One of the prevalent themes of the 2016 NFL Draft is how deep and loaded the prospects are along the defensive line.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said as much at February's 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"Just looking at the whole big picture, I think the defensive line is one of the strongest I've seen in a long time," Spielman said at the combine. "There are some good DBs, there are some talented linebackers, but this is a deep class.
"I mean, we spent almost 13 hours on defensive linemen one day, just because of the depth of the defensive line," Spielman added.
Spielman's assessment was similar to one offered by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock during a conference call last month when Mayock said there could be as many as a dozen defensive linemen with a first-round grade.
Fellow NFL Network draft experts Daniel Jeremiah and Charles Davis agreed with that sentiment on Thursday during a conference call.
"The big picture on this draft, and a lot of this has already been said out there, but it's one of the best defensive tackle drafts I can remember," Jeremiah said. "I started in 2003 in scouting and I can't remember this much depth.
"It'll be interesting to follow what the strategy is with teams," Jeremiah added. "Do they want to go get these guys right away? Or is there a thought process that with so much depth, maybe we'll see some of these guys slide down because (teams) know they can get another one in a subsequent round."
There were three defensive tackles taken in the first round in 2015, but Jeremiah said a perfect example of this year's depth is Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Jeremiah said Jones' stock has skyrocketed since the NFL Combine as he now projects as first-round pick.
"When you look at where he is now and where he could be," Jeremiah said, "he's just got tremendous upside and talent."
New touchback rule could see an increase in "sky high" kicks
Of the nine rule changes announced by the NFL last week, the new touchback rule has been generating lots of buzz.
Under the new rule, touchbacks will now be placed at the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line.
Both Jeremiah and Davis said they believe the amendment will lead to an increase two things — short kicks inside the 5-yard line and more kickoff returns.
While the rule is intended to limit kickoff returns, Davis said it might have "unintended consequences" and lead to more return attempts.
Jeremiah said there will now be an emphasis on teams to have a reliable kicker on the roster.
"With the ability to kind of sky kick now, you can really pin people down there," Jeremiah said. "I think the change to the touchback rule is an interesting one."
Sacks don't tell story of pass rushing skills
Jeremiah and Davis rattled off a handful of draft-eligible pass rushers from power schools and lesser-known programs alike on their conference call.
But one element both agreed on is that sacks aren't always the great statistic in which to measure a pass rusher's success.
Because NFL offenses rarely go to a lengthy five or seven-step quarterback dropback, there simply isn't enough time for a rusher to get there.
"Quarterbacks get rid of the ball pretty fast now," Davis said. "That's made it very difficult (to get sacks).
"You have to get your numbers in different ways," Davis added. "You have to get your hands up and knock the ball down like (Houston defensive end) J.J. Watt is so famous for doing. A lot of times the ball is snapped, and you only get two or three steps toward the quarterback and you better get your hands up because the ball is on its way out."