Many of the leading draft analysts held conference calls this week to answer questions and share opinions about players in next week’s draft. Todd McShay of ESPN and Mike Mayock of the NFL Network were among the more prominent names and after listening to over three hours of audio from both calls, I’ve put together seven things you should know McShay and Mayock had to say about players and positions potentially on the Falcons radar.
1) Jadeveon Clowney: He’s everyone’s top prospect, but reviews are mixed on just how good Jadeveon Clowney can be. Mayock has been open about his concerns and reiterated them on the call, but added there’s no doubt Clowney’s ability is off the charts.
“He woke up this morning with more physical ability than any defensive end on the planet, and I believe that,” Mayock said. “With that ability comes certain responsibilities, or perhaps expectations is a better word. There are times that he just kind of disappears.”
If the defensive end expected to be the top overall pick stays motivated, he can be a force in the NFL, Mayock just wants Clowney to not require motivation from coaches and instead find it within himself.
“You’d like to see a self-starter, not somebody you have to start,” Mayock said. (Jadeveon Clowney Draft Spotlight)
2) Anthony Barr: When we left the Combine in February, Barr was believed to be a top-10 pick. Since then, the UCLA linebacker is among those players with perceived stock drops. ESPN’s Daniel Jeremiah recently said Barr is still one of the top pass rushers available and while McShay didn’t disagree that Barr is a talented edge rusher, he’s not sold on Barr inside the top 10.
“That’s a reach,” McShay said. “I think you’re taking a big gamble.”
Barr sees an extremely athletic and fast player in Barr, but thinks his draft stock is based off potential. He’d also like to see the linebacker develop more power into his pass-rushing moves, instead of relying strictly on speed. (Anthony Barr Draft Spotlight)
3) Ryan Shazier: Many of us didn’t get to know Shazier more until Mel Kiper mocked him to the Falcons in the second round. The extremely athletic linebacker from Ohio State projects as the prototype for a 4-3 weakside linebacker, according to Mayock. McShay is on board with Mayock and thinks he may be picked in the 17-25 range, well before Atlanta’s No. 37 pick in the second round. McShay said he loved Shazier as a player because he consistently plays hard, can run sideline to sideline and can cover as a linebacker. He expects Shazier to be the first Ohio State player selected this year. (Ryan Shazier Draft Spotlight)
4) Kyle Van Noy: The BYU linebacker is among the many second-round linebackers Falcons fans have heard about. Mayock praised Van Noy for returning for his senior season and becoming one of the best all-around linebackers in the country. In the second round, Van Noy has the makings of a contributor on defense.
“I’m not sure he’s got one outstanding trait where you go ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’” Mayock said. “He does everything well. He can run. He can drop. He can play inside. He can play outside. People are trying to figure out where best to play him and his versatility is a huge plus.”
5) Running Backs Class: The NFL still has to run the ball and this year’s class of running backs may not feature a first-round pick, but there’s some quality within the rounds. McShay believes Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde is the best back in the draft because he’s so well-rounded without losing the physical component to his game. He can be trusted to churn out yards and protect the quarterback as a blocker and those are still the two primary roles for a running back. (Carlos Hyde Draft Spotlight)
Mayock thinks one of the better receivers in the running back class is West Virginia’s Charles Simms.
“I think the combination of catching the football, being a big enough back to pass protect and a natural running skill set really helps him,” Mayock said. “He’s a solid fourth-round guy that provides some versatility.”
6) Tight Ends Class: While it’s not at the top of the needs list, tight end is a position the Falcons may address in the draft. Tight end, according to Mayock, is one of the positions that lacks depth in this year’s class, but Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas is a middle-round talent that could go as early as the third round. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he’s a big target with good hands, but it’s his blocking that may help him carve out a career.
“If he wants to become the best blocking tight end in the NFL, he will be, but he’s got to want it,” Mayock said
7) Best Class Ever? We’ve heard repeatedly how deep this year’s draft is, but is it the best ever? Mayock wouldn’t confirm that it is, but said despite a lack of depth at some positions, it’s a great draft with players well into the middle rounds that shouldn’t be ignored.
“We can drop down into the fifth round and draw out some names that I think will be productive NFL players,” he said. “It’s both quality at the top and depth throughout.”