NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock held a media conference call Thursday and here are a few thoughts – some with a Patriots-like twist – that help provide a better feel for the 2011 NFL Draft:
Two words to remember early: Underclassmen & defense. Mayock envisions a scenario where “a ton of underclassmen, especially defensively, go early in this draft”, with the first round probably dominated by defense. The offensive talent will then be more prevalent in the second and third rounds.
Deep at defensive end/outside linebacker. Mayock calls 2011 “the best defensive end class I’ve seen.” He has 8/9 defensive ends with first-round grades. Typically, there would be four defensive ends in the first round.
Key to the draft is top four quarterbacks. When summing up the draft, Mayock said figuring out the top four quarterbacks is the key when it comes to marquee names. He repeated his belief several times that if a team views Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Jake Locker (Washington), Cam Newton (Auburn), and Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) as a franchise-type quarterback, that trumps everything because of the value of the position. Mayock currently has Gabbert as his top quarterback, but has more work to do in his evaluation.
Deeper first round than recent years. Asked to assess the quality of the first round, Mayock said, “I’ve got a deeper first round than I’ve had in the past several years, and I think it [is] because of the defensive line class.” But that depth is only good if it matches up with a team’s need; for example, teams looking for a cornerback at the end of the first round might not find one worthy of the pick. The cornerback crop, in Mayock's view, has a drop-off after the top two players (LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara).
Potential for six first-round offensive linemen. "I think there are five offensive tackles that you could take in the first round and would play well. I think Maurkice Pouncey's younger brother, Mike Pouncey, could be a first-round interior lineman."
Looking closer at 3-4 defensive ends. When Mayock broke down 3-4 defensive ends, he started with J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) – his top player at the position – before discussing Cameron Jordan (California) and Cameron Heyward (Ohio State). Mayock said Jordan “had a great week at the Senior Bowl” and Heyward’s strong performance in a Bowl game against Arkansas has him rising. He also said Mo Wilkerson (Temple) could be available in the second round but is a “first-round player.” Overall, Mayock called this a strong year for 3-4 defensive ends, using Oregon’s Brandon Bair as an example of a quality prospect who might be available in the third or fourth round.
Making a comparison with Aldon Smith. When it comes to top pass rushers, Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith is a prospect whose name has been tied to the Patriots by some media analysts. Mayock drew the comparison to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a first-round pick of the Giants in 2010, as well as former NFL linebacker Simeon Rice. Mayock has Smith as his No. 7 defensive end, but with the deep class, he’s still a first-rounder in Mayock’s view. “I think he’s too explosive, too fast, to not go in the first round,” he said, noting that he is still evaluating him to get a better feel on what scheme he fits best.