This looks like the year of the no names.
“In the top 10 picks, I don't see the difference-makers like we've had the last several years,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call. “You had a couple quarterbacks last year and players like Von Miller (in 2011), Ndamukong Suh (2010). Before the draft, you knew who they were. You knew the difference-makers. There's more depth this year, but not quite the difference-makers at the top end.”
The NFL Combine starts Thursday and runs through Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis. Players will be tested physically and mentally, interviewed at length and evaluated to the nth degree.
It'll be fascinating to insiders and those who love NFL minutia. As of now, there's not even a clear-cut No.1 pick.
Many believe the Kansas City Chiefs will take West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
But Mayock, the NFL Network's go-to analyst, wouldn't take Smith with the first pick. Or second. Or 14th.
“I don't have a quarterback I think should go before No.20,” Mayock said. “Geno Smith and (USC's Matt) Barkley are 20 to 32, at best, the bottom third of the first round.”
That's not what the Chiefs, desperate for a big-time franchise QB but a year late to that lottery, want to hear. They may very well talk themselves into Smith, who has “flashes” of great play, Mayock said.
The good news, so to speak, is if Smith flops he'll “only” cost the Chiefs about $20 million in the current rookie scale. The Oakland Raiders' choice of JaMarcus Russell cost $50 million.
The better news for teams other the top five (Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles and Lions) is that the depth of the draft makes position on the board less well-defined. Mayock said he believes there isn't much difference in the value of picks between the No.6 pick and the No.25 pick. You can get a solid, potential starter at all points in between.
That's good news for the Colts, who have the No.24 pick and could go a number of routes, from offensive line to a defensive tackle to a cover cornerback.
Mayock said he sees six offensive tackles and six defensive tackles with first-round grades.
“When you get to 24, you're looking at some of the later offensive tackles from my perspective,” he said. “Lane Johnson at Oklahoma, had a great senior bowl. D.J. Fluker from Alabama, (Justin) Pugh from Syracuse. A good offensive tackle should be available at 24.”
As far cornerback, Mayock lists Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks as a possibility at the No.24 spot.
“Corner depends on who runs fast (at the combine),” Mayock said. “Most corners after (Alabama's Dee) Milliner, are all about pure speed.”
Mayock believes this could be the first time in three years that a tight end goes in the first round, and lists Notre Dame's (and Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger's) Tyler Eifert, Stanford's Zach Ertz and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar as the top three.
The tight end drills, especially the 40-yard dash and other speed work, will be crucial to separating those tight ends. Speculation is that a tight end could go as high as No.12 to the Miami Dolphins in the April draft.
“Both (Eifert and Ertz) are talented and they're what today's tight ends are all about,” Mayock said. “They have the ability to move around and do different things. They're both big enough to line up inside. I thought Eifert did a better job blocking this year than the past years and a little better than Ertz. …Both of their strengths is getting down the field and catching the football.”
Mayock has five players from Indiana college's ranked in his Top 5 prospects by position: Eifert (No.1, tight end), Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (No.2, inside linebacker), Notre Dame's Braxston Cave (No.5, center), Notre Dame's Zeke Motta (No.5, safety) and Purdue's Kawann Short (No.5 tie, defensive tackle).
Mayock may be rating the Notre Dame players a little higher considering he's seen them so often as an analyst for Notre Dame games.
The area he most thinks outside the box is in his opinion that the Chiefs should use the No.1 pick one of four big men: Alabama guard Chance Warmack, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher.
He calls Warmack the best player in the draft.
Remember, Warmack is a 6-2, 322-pound guard.
This draft may not be for the casual fan. But given the fact the NFL might have more non-casual fans than any other sport, the break from the normal quarterback hype might be a welcome change.