Earlier today, ESPN held a media conference call with ESPN college football and NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay Alongside Wendi Nix and Robert Smith, McShay covers college football Saturdays in studio throughout the season. He is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and also appears on SportsCenter, College Football Live, College GameDay, ESPNU, ESPNEWS and ESPN Radio. Below is a transcript of portions of the call:
On draft status of Michigan’s Denard Robinson:
McSHAY: With Denard, it hasn’t changed because, A, I don’t think that he has very much potential to play quarterback, but, B, I think he has a lot of potential to make the move to a wide receiver/offensive weapon type role in helping the return game.
The problem is you can’t see him basically do anything or execute any of those skills at the wide receiver position now. So I think a lot of where he gets drafted or whether he’s able to move up a little bit or down a little bit and what he shows really will have to do with the pre-draft process. Getting to a Senior Bowl, returning punts, showing that he can do those things, running routes, his crispness getting in and out of breaks, and the skill that it takes to be a good wide receiver.
Nobody is expecting him to come in and be polished, but to see those skills I think will help general managers and NFL evaluators with their evaluation of him.
I think ultimately you’re going to see that he’s too quick and too fast and too explosive to get out of the second day of the draft. I’ll be surprised if we get today three and he’s still available. I just think he’s such an explosive weapon that especially in the offenses today in the NFL, there are just so many different ways to use a guy like Denard Robinson that I just think he’s got a lot of value in that regard.
On Baltimore Ravens & this year’s class of safeties and linebackers:
McSHAY: As far as those positions are concerned, they’re actually really pretty deep at those two spots. Inside linebacker, I don’t expect the Ravens to be in position to get Manti Te’o from Notre Dame, but he’s most likely going to be the first linebacker off the board and should be one of the first three or four defensive prospects to get drafted.
After that, Alec Ogletree from Georgia who was suspended for a few games, but since he’s come back, he’s a rare physical tools type of guy still has developing to do, but he should be a first round pick as well. Then you have Kevin Reddick from North Carolina, Arthur Brown from Kansas State, Nico Johnson from Alabama. Jonathan Bostic from Florida are all in that second, third round range. So as far as inside linebackers go, it’s a really deep class.
Safeties, again, I think you say the same about this group. It depends on which underclassmen wind up coming out. It will be interesting to see because there’s not ‑‑ probably not any legitimate great first round prospects. But I think there is more depth in the second and third round than we’ve seen in recent years.
You start to look at Shawn Williams from Georgia’s underrated and has first round ability, but has been a little inconsistent this year like the rest of the Georgia defense. But Shawn Williams is certainly talented enough to warrant late first round consideration.
Tony Jefferson is an underclassmen that’s played well from Oklahoma. Kenny Vaccaro from Texas is a senior. Had a little bit of tackling problems, but overall in his career, it’s been solid. He’s one of those versatile guys that can play in space. He can match‑up against guys in slot. He has enough size at 6’1″, 210 to at least contend against some of the tight ends.
Eric Reed from LSU has had a good year as well, and Shamarko Thomas is a player from Syracuse that’s really started to step up. When you start to look at the numbers there, it’s pretty remarkable. Usually we see one or two first rounders, maybe two second rounders.
But this year if those three underclassmen, Jefferson, Elam, and Reed all decide to leave early, you could see as many as maybe ten safeties coming off the board in the first three rounds. So it will be interesting to see.
A team like Baltimore could really benefit from both of those positions when you start to look at it.
On the five quarterbacks in last year’s draft class with the five quarterbacks:
McSHAY: I can’t remember, I guess ’99 was the first year I started doing this, but I can’t remember a quarterback class coming this close to this much success early on as a group. It really is remarkable, and it’s been fun to watch for me. You get immediate gratification. You spend so much time, really two full years gearing up for that quarterback class and concentrating the last five or six months before the April draft.
Usually you see one or two guys and then it takes a couple years, sometimes three to four years before you start to see the product on the field consistently with maybe multiple three‑four quarters in the class.
But this year with the five guys starting, and all of them playing pretty well compared to what you usually see from rookie quarterbacks, it’s been a lot of fun. Russell Wilson, obviously, has been kind of the story of the group because of his size and all the questions and the debates that we all had coming into the draft. What he’s been able to do in some of the late‑game heroics have been really fun to watch. But that’s a really good football team around him.
Andrew Luck to me has been the most impressive, and I’m not just saying that because most of us thought he was the best player coming in, but just how mature he seems and how little talent. Every single quarterback, all those other four quarterbacks have significantly better talent surrounding them than Andrew Luck. He’s been able to just raise the level of that entire organization, which, I think in terms of roster talent, they ranked 32 out of the 32 teams.
Whatever he does, even if the numbers aren’t the same as some of the other quarterbacks, I think you have to take into consideration all the talent around them.
RG3 has been fantastic. He’s showing toughness, his mobility is there, and I think the Shanahans have done a great job of getting the most out of him.
If you look at Ryan Tannehill, I’ve enjoyed because I’ve liked Tannehill coming in and took a lot of heat for it. The potential is there. He’s still a work in progress, but he’s had a lot of success early on for a team that would probably rank in the bottom five or six in terms of overall talent as well.
And Brandon Weeden, after a slow start, there have been some highs and some lows. But, again, you have to take into consideration, especially with those three, with Tannehill and Weeden and Luck the talent that is around them, and it’s not good. To come out and have the success that they’ve had is really impressive.
On Alabama’s Dee Milliner, the quarterback, and C.J. Mosley the linebacker:
McSHAY: Well, Milliner I’ve done a film evaluation on, so I can speak to his potential, if you will. We’ve got him ranked 18th overall in class. I know he’s been inconsistent at times, but he’s got the tools, he’s got size. Just shy of 6’1″, close to 200 pounds. I think he runs in the 4.4s, mid to high 4.4s. He continues to get better and better.
The instincts and everything he’s been taught, he’s been durable for the vast majority of his career. I know he missed the Western Kentucky game, but other than that, he’s been a durable player. His recognition skills and just reading routes, anticipating really been impressed with that. That’s what translates so well to the next level is being able to play zone and man, and being able to understand what receivers are trying to do and how teams are trying to attack your secondary and just being able to make plays on the football.
That to me is so important when you’re evaluating these corners. Can they get in the right position? Do they know what the opponent is trying to do? Can they protect themselves, but are they instinctive enough to get in the play? Are they willing to mix it up versus the run? You get positive answers when you evaluate him across the board. He’s not an exceptional talent, but it won’t surprise me, if he does decide to leave early, if he winds up being the top three, one of the top three cornerbacks in the class.
As far as Mosley is concerned, first of all, I’m just happy to see him on the field this year. I saw him get injured in that National Championship Game a year ago. At the moment when he was taken off the field, I didn’t know that he’d be back this year at all. It didn’t turn out to be as bad as everyone thought. But I remember early in the season, Nick Saban saying he wants an Alpha dog to step up.
He had Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, and I can’t speak to what Mosley is off the field or in practice in terms of the intangibles and leadership. But on the field I see a guy that’s become that Alpha dog for this team. He leads the team with 51 tackles. I think I looked at it recently, I think he has two and a half sacks. He’s got one or two forced fumbles, an interception, pass is broken up. He’s producing in all areas of the game.
When you watch the tape, I’m seeing more of him go after the quarterback. They’re turning him loose in the blitz. Showing more instincts in the passing game overall. And the versatility that we saw from Hightower in his final year last year, you’re starting to see more and more of that.
I don’t know that he’s McClain and Hightower in terms of talent. He’s not quite as big and powerful. Maybe a little more athletic than those two guys or at least faster. But I think he’s starting to come into his own. Whether it’s the end of this year or next year, I think he’s a player that’s going to start moving up the board. I don’t want to say first or second round. I’m not sure because I haven’t done the full work on him. But he’s a player where the arrow is heading north, and his versatility and play making ability are two things that jump out when I watch tape on him.
On Alabama fourth year juniors Eddie Lacy and A.J. McCarran:
McSHAY: I think Eddie Lacy was dinged up early on, and it didn’t seem like he was a hundred percent. I had heard reports of it and watching him. But this past week he looked like he was close to a hundred percent and running hard. Things are starting to roll in their running game.
Coming into the year I think we gave him a third‑round grade coming into the year. Yeah, 74. So he’s in the third round. It’s not a great running back class, so I could see him as one of the top five, six running backs off the board. It will be interesting to see if he decides to come back to school for another full season. Because if he finishes strong, it’s the only position I would ever say it’s probably in your favor to take off and go to the NFL. And I’m sure Nick Saban would agree. Because you only have so many hits in your body.
So if he finishes strong and has the type of season that he wanted to have overall and the team has success and the opportunity is there, it will be interest to go see if he makes the move.
As far as McCarran is concerned, I’ve been really, really impressed with him. I think he might be, and I made the comment on SportsCenter and I believe it. I haven’t done all the tape. But I’ve gotten three games in so far. I think he is probably the most underrated quarterback in college football today.
I know he doesn’t have the big time arm or the elite athleticism. But he’s not ‑‑ I feel like he kind of got typecast or stereotyped coming into the year because he’s an Alabama quarterback. Everyone wants to assume they’re great everywhere else and he’s going to be a game manager.
That’s not the case at all. He has a good arm. It’s not elite, but it’s very good. He can make all the NFL throws. He’s really good in terms of his accuracy throwing on the run. This guy keeps getting a little better every time I watch him in terms of the little things you have to do to be a successful quarterback. I’d love to see him come back for his final year of eligibility and just continue to ascend.
It wouldn’t shock me if we’re talking for the 2014 draft A.J. McCarran as a potential top 20 overall draft pick because he’s got enough tools, and I just I like the way he plays the game.
On West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Florida running back Mike Gillislee:
McSHAY: Geno Smith, I think he’s the top quarterback prospect in his class. Last week was obviously not his best showing. There are some things he can learn from that. He reverted back to locking on to his primary receiver a little too much, which was a problem early last year. I know he doesn’t think it and wasn’t want to admit it. But either a different human being was in his jersey playing that game, or the wind did effect his throwing and his accuracy. Because there were throws that I’ve seen him make 40 times that he just did not make, and he needs to make.
So there are little things that he can improve upon coming out of that game. But overall when you look at his body of work and where he’s headed and having spent time with him and knowing his approach to the game and how competitive he is, the leadership quality that’s he brings the football intelligence that he has blew me away. Just how driven he is as an individual, and you compare all of those qualities to some of the other top quarterbacks in this class that have been highly disappointing so far this year, to me, everyone else has to chase Geno Smith.
It’s not Matt Barkley, it’s Geno Smith who is the premier quarterback to chase if you’re one of these other guys. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the first quarterback taken. Now there is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this class, but Geno Smith is the closest thing we’ll have in 2013, I believe.
Mike Gillislee was completely off the radar. We had him as a 36th ranked running back, just kind of an after thought. What he’s been able to do and his competitiveness and efficiency as a runner really stands out the most. He’s not going to create a ton of yards on his own, but he leaves very few yards on the field.
It may not translate to being a high draft pick. But there are enough teams looking for a guy that can come in, find yards between the tackles, and with teams using two and three running back consistently rotating and Gillislee showing he can catch the ball and he has enough speed and quickness, but mostly he’s efficient and has good instincts as a runner, he runs behind his pads, runs low and just tough.
I mean, this guy, playing through that groin injury, and bouncing back the next week and the consistent way that he’s run the season has impressed me, and I’m sure it’s impressed a whole bunch of NFL scouts. Right now he’s gone from after thought to a fourth round grade on him, and he’s the 11th best running back in this year’s class.
On Wisconsin running back Montee Ball:
McSHAY: I think Ball had an adjustment to make. I made the analogy comparison to flying first class your whole life, and you get thrown back into seat 28B with peanuts. He was so used to knowing where the hole was going to open up, when it was going to open up, exactly when his guard was going to be pulling through the hole. And the timing was there and it was almost always perfect.
So instead of having to worry about the little things before he got through the line of scrimmage, his focus was on hitting it right at the right time and making a guy miss in the hole and whatever else he could do after the run.
This year he comes in, and all of a sudden his guards are pulling late. Their angles aren’t correct. They’re three yards deeper in their own back field, and he’s having to make a decision whether to almost come to a screeching halt and having to start back up or to ditch his convoy and do it on his own.
So early on, he was frustrated. It was very obvious watching his tape, and the timing wasn’t there. It’s still not perfect, but he’s adjusted, and the offensive line has gotten a little better.
I think just because of that, I agree, he’s learned to be a better running back. Because when you get to the NFL, it’s not all going to be first class. You’ve got to create yards on your own. You’ve got to deal with broken assignments. You’ve got to deal with great players on the defensive front that penetrate and disrupt and force you to make a jump cut or force you to adjust early on in your run, and he’s doing that.
For all the hits he took early in the year, from a media standpoint, I’ve got 50 questions about Montee Ball, and how much it affected his draft stock. At the end of the day, it may not affect him at all. If anything, it may help his draft stock a little bit. I’ve been impressed with how he’s handled it, and how he’s come on strong recently.
Again, it’s not a great running back group. I don’t think he’s a great back. I think he’s a good running back, and I think there’s a lot of good things that he does and warrants probably second, maybe at worst, third round consideration. But I don’t think he’s free falling like some people have talked about into the fourth, fifth round range at all.
On Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones:
McSHAY: Landry Jones has had a roller coaster ride, really. I went back and looked just to remind myself what it was that I fell in love with initially with his game. At one point he had won 11 straight games and had won a Big 12 Championship, and won a Fiesta Bowl and was competing in that 11‑game stretch close to 67%, and was making a lot of plays and distributing the ball.
But he peaked then and he has not gotten better. I know in the last two weeks we’ve seen him. He looks like he’s playing with a little more confidence. But the thing that jumps out with me with Landry Jones is he has the arm. He has the ability.
Everyone talks about he’s a terrible athlete, and I don’t 100% agree. I think he can do a little more, but the statistics don’t agree. But I think he can do a little more when there is conflict and he has to move around.
Bottom line is I’ve never seen a quarterback with his ability and his potential be so inconsistent with his confidence in the pocket. That’s the whole thing. I mean, there are times when he gets back there and he gets to the top of his drop. He knows where he wants to go with the ball with his initial reads and he delivers a strike. But there are a lot of times he gets back there and the defense isn’t showing what he expected, and you can just see he gets the happy feet, if you will. He’s not comfortable. He drifts inside the pocket. You can almost ‑‑ it’s almost like if you’re watching someone experience a panic attack, and that doesn’t work.
On Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas:
McSHAY: Logan Thomas has all the potential in the world. He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s strong. He throws a really nice, deep ball. He can drive the ball down the field. There are flashes that you watch and say, man, if he could ever pull it together. I think part of it is becoming more consistent with his foot work.
But I also am starting to worry about just how natural he is with his accuracy in terms of the ball coming off of his hand. Some guys you watch them and throw after throw it becomes second nature to them. They can control the trajectory. They can control the touch. They can control where it’s going. Even if their footwork is a little bit off, they can guide the ball to where it needs to be, or they get to a point where as long as their feet are proper, everything else flows together. Kind of like a golf swing, if you will.
With Logan, I don’t see that. It’s almost like watching Shaquille O’Neal at the free‑throw line. His hands are so much bigger than the ball, it just doesn’t come off his hand naturally is the best way I could describe it. So I’m starting to worry about that aspect of it.
As I said, I’ve made the comparison, he has Ben Roethlisberger type physical tools, and he plays the game similarly to Big Ben in creating things and making things happen and how physical he is. But his wide receivers have been marginal at best. There is no offensive consistency. Receivers aren’t running the routes they should be. They’re not in the places they should be. His offensive line is not protected. And I think their offensive scheme, to be quite honest with you, is outdated by 10, 15 years. So I don’t think he’s getting a whole lot of help around him.
I do think the best thing that could happen to him whenever he does come out for the draft is maybe go a little later. Maybe get drafted in the second or third round and not have that pressure to play right away. Because I don’t think he’s going to be ready to come in and start from a consistency standpoint. Knowing what I know about guys coming out of that program on the offensive side, I don’t think that he’s going to be ready from a mental standpoint.
He may be a genius. I have no idea how smart he is as a player but you have to make such an adjustment from that offense to the NFL’s offense that no matter how smart you are, it’s going to take a little time.
On South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore:
McSHAY: Well, Lattimore, obviously, he has first round talent. There is going to be concern about the do you remember ability. How does he check out medically? Gave him a middle to late first round grade. But as the top running back in this year’s class coming into the year, I don’t think he’s been a hundred percent at any point. It doesn’t take a doctor to pick that point out.
But I think he has the lateral quickness, he’s running hard, he’s shown more confidence. His individual effort sometimes it just remarkable. It’s really hard to knock this guy when he’s out there battling. I know he only had 38 or 40‑something yards last week. But the couple first downs or the one touchdown in the third or fourth down when he reached his hand down and kept from falling down and the effort he gave there, when he gets back to a hundred percent, there is no question in my mind Marcus Lattimore is a good starter in the NFL, and can be an every down back. In a league where you don’t even have to be.
I’m hopeful that he gets back to a hundred percent. He’ll probably wind up leaving after this year. Worst case he goes somewhere in the early to second round range, but hopefully to a team that can work him in and get him back to a hundred percent and maybe two, three years down the road, we’re looking at the Marcus Lattimore we expected to see in the NFL.
On Michigan State’s William Gholston, Le’Veon Bell and Dion Sims:
McSHAY: Gholston has been a little bit disappointing in that I’ve seen a couple times on tape where I don’t think the effort is consistently where you want to see it. He just has so much talent. He’s not an elite speed edge rusher, and he’s never going to be that guy.
But I think if he decides he wants to play, and he wants to commit to being a great NFL player he’s got a chance to make an impact at the next level. He’s big, he moves well. He’s 6’6″ with 278 pounds, with fluid mobility at that size. He’s not explosive. Doesn’t have that quick twitch athleticism. But I think it’s a five technique, a guy that can play in a three‑four defense and stacked at the line and take on blocks. But also at times when asked to get off of blocks and make plays, I think that’s where he fits best. I still have a second round grade on him.
There is potential there for him to become a first round pick, but I think it would take him coming back to school and showing the commitment and doing all of the right things off the field, and being one of the leaders and not just a guy that’s kind of getting by, and you hear his name come up every once in a while when you’re talking about is he doing all the little things off the field.
Le’Veon Bell is obviously he’s carried the load for this team and he runs hard. I love his versatility, and I think that’s where he’s going to be an intriguing player. I hope he gets with a team that is willing to think creatively with him. Flex him out, move him around almost a unique hybrid, if you will. A guy that can be your back or move him in the slot or motion him out and allow him to get involved as a pass catcher.
He has unique traits that there are very few guys that are 6’2″, 250 pounds that run routes, understand the passing game, and catch the ball the way he does. So I’m really going to be interested to see where that value is. He doesn’t have great speed, and you see it. When he goes to accelerate up the field, it’s not fast enough. I don’t know that he’ll be a full‑time, great starting running back in the NFL, but I think he contributes and there is a lot of value there as well.
And Dion Sims we’ve got as the number two tight end. He’s a big guy. He just has a rare blend of physical tools. He’ll continue to get better and better. I could see him somewhere in the second round range. I don’t think he’s put it all together yet, but I think he has a chance to become a really good player at the next level. I’m really impressed with his ability to block and the move, and I think he can continue to improve as a blocker, and certainly as a short to intermediate pass catcher.
On if returning for their senior season helped Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Manti Te’o:
McSHAY: Absolutely helped both of them. Manti Te’o is quicker. He’s diagnosing plays quicker. He’s getting to the football faster than he ever has before. He’s become an exceptional leader. There is no perfect player out there, but it’s hard to find many holes in Manti Te’o’s game right now. What he’s gone through off the field and the way he’s been able to compartmentalize it. You don’t wish that on anybody, obviously, but I think it just goes to show his mentality. How focused he is and how ready he is to go be a great player in the NFL.
If he’s not the first defensive prospect off the board, he’s going to be second or third. I would be shocked if we get to pick 12 and Manti Te’o is still on the board.
Tyler Eifert, the absolute same applies for him in terms of coming back for his senior year. The biggest difference for me is I think he’s become more physical. He’s never going to be a great blocker, but he’s at least giving effort down the field and working. I’m seeing him tie guys up and work to sustain a little bit more. He has good quickness, good athletic ability. He’s never going to be Tony Gonzalez or any of the elite tight ends in terms of speed getting down the field, but this guy just gets open. And when he’s not open, he’s open.
You put the ball up for him. I don’t know many players that I’ve evaluated that have a higher percentage of going up on jump balls and coming down with it. His pass‑catching radius is elite, and I think he has the strongest hands in terms of pass catching in traffic of any player in college football today. So, again, because he doesn’t have elite speed and athleticism, maybe he’s not a first round pick. But I think there would be a lot of teams that will wish that they didn’t pass on him. If they did, when you come to the middle, late second rounds, because I think he’s going to go on to be a better NFL player than where he winds up getting drafted.
On Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter:
McSHAY: I think Tyler Bray can be as great as he wants to be. It’s up to Tyler Bray. It really is. There is a lot of talk about his leadership off the field and becoming more committed. I’m not there in the locker room. I’m not there in practice, so I don’t know that and time will tell. I’ll find out from scouts and coaches that we talk to throughout the process.
But what I see on the field is a player with elite arm talent. Maybe as good, maybe the best arm talent of any quarterback in this class. There is no one who sits there in the pocket and can naturally just sling the ball and place the ball in spots all over the field, short, intermediate and deep the way that Bray can.
The problem is his mobility is below average to poor. He has not, in my opinion, improved his foot quickness, and that’s an area he needs to work on. And he’s only going to get to the point where he’s average at best.
But where he really has to improve is being smart, being a smart football player and a smart quarterback. Knowing where the blitz is coming from, knowing where to go with the ball, depending on where the blitz is coming from, and knowing when and how quickly he’s got to get the ball out.
Can make you the argument he’s not protected well at times, and the receivers aren’t getting off of press coverage and all those things. But there are too many places and too many plays that I can go right now in the next half hour and pick out on tape and say here’s an example, here’s an example, here’s an example of throws that he has to make that Andrew Luck made, that Robert Griffin III made, and Ryan Tannehill made under pressure.
I think that is the big thing. If I was making the decision for Tyler Bray, I don’t care what happens to the other wide receivers. He needs to go back to school and master the art of playing quarterback because he’s too good. That’s why I care. It’s frustrating because he’s too good to be playing at this level. So hopefully it clicks for him, because if it does, he’s got a chance to be a really talented player at the next level, and I hope for his sake that it does.
Justin Hunter at wide receiver. I’d like to see him be a little more physical. He’ll get better in terms of getting off of press and those sorts of things, but he’s such a fluid athlete and a smooth athlete. Really good body control, adjusting for the ball.
He hasn’t been as consistent as I’d like to see him this year, so you can tell just the way I’m talking, I’m hesitating, because I want to say that he’s the best receiver in this class. From a talent standpoint he’s up there in terms of top two or three, and potentially he can be a number one, if you want, a good, starting wide receiver in the NFL.
But there is still room for improvement in his game. That doesn’t mean he has to come back, but he’s another guy that I wouldn’t mind seeing come back for next season, and just get involved in the 2014 draft.
Patterson is probably more naturally talented than Hunter, which is saying a lot. You’re talking in terms of raw tools, he may be the most talented wide receiver in the country, and none of us knew him a year ago coming out of the JUCO ranks.
They’re just kind finding ways to get him the ball. I watched last week. He was in the backfield and they’re handing him the ball, and why not? He’s making plays. I think he’s averaging like 20 yards per carry. He’s so talented in open field carrying the ball. He’s smooth. When you watch him, for such a big guy, he can make cuts and weave in and out of traffic. He’s still playing one‑on‑one level in terms of wide receiver in terms of understanding routes and coverages. He has a lot to learn in that regard.
Who knows if he’s coming back too. But all three of those players turn down the money and go back to school and get better at your craft. Because a year from now you could be so much more prepared to play in the NFL. Forget where you’re drafted. That would be my advice to those three, be prepared to go and contribute in the NFL. Because your first contract is only going to last you as long as your first contract, and where you make real money at the next level is that second contract. The only way you’re going to make money is to be as NFL ready as possible coming out of college. And I don’t think any of those three guys are where they can be one day at this point right now.