He might not be as long in the tooth as his colleague Mel Kiper Jr. when it comes to NFL Draft talk, but Todd McShay's analysis still carries plenty of weight this time of year.
Kiper Jr. hopped on an ESPN conference call last week to preview the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, a huge part of his preparations for covering his 33rd NFL Draft with the company. He had plenty of love for Ohio State players, just like McShay did Wednesday afternoon on his own call with reporters from all over the country.
McShay's been with ESPN since 2006 with a focus on college football and he took questions for an hour about his latest mock draft, which posted early Wednesday. In it, McShay has six Buckeyes coming off the board in the first round — more than any other analyst we polled in our latest mock draft roundup.
I hoped to get a chance to ask McShay if how realistic it would be for a seventh Ohio State player to sneak into the first round — and thus set a new record — but wasn't granted the opportunity.
Anyway, here are McShay's responses either when asked about an Ohio State guy or if he just brought it up over the hourlong conversation.
On running back Ezekiel Elliott, who McShay said could go anywhere in the first round even though his position has lost its value in recent years due to a short shelf life. McShay has Elliott going 10th overall to the New York Giants:
"Ezekiel Elliott is a game changer. He's got that potential. If you're going to look for one knock on him, he probably doesn't break as many tackles as you'd like to see, especially before he gets momentum going. But there's nothing else. When I study the tape, there's just nothing else that's wrong. He's the most competitive and best blocker I've ever evaluated as a run blocker at that position. He's a really good pass protector. He's as physical as you're going to get."
McShay said he's heard some teams had Elliott pegged as high as a top 3 or 4 pick, but it probably won't happen because teams have greater needs at the top of this year's draft than running back.
"He catches the ball extremely well. He didn't have production that first year as a starter because he had a wrist injury, but he has great hands. This last year you could see it on tape, saw it at the combine to confirm it. Then as a runner you see top end speed, but also just how slippery he is getting in and out of creases quickly. He's an elite player. If it wasn't the running back position we'd lock him in. If he was an offensive tackle or defensive end or quarterback, certainly with this kind of grade it would be a no-brainer ... I had him going 10 to the Giants but I thought long and hard about Dallas, even more so about Baltimore at 6. I just will be surprised if he gets out of the top 15 and it won't surprise me at all if he's a top-10 pick like (Todd) Gurley was last year with the Rams at No. 10 overall.
When asked by the venerable Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch who he felt among the 14 Ohio State guys at the NFL Combine helped or hurt themselves the most in Indianapolis, McShay cited linebacker Darron Lee as that group's biggest winner:
"I love his coverage ability, I love the range that he brings, he’s a true sideline to sideline linebacker that can work as the 'overhang' if you will. The guy that is outside the box and if they run that side, he's gotta be an inside the box player. But then if they throw the ball he's gotta be in the underneath coverage or matchup man-to-man. In this league, with the pass game as dominant as it is and teams spreading it out more and more, you’ve gotta have players like this.
McShay's latest mock has Lee going 17th overall to the Atlanta Falcons, up six spots from his previous rundown because of the magnificent combine he turned in at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"On third downs, these guys have a chance to be really dynamic. With the workout that he had, what was it a 4.43 I think he wound up running? It’s all about confirming what you see on tape. An official 4.43, plus a 35 1/2 vertical jump and 11'1" in the broad jump. You got to see everything you wanted to see out of Darron Lee. I think now instead of saying somewhere in the back end of that first round it gets interesting because there are a lot of teams in the middle of the first that could use a linebacker very similar to what Lee provides."
As far as the other end of the spectrum, McShay wanted to see more from defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. He said he doesn't like saying any player "hurt himself" by working out at the combine, but Washington's number lacked.
"For the expectations, I think when you look to the defensive line and Adolphus Washington, I thought he was a little bit quicker and would have a little better numbers than he did. At 6-3, 301, that's about the size you expected, 34-inch arms is good. But he ran a 5.17 in the 40, it’s not horrible but not to the level I expected to see from him. Then the 27-inch vertical jump and 8.3 is well below average in the broad jump. Just kind of underwhelming numbers. It hurts too in a very, very deep defensive tackle class. These can become tiebreakers."
Finally, McShay loved what he saw both on tape and at the combine from cornerback Eli Apple. The redshirt sophomore has shot up on draft boards in recent weeks, and McShay has him going 14th overall to Oakland.
"His tape was good at Ohio State. It gets better. I think his best games were late this past season, which is promising. That's what you want to see is a guy that continues to improve. They play a lot when the ball is in the air, they play the certain technique where you keep your back to the ball essentially. You're working from waist up and trying to drive through and break it up. They don't often have him or any of their DBs turn and try to locate the ball in the air. He got in a little bit of trouble in terms of pass interferences and not making plays on the ball because that's was the technique that they were using. I think he'll continue to try to adjust and find the ball in the air as he moves forward with his career."
Though Apple wasn't always asked to look back for the ball at Ohio State, McShay sees that type of improvement coming down the road for someone he sees as a future stalwart in the league.
"Long and short, I think he's got the length, he proved that he has the speed and I think he's a good all around player. I think what he does better than a lot of corners in most classes coming out, he tackles. He'll support the run, he cares and is diligent in keeping outside contain and funneling things back to the inside. I think he's a good player. I think 20 is about where his market will be, somewhere in that 20 to 32 range."