Mike Mayock’s pre-Combine and pre-Draft conference calls are the things of legend these days. One of the pre-eminent NFL Draft analysts around, he holds court from beat writers and bloggers around the country and gives his best takes on the upcoming class multiple times during the spring, leading up to late April.
Mayock spoke at length Monday, ahead of this week’s Combine, and he took a few Eagles-specific questions during his talk. Let’s take a look at what he said, and then dive in a little deeper.
QUESTION: Want to ask you about the Eagles' strategy. They draft either 14 or 15, and their biggest needs, obviously, are wide receiver and cornerback. So at that spot, would it be best for them to pick which guy is best available there and then maybe try to double back into the later rounds? If they do that with the cornerback in the first round, is the wide receiver class as defense as maybe cornerbacks are in the later rounds?
MAYOCK: Yeah, I think the wide receiver class is good, but I don't think it's as deep as corner. So, if you're there at 14 or 15, I think the Eagles have to be looking really hard at all three of those potential first round wideouts. I think all three of them potentially go between 10 and 20, and I know people have some injury concerns about John Ross from Washington, but as a vertical threat, he's probably the best one in this draft. So I think the Eagles have to be looking at all three. They're distinctly different. I think the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want. But they've got to be looking hard at all three of those guys and know up front whether or not if one or two or all three were available who they're going to take.
Then I think they can drop back in the later round. It wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners, and I think they could. I think they can get one and two, I think they could. It's so deep at corner when you start talking where's Gareon Conley going to go from Ohio State? There is a kid named Ahkello Witherspoon, 6'3", out of Colorado. People are talking about him in the fourth round. He's a good football player. Damontae Kazee if they want a nickel. Cam Sutton. I can get through four rounds of quality corners, and I've never been able to say that before.
Alright, so this first question is basically the one every Eagles fan has asked each other since the season ended. The Eagles are bad at two very, very important positions in wide receiver and cornerback. How do they go about fixing at least one of them, maybe both, through the draft?
Picking a wide receiver in the first round is one option, and while the bad memories of Nelson Agholor’s selection are still terribly fresh, there are some dynamite players who could be available at 1-14 or 1-15. Mayock being so bullish about all three of Davis, Williams, and Ross makes me very tempted to go grab Carson Wentz’s running mate for the next decade. And especially considering the way Mayock is talking about how deep the cornerback class is, meaning the Eagles could use one of their next seven picks on a CB and possibly come away with a long-term starter. I’m still of the opinion that the Eagles should take a stud corner like Sidney Jones in the first round ...
... but if I’m Howie Roseman, that first-round pick isn’t going to be an easy move, especially if someone like Mike Williams is sitting there.
Q. Jim Schwartz's defense is all about the pass rush. They gave up the second most pass plays of 30 yards or more in the league last year, but also only had 37 sacks. Given that, how do you weigh what's a greater need for that unit right now, edge rusher or corner?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think the way you do it is as you're approaching being on the clock, you're evaluating what's available in both units or both positions, I should say. The bottom line for the Eagles, they need, I think, at least a couple corners this year. I don't care if you're talking about draft or free agency. You need two or three bodies back there. And up front, anybody that can get to the quarterback is going to be of interest to the Eagles, whether it's inside or outside. So I think when you're at the clock at 15 or 14, you're looking at it and going, okay, if Sidney Jones, the corner from Washington who I think is instinctive, like a Marcus Peters, are you comparing him to who as an edge rusher or an internal rusher? Who is there on the clock at that time? Who does the job better?
I think that's how they have to look at it, and it's the same thing in the second round, is that defensive end or defensive tackle more highly rated than that corner or that safety? I think there's enough really good players at both of those positions that they can do really well in this draft.
This is encouraging to hear. Lots of draft analysts are high on the defensive end crop this year, and considering the Eagles’ dearth of productivity from the end position last season outside of Brandon Graham, that’s a dark horse position for the Birds to go after in the first couple rounds of the Draft.
Plus, what happens if and when the Eagles let Bennie Logan walk? Beau Allen is a fine second-string defensive tackle, but he’s not the quality starter you want to pair with Fletcher Cox in a Jim Schwartz, attack-style defense. You need a stud inside to shore up the interior of the pass rush, and if a guy like Florida’s Caleb Brantley is available in the second round, that’s a pick the Eagles have to think about making.
I also appreciated Mayock talking up Sidney Jones here. (I like him a lot.)
Q. Hey, Mike, you had talked earlier about the three wide receivers in the first round and the decision the Eagles would have to make. In most years, rookie wide receivers, and obviously you're not drafting them for one year, but most years rookie wide receivers don't have a huge impact. Do you see any of those guys really being capable of putting up big numbers as rookies, being like No. 1 type receivers right away?
MIKE MAYOCK: Well, there are three distinctly different guys left. And I think John Ross is intriguing to me from an Eagles perspective. So, again, he's got some medical. I'm just saying talent. You take the medical off the board for a second. He's probably the best vertical threat in the draft. I think that would help the rest of the Eagles underneath. They desperately need speed. If you're talking about a guy that's going to run 4.35, which I think he will, and he's also really quick. For instance, Fuller, Will Fuller of Notre Dame, went in the middle of the first round last year, and he's almost the same height and weight, and he ran 4.3 (indiscernible). I think this kid can run just as fast as Fuller, but I think he's quicker and a better natural catcher than Fuller. So if you take the medical out of it and just say vertical stretch, quick, fast, good hands, he's really intriguing, I think, as an Eagles prospect.
But then you have to look at the other two guys, and Mike Williams creates his own space. I mean, he's a big, physical dude. I think he welcomes press coverage. He uses his physicality. He catches back shoulders. Again, if you're looking from an Eagles perspective in scoring in red zone opportunities, he's probably the best guy as a wide receiver position in this draft in the red zone because of his catching radius and physicality.
I have Corey Davis as the No. 1 receiver, because I think he's a better athlete with good size. Better run after the catch than Mike Williams. He's not going to be able to work out because he's injured at the combine. I think all three of them are in the conversation. They bring different things to the table. And, lastly, I think I'd struggle thinking that the three of them will struggle like Nelson Agholor did, who was another first round pick. I think they're going to be fine.
I’m getting a little sweaty just thinking about the possibility of Williams and Davis both being available at 1-14 or 1-15, and the Eagles getting to choose between the two.
If we’re talking straight-up, not worried about Davis’s inability to work at the Combine because of injury, Davis strikes me as the better of the two, long-term. He’s coming from a small school, yes, but so did the guy who signed a four-year, $68-million contract yesterday. You take a chance on a player like Davis, someone who could become a stud among studs in a league dominated by big playmakers on the outside.
Then again, if someone with Williams’ size and physical brilliance is available, that’s going to be one hard decision to pass on him.
I just don’t know. But all this Draft talk has me excited for April.