The NFL’s scouting combine must be this week. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock spent nearly three hours on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon previewing the event that gets bigger every year.
The combine, in fact, begins Thursday in Indianapolis, officially kicking off the draft season. Mayock believes it’s too early to predict what team will take which player at the top of the draft, but he said Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are locked in as the top three quarterbacks and could all be taken in the top five.
Mayock said all three, for different reasons, would fit with the Browns, who hold the No. 4 pick.
“I’m not sure the Browns know yet who the best one of those three are, so it’s an interesting thing,” he said. “On the one hand, the Bortles kid, I know that you’ve got to be able to throw the ball in the wind and in the cold and there’s a lot of stuff about playing quarterback in that division. Bortles is kind of a bigger, stronger guy. People think he’s got the biggest arm. But I also think he’s the least developed of the three.
“I think Bridgewater is the most ready-to-play NFL-style quarterback in this draft, and I think Manziel’s got that ‘it’ factor where I don’t think it matters if it’s Cleveland, Seattle, Dallas, warm weather, cold weather, whatever, I think he’s just going to be who he is. I think all three of them could fit depending on what they feel about each individual kid.”
Mayock has Bridgewater ranked as his top quarterback because of the spectrum of experiences he had at Louisville.
“He was under center, he was in pistol, he was in shotgun,” Mayock said. “They threw the ball short, intermediate and deep. He understands three-step, five-step (drops). He reads more than just half a field. So you can put the tape on and watch him do things and say, yeah, that translates to the next level.
“He’s not as much a wild card as Manziel, and I think he’s more developed in his reads and throws than Bortles.”
Texas A&M’s Manziel remains a red-hot topic among fans, teams and media. He said last week he wants to be drafted No. 1 by the Texans and added it would be the “worst decision” they ever made if they passed on him. He also said he’d pour his heart out for the Dawg Pound and bring Cleveland a Super Bowl if he landed with the Browns.
Mayock enjoys and endorses Manziel but called him a “different” evaluation than other quarterbacks. Mayock said the scouting report changed depending on which game he watched.
“That was awesome. It was really fun to watch,” Mayock said of the game vs. Alabama. “He makes throws, he allows other players to make plays, he extends plays. He was like a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie.”
The tapes vs. LSU and Missouri didn’t impress.
“The common denominator was I felt like he got frustrated in the pocket,” Mayock said. “He started to lose his accuracy. He started trying to escape the pocket way before he needed to and I feel like he doesn’t like being confined. He likes those open spaces and we have to evaluate him a little differently because of that. I felt like he would back out of the pocket and all of a sudden the accuracy was down, the decision-making was down, and NFL teams are going to clue into that very quickly.
“But having said all of that, I do believe he’s got the arm strength, the athletic ability, the passion for the game. At the end of the day, he’s different than any quarterback I’ve done before. But I believe in the kid. I think he’s going to be a top-10 if not a top-five pick. But you’re going to have to live with some of the negative plays in addition to the positive ones.”
Despite the positive reviews, Mayock has serious questions about all three top quarterback prospects and said there’s enough talent at the top of the draft that a team shouldn’t force the issue at quarterback if they’re not comfortable with the player.
“None of these guys are Andrew Luck, none of these guys are Peyton Manning, none of these guys (are) a slam dunk,” Mayock said. “The more tape I watch of all three of them, the more questions I have. I can pick apart all three of them. I could not pick apart Andrew Luck.”
A problem for the Browns is that Houston at No. 1 and Jacksonville at No. 3 are also in the market for a quarterback. If the Browns choose not to or aren’t able to trade up, they could miss out on their first or first two preferences.
Mayock isn’t sure that’s a bad thing. He’s open to the idea of taking Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 4 and possibly picking up Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr with the 26th pick.
“Watkins is a special player. I usually don’t get too excited about wide receivers in the top 10, but this kid is different,” Mayock said. “He’s physically explosive, he’s got great hands. He’s got good size, he’s got very good speed. And what I really, really like about this kid is he’s got some toughness. He’ll go over the middle, he’ll physically beat press coverage, he high-points the ball, he’s got a little attitude about him, he blocks people. If they took him at four, I’m all-in on that kid.
“I think Carr would be an interesting guy at 26. I didn’t love his USC tape in the bowl game at all, but I do believe he’s got the arm strength and athletic ability to be a starter in the NFL. I don’t think he’s a Pro Bowl-type starter, but I think he’s a competent starter. The question you’ve got to answer yourself is at 26, are you getting a significant improvement over what you think Brian Hoyer is? Because if you’re not, you need to move on and get another positional player.”
The Browns own 10 draft picks, including three in the top 35 and five in the top 80. CEO Joe Banner, who will be leaving the organization shortly, traded fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2013 for third- and fourth-rounders this year because he believed this year’s draft would be stronger. Mayock believes it was the right move, calling this the deepest and best class in 10 years.
“You can get a quality player through three or four rounds,” he said.