Here are the main takeaways from what he said:
1. IT’S A DEFENSIVE DRAFT
As everyone saw at the beginning of the month, defense still wins championships. Denver held Carolina, the No. 1 scoring team in the league, to 10 points en route to a victory in Super Bowl 50. With the win, teams that ranked first in total defense are now 10-2 in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Broncos linebacker Von Miller became the second defensive player in three years to be named Super Bowl MVP. This year’s crop of NFL talent is good news for teams looking to do the same.
“It's a defensive draft,” Mayock said. “Best interior defensive line I've seen maybe since I've started doing this. We're seeing with the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos what started about five years ago, which is all the NFL teams are talking about, we've got to find people on defense that can affect the pass offense because it's a pass-first league. So what you saw with Von Miller in that defensive front of Denver is what teams have been trying to build for the last four or five years. And I think the good news is we're so deep on defense, so defensive tackles and the corners especially, it's going to be a good year for those groups.”
2. MAYOCK THINKS GIANTS WILL GO WITH A PASS-RUSHER AT NO. 10
A year after drafting left tackle Ereck Flowers at No. 9 and two years after selecting Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at No. 12, the Giants hold the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft. Mayock was asked what they will do with another choice in the top 10.
“I think they're another team sitting at 10 that has to look at edge rushers, and sitting at 10 is a different conversation,” Mayock said. “[Eastern Kentucky defensive end] Noah Spence could be squarely in the middle of that conversation, and the Giants typically don't take on a lot of risk, and he's one of the riskiest guys in the draft, but he's also one of the best edge rushers. I think he'll be a polarizing conversation in their meeting rooms.”
3. NOTRE DAME’S JAYLON SMITH COULD BE NO. 1 IF NOT FOR INJURY
Heading into the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was regarded as one of the best defenders in college football. But the All-American tore the ACL and MCL in his knee during the game, leaving some questions to be answered during the combine as he continues his rehab.
Added Mayock: “He could have been the first pick in the draft. Now if he gets a clean evaluation, he's still going to be a first-round pick, probably a top-15 pick, because he's that special. If there's any cloudiness or murkiness around that knee between now and the draft, teams are going to look at it differently, and since we don't know yet what it is, I can't go there, but I think that's as close as I can get today.”
4. THE 40-YARD DASH IS OVERRATED
The 40-yard dash is the marquee event every year at the combine, and former East Carolina running back Chris Johnson still owns bragging rights with his top time of 4.24 seconds, which he set in 2008. But the sprint isn’t the only thing scouts are looking at in their evaluations.
“The most overhyped thing is the 40-yard dash, and it's fun, and it's easily calculable, so we can sit there and compare everybody,” Mayock said. “But it often doesn't matter what a lot of these guys run at the end of the day -- 95 percent of it, 99 percent of it should be about their tape and what they've already done. I think the most under-looked piece of it is a combination of the interviews and the medical, and that's why this thing started 30 years ago anyway, was to get unified medical reports on all these kids.”
5. MAYOCK ON GIANTS’ MOCK DRAFTS
The mock drafts will shake up after what happens in Indianapolis, but below are Mayock’s thoughts on some pre-combine projections for the Giants.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky (picked by Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN)
Mayock: “I think he fits the 3-4 teams a little bit better, but in today's day and age, an edge rusher is an edge rusher.”
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (picked by Charles Davis, NFL.com)
Mayock: “Ezekiel Elliott is just about as fast sideways as he is forward, and Ezekiel Elliott is probably going to run 4.45 at 225 pounds, so he's got great speed. But his lateral, jump cuts, acceleration, burst, lower body toughness, all those things add up to me first round.”
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville (picked by Todd McShay, ESPN)
Mayock: “We keep talking about what a pass-first league this is, and it certainly has become that. So anybody that can create immediate interior pressure has got higher value than he did five years ago. Rankins is one of those kind of guys. Regardless whether you're a 3-4 or 4-3 team you've got to get guys who can get to the quarterback quicker. Rankins to me is intriguing.”
Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor (picked by Chad Reuter, NFL.com)
Mayock: “Billings is probably the best pure nose tackle in this draft from Baylor, strong as can be, probably more of a two-down guy, though.”