ESPN college football and NFL draft analyst Todd McShay held a conference call Friday and here is what we learned about the 2013 NFL draft:
1. Two exceptional guards in first round. Selecting an offensive guard can often be the safest pick in the first round (e.g. Mike Iupati for the 49ers in 2010; Logan Mankins for the Patriots in 2005) and McShay notes that there are two exceptional prospects at that position in this draft -- Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper. "We have two guards this year that are in the elite category," McShay says. "You don't see guards like [them] come around very often." While guard isn't a premium position like tackle, which can lead to them sliding in some drafts, McShay notes a player like Cooper wouldn't be a reach as high as No. 20.
2. Nice depth at safety position. Seemingly unlike last season, when there were two top safeties (Mark Barron and Harrison Smith) and then a significant drop-off and difference of opinion among teams on the next players in the group, the 2013 draft is well-stocked. "It's a very deep group of safeties this year," McShay says, adding that a team could get a good safety into the second and third rounds.
3. More draft-able fullbacks than the norm. It's a position that has disappeared from many offenses, but fullback features some good prospects in 2013. After a 2012 offseason in which they attempted to address the position, the Patriots might consider one of the several prospects from this year's draft. The topic came up when McShay was asked about SMU's Zach Line. "He's one of six or seven fullbacks that I think are worth drafting, which is a little bit more than the average over the last few years," McShay says of a position that is usually more of a later-round option for teams.
4. Why cornerback is a crucial position at the combine. In a preview of what is to come next week at the NFL combine, McShay touched on cornerback as a key position. "I think cornerback is one of those positions where the measurements do count," he says. "I want to see the arm length, legitimize the speed -- what does he truly run? You see it on tape and you want to confirm that. It's so important to have that good combination of height, arm length and speed at that position." On the cornerback position as a whole, McShay feels Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185) is one of the best run-support prospects, which resonated from this perspective because it's a trait the Patriots probably value more than most others. Banks is viewed as a prospect who could go in the 25-40 range, and the Patriots currently own the No. 29 pick.
5. No read-option quarterbacks among top prospects; no first-round grades for QBs. For all the talk about the "new age" quarterbacks and how the read-option offense could change the NFL, McShay doesn't see any of the top seven prospects with the skill set to run it at a high level in the NFL. Florida State's EJ Manuel, Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert, and Arizona's Matt Scott are the three quarterbacks from the class who project to be able to run the read option. Overall, McShay doesn't have a first-round grade on any quarterback, but has six signal-callers with a second-round grade ("the depth is sensational"). That could potentially set up a wild start to Day 2 of the draft.
EXTRA POINT: ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. held a conference call earlier in the week, and here was what we learned about the draft from that call.