What we learned about NFL draft

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock held a marathon conference call from 2:05 p.m. to 4:42 p.m. on Tuesday, and it was chock full of opinion and insight on prospects and football trends.

Here were things, in areas of interest to the Patriots, that stood out:

Possibility for a tight end near the top: With teams perhaps valuing the tight end position more than in the past, North Carolina's Eric Ebron could warrant a pick in the top 10, according to Mayock. If Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins run in the 4.7s, his stock could further rise at the position as Mayock already sees him as a strong first-rounder. Mayock noted that he has a significant drop-off after his top four tight ends -- Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Notre Dame's Troy Niklas, all of whom should be off the board by the second round. His next rated tight end, Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz, carries a fourth-round grade.

More on the tight ends: On Niklas, Mayock said that if he commits to becoming a better in-line blocker, he believes he could be the NFL's best blocking tight end in 2-3 years. He's also a capable pass-catcher. "I think he's in-between Kyle Rudolph -- I think he's a better blocker than Kyle, but not as good a receiver as Kyle, if that makes sense," he said. Georgia's Arthur Lynch, of Dartmouth, Mass., is Mayock's sixth-rated player at the position and he also carries a fourth-round grade.

Top safeties do it differently: Mayock's top two safeties, Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have different styles of play. Mayock compared Pryor to a "bigger, stronger Bob Sanders. He flies around, he hits people, he explodes everywhere. I think he is a little better in the box than he is on the back end." That would seem to be the type of safety the Patriots would be eyeing, while Clinton-Dix is more of a coverage/range player.

More prospect-to-pro comparisons: Sometimes comparing prospects to current or past NFL players helps provide a nice snapshot of the down-the-road potential. Along those lines, some of the links made by Mayock included: Auburn edge rusher Dee Ford to 2012 Seahawks first-round pick Bruce Irvin; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as a cross between Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie; Washington running back Bishop Sankey mirroring Bengals running back Giovani Bernard; Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland primed to make a similar rookie impact as Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso; Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy a more physical but less athletic version of San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith; Colorado receiver Paul Richardson to Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace; LSU receiver Jarvis Landry to former Steelers receiver Hines Ward; and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton as a poor man's Chris Long.

Depth of draft is notable: Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said last week that this is the deepest draft across the board he's seen in 30 years, and Mayock hopped aboard the same train in saying this was the deepest draft he's seen in the past 10 years. Specifically, Mayock said the receiver class is tops in recent momory, while quality offensive tackles and cornerbacks will be available in rounds 3-4. Mayock also relayed that one general manager told him that having a top-20 pick in this year's draft was similar to a top-10 pick in last year's draft.

Not a lot of pure 4-3 ends: While the draft is deep, one position stands out as shallow. "Pure 4‑3 ends in this draft, they are few and far between," Mayock said in response to a question on if Missouri's Kony Ealy would be too rich at No. 14 (he doesn't think that's too rich).

Talking trends. The value of edge-rushers was highlighted, while on the flip side, the de-valuing of running backs was discussed. "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," Mayock said. As for the running backs not being valued as highly, Mayock said: "If you look back at the draft 40 years ago, running backs were the most valuable commodity there was. And today, with all the spread offenses and teams throwing the football 60, 70, 80 percent of the time, there's been a completely different emphasis in how you draft offensively."