With the NFL draft starting Thursday night, let’s cover a wide range of topics on that popular event with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who in my opinion is the top draft guy. Mayock talked with reporters last week.
Mayock feels that offensive tackles will be the key to some of the initial trade movement in the draft. Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) are the top two on the board, and either could go first overall to the Chiefs. Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson is the next prospect.
“I think the first pressure point could be Philadelphia is sitting at 4, and Detroit desperately needs a tackle,” said Mayock. “I think Philadelphia is the first pressure point for Lane Johnson. And then beyond that . . . I have trouble seeing Lane Johnson getting to Arizona cleanly.”
Once Johnson is gone, tackle-needy teams could panic about Alabama’s D.J. Fluker.
Mayock said Johnson, a 6-foot-6-inch, 303-pound former junior college quarterback who started with the Sooners as a tight end/defensive end, is one of the most physically freakish prospects in some time.
“Runs a 4.70 40 — that’s faster than Anquan Boldin did,” Mayock said. “He’s jumped 34 inches, that’s the same as A.J. Green. He broad jumps 9-10, the same as Stevan Ridley.
“So you have a 300-pounder who is putting up numbers at the combine like a skill-position player. And everybody around the league and around the country now is starting to realize, wait a minute, we have this unbelievably freakish athlete who has only played a year and a half at left tackle, and every game you put on gets a little better.
“That’s what’s fueling all this [interest].”
As for the top safeties, Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Matt Elam (Florida), and Jonathan Cyprien (FIU) could all go in the first round — in that order.
“Cyprien is interesting because teams were all over on him,” Mayock said. “He’s a big, good-looking kid with excellent movement skills, and I’ve heard him all over the board, from kind of first round all the way down to the third round. So he’s kind of a wild card there.
“The only downside with Elam is there’s nothing they can do about 5-10, and occasionally you’re going to have to live with that. But on the positive side, you get a kid that tackles, a kid that’s tough, a kid that cares.
“He’s got better hips than I thought he did, and I think he’s going to play a lot of years in the league.”
Mayock said Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore really helped himself with his all-star game performance.
“He was kind of a fifth- or sixth-round consideration in most peoples’ eyes,” Mayock said. “Had a great week in the East-West game and has continued to ascend since then. I think he’s going to be a late-second-round to early-third-round pick.”
On the top cornerbacks: “Most people think Dee Milliner [Alabama] is the No. 1 corner in the country; I happen to like D.J. Hayden [Houston]. He’s going to be my No. 1 corner.
“I’ve got Jamar Taylor [Boise State] at No. 51 in my top 100. I think he’s a mid-second-round pick. He’s got quick feet, he’ll tackle, and like most Boise players, he’s tough and understands the game of football. I think Jamar Taylor is a starting corner in the NFL and I really like him.”
On possible Patriots receiver targets in the second round: “At that point, the two guys that I would love are DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson and [Robert] Woods from USC. I’m not sure either of them is going to be there at that point. They could be. So I’d throw that out as potential.
“I think they understand the game. They catch the ball, they’re tough, they run routes as well. They’re two of my favorite route runners in this year’s draft.
“After that, who might be there? Couple of bigger-bodied guys like Terrance Williams from Baylor, Aaron Dobson from Marshall. Both very big-bodied guys who get some production outside the numbers and the red zone, could complement Danny Amendola.
“A guy like Quinton Patton could be there from Louisiana Tech. I’m not sure he’s quite as much a fit because he could end up inside in the NFL.
“So some of those big-bodied guys with speed and verticality I like for them.”
Mayock thinks talented Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson could slide into the second half of the second round. Scouts have questions about his character and maturity.
On the best ball-hawking defensive backs: “From the safety position, it’s probably Phillip Thomas from Fresno. Had eight or nine picks. Sees the ball extremely well. In this day and age of defensive backs that struggle catching the football, his ball skills are excellent.
“At the corner position, I like D.J. Hayden from Houston. He finds the football. What I like about him is once he finds it, he turns into a running back. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns this year, and whether he’s in press with his back to the quarterback or in off [coverage] with his eyes on the quarterback, he finds the football and makes a play on it.”
Patriots will catch some breaks in 2013
The NFL has released the 2013 schedule, which allows everyone to see how the season may play out for each team.
Of course, those observations are based on how teams fared last season and how they look on paper before the draft.
I think the schedule lays out favorably for the Patriots. The first things teams look at are where the bye falls (Week 10 for New England, a good time) and how many times they will be thrown off their usual routine. The Patriots have only two such games, Weeks 2 and 12.
The first one, the Thursday night game against the Jets, is so early it won’t matter. The latter — the Sunday night showdown with the Broncos that follows a Monday nighter at Carolina — comes shortly after the bye, so the team can get ahead on game planning. So, it all works out.
The Patriots have to be ecstatic that they get their Thursday night game (every team gets one) so early in the season, when playing on short rest shouldn’t be a concern. Consider that the Patriots have nine days off from the final preseason game to the opener, then two games in five days, then nine days off before Week 3 at home vs. the Buccaneers. Sounds like a very nice start.
The Patriots don’t face an elite quarterback until Week 4 at Atlanta (Matt Ryan).
Toughest stretch: Weeks 4-6, at Atlanta, at Cincinnati, home vs. the Saints. Next is Weeks 12-13, vs. Denver and at Houston.
Compare that with the Jets, who have a stretch of, at Falcons, vs. Steelers, vs. Patriots, at Bengals, vs. Saints, before their bye. Ouch.
The Dolphins have a very tough stretch early — at Colts, vs. Falcons, at Saints, vs. Ravens — but the rest of the schedule is favorable for a stretch run, if they survive. With so many new players getting acclimated, the Dolphins probably would have preferred the harder games later.
If the Dolphins are still in it, Weeks 15 and 16 for the Patriots — at Miami and at Baltimore — could be interesting.
Receiver Cruz’s status remains up in the air
With restricted free agency ending Friday, the situation between the Giants and former UMass receiver Victor Cruz could be headed for some drama.
Cruz has only a few options now that he can’t sign with another team. He can sign his $2.879 million tender, sign a contract extension, or stay away until Nov. 12 (the deadline for reporting to receive an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency).
General manager Jerry Reese isn’t sure what will happen.
“We’ll see,” Reese said. “I can tell you this: When we get ready to play, when the season starts, we will have some good players out there. I’m not sure if Victor will be there or not. But I don’t assume anything.”
The New York Daily News has reported that the Giants have made Cruz an offer of more than $7 million per season, with up to $18 million guaranteed. Cruz is believed to be looking for more than $10 million per season.
The Giants could cut Cruz’s tender to $630,000 if he doesn’t sign it by the June 17 deadline.
Cruz has caught more than 82 passes and totaled more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, and has 19 career TD receptions.
“Obviously, he was a big part of what we were doing in the past few years,” Reese said. “Victor was a nice piece to what we were doing. We will see where it goes with respect to his contract.”
It seemed to be a good sign that Cruz went to Duke University to throw with quarterback Eli Manning earlier this month.
“I hope he wants to be here, but obviously they’ve got the contract to work out and they’ve got things to figure out,” Manning said. “I think they want him back. He’s got to do what’s in the best interest of him and that’s usually staying away and putting pressure to try to get the deal done.”
Teams cannot afford
to wait long for impact
Thought it was interesting last week that two different general managers, Steve Keim (first year with the Cardinals) and Jerry Reese of the Giants, talked about how it seems to be more important than ever that high draft picks must contribute early. Keim related a story from a pre-draft meeting where a position coach told Keim and coach Bruce Arians that the team could take one player seventh overall, but he may not be ready to play right away. “I looked at Bruce and I asked him if he wanted to tell him or should I? If we draft this guy at seven, if he expects me to keep my job, he’s going to play,” Keim said. “Mine, too,” Arians said. It likely has to do with the fact that the flat salary cap has squeezed out many mid-priced veterans. Teams have their stars — who take up most of the cap — and then many low-priced draft picks. “The day and age of bringing your draft picks in and just sitting them for a year or two, I think those days are dwindling away,” said Reese, who used to be in favor of that. “I think you have to bring them in and get those guys ready to play. You like to develop guys. And quite frankly guys are really not ready to come in, but sometimes you have to force them in there. In the past, people have said you bring in the young players as developmental. But nowadays you really have to get them ready to go pretty quickly.”
1. Thank you to all of our first responders for all that you do. Not only in crises, but every day. Bless you.
2. The run-up to the draft has started the annual debate about Wonderlic scores. In my opinion, they’re like 40-yard dash times: It’s an indicator and nothing else. The film and what’s inside matters most, but all information is a piece of the puzzle and I want to consume it.
3. The NFL and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam are putting on strong public faces in the wake of the federal allegations of fraud from Haslam’s Pilot Flying J company, but behind the scenes there is a lot of worry — in Berea, Ohio, and at the league offices.
4. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said in a Fox Sports Radio interview that the team invited the Tim Tebow circus to town by allowing ESPN, among others, in. “You can avoid that stuff on your own if you like,” he said. Sanchez is absolutely correct, and what he said is one of the reasons why a possible Tebow reunion with the man who drafted him, Patriots offensive coordinator JoshMcDaniels, would not be a distraction to the Patriots.
5. This is my final Sunday notes column — there won’t be one on draft weekend — before leaving for Sports Illustrated at the conclusion of the draft. Just wanted to say a quick thank you for reading with an open mind. It was a dream come true writing in this revered space. It will always be Will McDonough’s space — the rest of us are just renters. See you around. Boston has always been, and will continue to be, home.
Patriots safeties coach Brian Flores is handling at least some of the private workouts of top cornerbacks in the lead-up to the draft. Not sure if that means cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer has lost influence — they could just be splitting prospects — but that does mesh with the belief that Flores is ascending inside the walls of One Patriot Place . . . Several agents and front office executives had remarked about how many hats Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio seems to be wearing after senior football adviser Floyd Reese left Gillette Stadium (sources said Reese may settle into a scouting consultant role with the Patriots from his home in Texas). In addition to his main role as supervisor of the college and pro scouting departments, Caserio has handled all contract negotiations. Letting Caserio take on more administrative duties could be a sign that Bill Belichick is relying more on Jon Robinson (director of college scouting) and Bob Quinn (director of pro scouting). Also should give Caserio more experience on the economic side to broaden his appeal for teams looking for general managers . . . Giants GM Jerry Reese said the contract situation with Victor Cruz didn’t lead to the team hosting Patriots receiver Julian Edelman on a visit before he re-signed with New England. “No, we just look for good players in free agency,” Reese said. “And he was still out there and it is like, ‘Wow, this guy is an interesting player, why don’t we bring him in and take a look at him and have some conversations with him?’ And obviously it didn’t work out for us to sign him. But we are just looking around — we are always looking around for good players.” . . . Bills assistant GM Doug Whaley could hardly contain himself over West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. “He is electric and yes he is [on our radar],” Whaley said. “He is the type of guy that once he touches the ball, he has a chance to make a prolific play every time. He scares a lot of defensive players and coordinators.” . . . Congratulations to Needham native Steve Hauschka (Middlebury), who re-signed to kick for the Seahawks last week.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.