NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock has been poring over notes and film on college athletes who will participate in the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, where the first wave of prospects is scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
In preparation, Mayock on Monday held his annual pre-combine conference call with media members – a two-hour palooza of questions from across the country relating to the combine and this year's NFL Draft.
Before diving into the 2018 combine, however, Mayock first made a handful of observations about the 2017 NFL Draft, two of which were especially interesting considering the Vikings draft approach last spring.
Mayock pointed out that 63 of 107 players selected through the first three rounds were defensive players.
"That was, by far, the most ever," Mayock said of the trend.
While Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer may be a defensive guru, he and General Manager Rick Spielman homed in on offensive positions of need and used their second and third-round picks on RB Dalvin Cook and C Pat Elflein.
Both rookies made an immediate impact for Minnesota – Cook in the first four games prior to suffering a knee injury and Elflein in all 14 games that he started.
Elflein's performance especially stands out when taking into account Mayock's assessment of the 2017 offensive line class.
"It was also the worst offensive line year ever, as far as offensive line guys drafted," Mayock said. "There were 33 total, none in the top 15, and only two in the first round. Typically, we get 44 offensive linemen drafted in a typical draft. So it's kind of amazing."
Mayock also highlighted the 2017 running back class, calling the first six drafted – Cook was third off the board at No. 41 – "outstanding."
He also pointed out that a trend in the recent drafts has been a decline in performance from the wide receiver position.
"The wide receiver production has been down since the historic 2014 Draft," Mayock said.
While this year's call did not touch explicitly on Vikings-specific questions, a few nuggets of information stood out. Here are three more bits of information we learned from Mayock in his pre-combine call:
1. Should QBs throw at the NFL Combine?
A common question for collegiate quarterbacks is whether or not they should throw at the combine, considering various factors that include making passes to unfamiliar targets.
Mayock said the question isn't a new one, and he emphasized that he believes it's always important for a quarterback to show off his arm at the combine.
Mayock was asked specifically in the context of Wyoming QB Josh Allen's completion percentage. In responding to the question, Mayock used former NFC North rival, Jay Cutler, as an example.
"I kind of laugh because I've had quarterbacks – and some of their agents – ask me, 'Hey, should I throw at the combine?' Jay Cutler's dad asked me at the (2006) Senior Bowl," Mayock said. "And I'm like, 'If I had an arm like your son, I would throw everywhere, anywhere, any time – because it's going to help.'
"I would say the same about Josh Allen," Mayock said. "I don't really care if he throws it eight yards over the guy's head. The scouts know that you're not throwing to your receivers; they just want to see the ball come out of your hand and what it looks like."
Mayock said that quarterbacks should just "get out there and rip it and have some fun" in order to display their arm strength and ball release.
He added that Pro Days are "a different conversation" and should sometimes be approached otherwise.
2. Defensive depth in the 2018 Draft
In the wake of last year's NFL Draft being so defensive-heavy early on, Mayock was asked about the deepest defensive position in this year's draft.
Mayock first focused in on defensive tackles, calling the interior linemen in this year's draft class "outstanding."
"I think at least four are going to go [in the first round] – Vita Vea (Washington), [Da'Ron] Payne (Alabama), Maurice Hurst (Michigan), Taven Bryan (Florida). Harrison Phillips from Stanford is an interesting player, and B.J. Hill from North Carolina State, but I'm saying four interior defensive linemen go," Mayock said.
"I'm also saying off-the-ball linebackers are really good this year," he continued. "Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) and Rashaan Evans (Alabama) – I think those four as off-the-ball linebackers [in the first round]. Typically, there's only two off-the-ball linebackers, so that would be a big year."
Mayock said the DT and specific-style linebackers stood out as the strongest position groups in this year's pool but that he also is still watching to see how the cornerbacks shake out.
"I think we're still trying to kind of get through the corners and figure out after [Ohio State's] Denzel Ward where everybody goes," Mayock said. "But Josh Jackson (Iowa), Mike Hughes (UCF), Isaiah Oliver (Colorado), Jaire Alexander (Louisville), [Chris] Davis from Auburn – I mean, there are six guys there, and I think it means four of them are going to go in the first round."
3. A time and a place for special teams
Mayock has his hands full with more than 300 prospects to study up on heading into the combine, and that means special teamers get put on the back burner, so to speak.
The analyst was asked about kickers Monday afternoon and candidly apologized for not yet being up to speed on the position. He explained his approach to the specialists.
"I've got to be very honest with you – I don't know how to evaluate kickers," Mayock said. "What I do every year is, like a week before the draft, I call five or six of my special teams buddies around the league and say, 'OK, who do I need to know about, and why?' So I'm not there with kickers, and I apologize."