- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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In our continuing attempt to learn more about the crop of prospects in this year's NFL draft, here are some notes with a New England Patriots twist from the ESPN.com "First Draft" podcast with analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay:
1. A draft defined by underclassmen: When talking about top storylines from the draft, McShay said the biggest one is the influx of underclassmen. His top eight receivers are all underclassmen, as are 11 of the top 12. At running back, McShay's top 4-5 prospects are underclassmen (as are 7 of the top 9). Turning this back to the Patriots, consider that 2013 second-round receiver Aaron Dobson came out after his senior season, while 2013 fourth-round receiver Josh Boyce came out after his junior season. I think it is much tougher to project development with juniors, simply because there is less of a body of work to evaluate. The Patriots and 2006 second-round receiver Chad Jackson is one example of this.
2. Putting a number on underclassmen: McShay said the inclusion of approximately 100 underclassmen creates a new dynamic, as there were about 70 last year. “Each and every year, the last few years, we're setting a new record with underclassmen … It's also becoming a problem because you're not getting as many developed players who are ready for the NFL as you used to get in years past when we were only seeing 20-30 underclassmen.” Kiper touched on how this also impacts their draft analysis because there isn't accurate height and weight numbers on the juniors until the combine. When NFL teams unearth this type of information this late in the process, McShay said it can be unsettling when compared to scouting a senior over 15 months.
3. Kiper compares Sam to Dumervil: Missouri's Michael Sam is considered an undersized, long-armed pass-rusher with a mid-round projection and Kiper said one comparison he thinks is fitting coming out of college is with Elvis Dumervil. McShay wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots pounced should Sam slide down the board. “If you're talking about a fourth-round grade on a player, and even teams that don't identify him as a perfect scheme fit, you're telling me if this guy gets to the sixth round and he can rush the quarterback that a Bill Belichick or some other guys in the league wouldn't say 'Are you kidding me? I don't care about anything -- this guy can rush the quarterback. Maybe he's not a perfect scheme fit but we'll find a place for him.'"
4. McShay high on OTs & Auburn's Robinson: In making the point that offensive tackle is one of the strongest positions in the draft in terms of top-end talent (possibly 10 off the board within the first three rounds), McShay was effusive in his praise of Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. “Since I've been doing this, post-Orlando Pace and all those guys before him, I don't know if there is a guy that has as much natural ability that I've evaluated. He's the most dominant point of attack offensive tackle I've studied. He has a chance to be a great one."
5. Sorting through the quarterbacks: When considering the possibility of the Patriots drafting a developmental quarterback with backup Ryan Mallett entering the final year of his contract, McShay noted that he envisions 12-13 signal-callers drafted within the first five rounds or so. He has Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles in the mid-first-round range, with Johnny Manziel in the late first round. Alabama's AJ McCarron leads off his "second tier" quarterbacks, likely in the second round. That would seemingly be too high for the Patriots, which could put them in the mix for one of the next quarterbacks a bit later in the draft, such as Fresno State's Derek Carr.