with excellent movement skills."
According to Mayock, the Baltimore Ravens will be strongly considering a safety with the No. 32 overall pick. One of Elam or Cyprien is a likely draft choice.
While Phillip Thomas of Fresno State will likely fall later in the draft, Mayock was very high on his talent, naming him the best ball-hawking safety in this year's draft class.
Mayock named Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden as his No. 1 CB prospect in this year's draft class, ahead of Dee Milliner. The only questions Hayden had to answer this offseason were about his speed and his medical history. He answered both with impressive workouts, including a reported 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. Mayock loves Hayden's size and called him the best ball-hawking corner in this year's draft.
On pass rushers
The Saints are unlikely to land a top offensive lineman at No. 15, so they will likely turn their attention to the top pass rushers on the board. Jarvis Jones and Damontre Moore may be available, and either could be a potential steal midway through the first round.
Both have some concerns, however. Jones struggled rather publicly at Georgia's pro day last month. Meanwhile, Moore has to answer serious questions about his work ethic. Moore struggled against the better left tackles he faced last season, according to Mayock.
Mayock called Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah the best story of the NFL Draft. Ansah wasn't even on the draft radar for most NFL teams a year ago, according to Mayock. He has a potentially huge upside, however. Ansah played out of position at BYU, according to Mayock, and should thrive at the next level as an outside linebacker. Mayock compared Ansah to Jason Pierre-Paul, except even more raw as a football player.
On draft surprises
Mayock was asked if there were any players who could sneak into the top five of the draft unexpectedly. He mentioned two names: Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Lotulelei is the more likely option. Mayock has him No. 11 on his big board. Lotulelei's biggest asset is his versatility, according to Mayock. He has the ability to play nose tackle, 3-technique in 4-3 defense or 5-technique in a 3-4 defense in the NFL. Lotulelei is also one of the better defensive ends in the draft at putting pressure on the quarterback from the interior.