JACKSONVILLE – The NFL Draft often is defined by quarterbacks.
That's likely to be the case again this offseason, and ESPN College Football and NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay said offensive tackle also could have a major impact on the 2015 NFL Draft.
That's because as McShay sees it, this not a great draft for offensive tackles.
McShay, speaking on a conference call with national media Tuesday, said that could mean comparatively few —if any – players at the position being selected early in the April 30-May 2 NFL Draft, which may mean a significant number of defensive players near the top of the draft.
McShay also said teams at the top of the draft needing a quarterback – a list not expected to include the Jaguars, who hold the No. 3 selection – will have difficult decisions regarding Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State.
McShay said while Winston is a better on-field prospect, both could be very, very good.
But neither is a guarantee.
"They both have a chance to be great, but they both come with red flags," McShay said, adding, "There are enough red flags with both of these guys – very different red flags – that it's going to make for a very difficult evaluation process."
McShay projected Mariota to Tampa Bay at No. 1 in his first mock draft released last month, projecting Winston to Tennessee at No. 2 and Southern California defensive end Leonard Williams to the Jaguars at No. 3.
He also projected Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory No. 4 to the Raiders, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray No. 5 to the Washington Redskins and Florida defensive end Dante Fowler No. 7 to the Falcons.
"When you talk about defensive front seven, it's a really good group – particularly on the perimeter," he said. "There's definitely more talent on the perimeter than normal."
McShay on Tuesday spoke of Williams' versatility, saying he could play the three-technique or five-technique positions, and that he could move around on the line.
McShay said when projecting the Top 10, offensive tackle likely won't be a factor and said he doesn't see an elite player at the position in this draft. He projected Brandon Scherff of Iowa at No. 10 in his mock draft, but said Tuesday he may be better suited in the NFL as a guard.
He said the "sweet spot" of the draft for offensive linemen will be in the second half of the first round, where teams will get more value at the position.
"There are a lot of good offensive tackles in this year's class, but there's not that one exceptional tackle," he said, adding, "There's just not a lot of offensive line talent early in this draft, and I think that will push a lot of defensive players up."
Also on Tuesday:
*McShay said while Winston's off-field questions are a significant concern – "It's a really hard decision" he said of Winston – he is a better NFL prospect than Mariota because of his ability in the pocket. "It's really where the foundation of an evaluation should be – can you win from inside the pocket?" McShay said. "We've gone through how many years of people getting all excited about these mobile quarterbacks who can run around and do all this stuff? … If you can't win from inside the pocket with your anticipation, your pre-snap reads, your post-snap reads, throwing to spots and having excellent ball placement – we haven't seen anyone overcome that." McShay said because of that, "Jameis Winston to me is the better prospect; Marcus Mariota is still a very good prospect, but needs developing." …
*McShay talked extensively of Winston Tuesday, saying "there are very few cons when you talk about him between the lines. He's a very smart individual. He picks up football concepts very quickly. He knows how to go through progressions. He's comfortable in the pocket and can manipulate the pocket. He feels pressure coming. He's not the quickest quarterback, but he's mobile enough and strong enough to extend plays." McShay also said Winston anticipates throws – i.e., the ability to throw to a receiver about to come open – as well as any quarterback in the last couple of drafts. … "The cons about Jameis Winston are really what are you getting with maturity and the individual off the field?" he said. …
*McShay said while Mariota has the skill to play a pro-style offense "he doesn't have the experience." He added that the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner has NFL height and size, as well as toughness and leadership skills. "The one thing I don't see with him is that anticipation as a passer," McShay said. "In that offense, there's not a lot of opportunity to show that." …
*McShay said the draft is overall thin at quarterback, saying he has a fourth-round grade on Brett Hundley of UCLA. "After Mariota and Winston there's a real big drop off at the quarterback positon," McShay said. …
*McShay called this year's draft deep at running back, with players such Melvin Gordon or Wisconsin, Todd Gurley of Georgia, Tevin Coleman of Indiana, Duke Johnson of Miami, Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska, T.J. Yeldon from Alabama, Jay Ajayi from Boise State, Mike Davis of South Carolina, David Cobb of Minnesota, Jeremy Langford of Michigan State, Matt Jones of Florida and Cameron Artis-Payne of Auburn all worthy of being selected in the first four rounds. He said that could cause some backs to be selected later than they would normally. No running back has been selected in the first round in the past two drafts. "I just wonder how many of those guys are going to wind up going in the second- or third-round range, or if one of them will fall," McShay said...