*NFL Draft expert Mike Mayock spoke with the media ahead of the 2017 NFL Combine: *
The Scouting Combine is the first marquee event on the NFL offseason calendar, and it's underway in Indianapolis.
For the next week, more than 300 college prospects will gather in Lucas Oil Stadium with dreams of NFL superstardom. They'll be evaluated by NFL personnel on everything from the 40-yard dash to medical history to how they handle sit-down interviews. It's one of the final chances players get to raise their draft stock.
Before workouts begin, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock kicked off the festivities with his annual conference call, where he previewed this year's class. Mayock is a former Boston College defensive back who played two seasons with the Giants from 1982-83.
Here are some highlights from the call and Mayock's key takeaways:
IT'S ANOTHER STRONG DEFENSIVE DRAFT
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl LI, but it was the strength of their defense that helped get them to the big game. New England led the league in 2016, allowing just 15.6 points per game. In fact, four of the top five points-per-game leaders (Patriots, Giants, Seahawks and Cowboys) all made the playoffs. Mayock says teams looking for help on defense in the draft won't have to look far.
"I think it's one of the best defensive drafts I've ever seen," Mayock said. "I think the defensive edge rusher, whether it's 4-3 or 3-4. Then as far as the corner situation is concerned, this is a great corner class. If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third round and really help yourself. I think this is a year where we're looking at two safeties that are certainly Top 10 picks, and maybe even Top 5, and looking at the best talent in the draft, the Texas A&M edge (Myles Garrett) and the Alabama defensive tackle (Jonathan Allen) to me are probably one and two."
THERE ARE OPTIONS AT TIGHT END
The Giants haven't drafted a tight end in the first round since they took Jeremy Shockey out of Miami with the 14th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Mayock wouldn't commit to a specific player for the Giants, but did discuss the position when asked about options for Big Blue with the 23rd overall pick.
"O.J. Howard is my No. 1 tight end," Mayock said." I don't think he gets to the end of the first round. And as you drop down and look at the other tight ends after him, there are some really good pass-catching tight ends. You start talking about David Njoku from Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block.
"Typically when you start talking about first-round tight ends, they come into play somewhere in that second half of the first round. And I think that's what's going to happen with Howard and Njoku. Haven't gone through a bunch of team needs here, so I can't sit here and tell you if I think the head of the Giants is going to take a tight end. I do think that both Howard and Njoku would be in a conversation at that point, though. They're both that talented."
THE DRAFT IS THIN ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
According to Pro Football Focus, the top-graded offensive lines for the 2016 season were the Titans, Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders, Packers and Falcons. All six of those teams played postseason football. According to Mayock, though, teams looking for help in the trenches will have to dig deep.
"Tackle is one of the few groups that isn't really that strong this year. I've got [Ryan] Ramczyk and [Garett] Bolles one and two. After those two kids – and when I say that, I've got Cam Robinson as a guard. He could play tackle, obviously. But I think there's a drop off after Ramczyk and Bolles. In a typical year, 10 tackles go in the first three rounds, and I can't find 10 guys that I would give grades to their rounds one through three."
KEEP SWINGING AT QUARTERBACK
From 2007-14, 21 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Mayock pointed out that nine of those players aren't in the league anymore, and only a handful became franchise players.
"The four franchise guys out of 21, five if you include Flacco, you're looking at about a 20% chance of drafting a franchise quarterback for the first-round pick," Mayock said. "And my message to NFL teams would be you've got to keep trying. You've got to keep swinging. Like Pete Carroll and John Schneider did, they signed [Matt] Flynn to the big free agent contract and they still that same year went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third."
Added Mayock: "I'm not bullish on the quarterback position in general this year. I'm not bullish on the quarterbacks this year because I don't think any of them are ready Day One. I think they all have different issues."
WHO IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THIS YEAR'S CLASS?
It's tough to keep track of all of the mock drafts out there, but most have Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett going to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick. Mayock argues that any team with the first pick needs to also look strongly at Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.
"I think Myles Garrett has the most upside of any pass-rusher in this draft," Mayock said. "The reason I think Jonathan Allen has to be considered also is, in addition to affecting the game, he affects it a little bit differently. So you can move him around.
"I think they're both difference makers. I think there is a higher ceiling for the Texas A&M kid, but I think that Alabama kid is a great defensive player for the next 10 years, and I think he's just a little bit safer than Garrett because he stays healthy, and he just seems like he plays every single week. But I love them both."
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