Ahead of the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, which gets going this week in Indianapolis, NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock fielded a series of questions via conference call about some of football's top professional prospects and on what to expect from this year's draft class.
Here's a few key takeaways from Mayock's two-hour talk with reporters:
1. "It's A Defensive Draft"
Mayock has been in the business a long time, first as a player in the early 1980s, and starting in the mid 1990s as a broadcaster and analyst. So when he began his interview by stating, "It's a defensive draft," and by calling out the interior defensive line as perhaps the "best" group he's seen since he's been covering the combine, it was worth noting.
"This is how good it is, OK?," Mayock said. "You could wait until the third or fourth round this year and get a defensive tackle that in past drafts was a first or second-rounder. I've heard first-round grades on plus or minus 10-12 defensive tackles this year from various teams, so a lot of teams are going to wait until the third or fourth round to get that defensive tackle they need because he's still going to be on the board, and you're going to get a second-rounder instead of a fourth-rounder, so it gives you an opportunity to kind of go and look at some other places."
Despite the depth at the position, several of the latest mock drafts from around the web have Seattle selecting a defensive lineman with the No. 26 overall pick in the first round. It's not necessarily a glaring position of need as the Seahawks stand right now before the start of free agency, but it could become a spot Seattle will look to bolster if veteran defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin end up signing elsewhere on the NFL's open market. Still, Mayock believes teams looking to add players at that specific position will do just fine with what talent will be available later in the draft.
"I think if you're a team that needs a defensive tackle, you can go chase some other things first and then circle back in the third or fourth round and get your guy," he said.
2. The 40-Yard Dash is Over-Hyped
The 40-yard dash represents one of six standard drills most combine participants will take part in. It's widely viewed as one of the most entertaining events each year. So much so, in fact, that NFL Network personality Rich Eisen has been running it in a suit and tie for years, inspiring fans (and certain team mascots) to submit their own 40-yard dash videos while benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital at the same time.
But when it comes to each NFL hopeful on site at Lucas Oil Stadium, Mayock said one's 40-time "often doesn't matter."
"The most over-hyped thing is the 40-yard dash," he said. "It's fun and it's easily calculable, so we can sit there and compare everybody, but it often doesn't matter what a lot of these guys run at the end of the day. Ninety-five percent of it, 99 percent of it should be about their tape and what they've already done."
On the flip side, Mayock said the most overlooked aspect of the combine has to do with the stuff fans and media members don't get to see - the player interviews with team personnel and medical evaluations with team doctors.
"I think the most under-looked piece of it is a combination of the interviews and the medical," Mayock said. "And that's why [the combine] started 30 years ago anyway, was to get unified medical reports on all these kids."
3. It's a "Huge Week" For Robert Nkemdiche
A few of those same mock drafts mentioned above have the Seahawks taking Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in the draft's first round. Draft experts believe that if not for off-the-field issues, Nkemdiche would go within the top 5 or 10 picks, but because of concerns over his character and work ethic, he could slide toward the bottom of round one, where the Seahawks are slated to pick at No. 26.
"That's an interesting guy right there," Mayock said of the 6-foot-4, 296-pound player who was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school. "If you look at Robert Nkemdiche in a vacuum and you just watch his Alabama tape, against the best team in college football he was dominant. Off that one tape, if he didn't have any off-the-field issues, and if he played that hard every week, we'd be talking about him as the first pick in this draft. That's how talented he is and that's how much upside he has."
In that game against the Crimson Tide, who went on to win the National Championship, Nkemdiche had six tackles (three solo), a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sack, helping create pressure that led to three of Alabama's five turnovers in a 43-37 win that ended up being Alabama's only loss last year. Nkemdiche was tabbed SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, but at the combine, Mayock said clubs will question whether or not Nkemdiche can bring that effort on a consistent basis at the next level.
"Once you factor in the inconsistency from snap to snap and game to game and the off-the-field situation, then you get into how do you measure this kid?" Mayock said. "At what point does the risk justify the reward? So I don't know where it's going to end up and this is a huge week for him. He needs to come in in the best shape of his life to show people how serious he is about the process, and then he's going to have to deal with every team in the League asking him about all the off-the-field stuff and the on-the-field inconsistencies.
"I feel like this kid, along with Noah Spence, the edge rusher from Eastern Kentucky, I feel like it's a huge week for both those kids."
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