When you talk about the NFL Draft, usually "The Big Three" analysts once references include the ESPN duo of Mel Kiper, Jr. and Tood McShay, as well as NFL Network's Mike Mayock. In the past few years since covering the draft for the League's cable network, Mayock has become a reliable source for inside information on the incoming college prospects. Aside from his draft responsibilities, Mayock also acts as the station's color analyst on their weekly Thursday Night Football and playoff matchups.
Mayock is covering the Bengals and Eagles on Thursday night and recently provided the Cincinnati media some thoughts on the direction of the Bengals organization--mostly surrounding their recent draft philosophy. For years during the mid-2000s, the Bengals were a media punchline for taking chances on troubled players in free agency and the draft. Over the past few seasons, the Bengals have significantly shied away from those players and it has paid off for them in a major way.
Still, they love to take low-risk flyers on talented players with "baggage". One such player is linebacker Vontaze Burfict. As chronicled by Kevin Kelly and Joe Reedy with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Mayock infamously called Burfict "undraftable" and insisted that he would stay away from him if he were an NFL executive. The Bengals heeded Mayock's advice for seven rounds, but picked him up as an undrafted free agent.
"I was on record as saying point blank on the way he played he was non-draftable. I would still stand by it. I saw the same thing NFL teams saw based on the way he played," Mayock said Tuesday. "I give them (the Bengals) a ton of credit and (linebackers coach) Paul Guenther. First thing they did was get the kid in shape. You could see he was gassed.
He looks completely different. I can tell he looks quicker and lighter. He looks like the kid that was advertised a couple years ago. I believe that Cincinnati thought the kid had ability, got him in shape and Guenther has done a good job getting him ready to play."
Mayock is dead-on with Burfict's physique since entering the NFL. Maybe it was the lack of hard-nosed coaches at Arizona State University that led to Burfict being out of shape, but Guenther and Mike Zimmer have changed the way Burfict looks at the game now. Undoubtedly, going undrafted fueled Burfict as well. He's now contributing as a full-time starter; thrown into the lineup because of an unfortunate season-ending injury to Thomas Howard.
Burfict isn't the only Bengals "diamond in the rough" that Mayock praised. Geoff Hobson relays Mayock's enthusiasm for guys like Emmanuel Lamur and Trevor Robinson. In fact, Mayock pointed out what a great job that the youngsters in the middle of the offensive line have been doing this season.
As Notre Dame's TV analyst, Mayock saw center
Trevor Robinson's college snaps. And he's so taken with backup WILL backer Emmanuel Lamurthat he plans to go back to the tape to see what he missed "because I barely remember the kid."
"Trust me, I think it's huge," Mayock says of Cincinnati's work in college free agency. "Whether it's the scouts, or the scouts and the coaches, or a combination. All I know is that organizationally it looks like they've been getting it right for the last three years."
Mayock is particularly impressed with the last two Bengals rookie classes, of which six are represented on offense, and he went to the middle of the line right away with Robinson at center, first-rounder Kevin Zeitler at right guard and 2011 fourth-rounder
Clint Bolingat left guard.
"Boling and Zeitler are solid young players and Robinson is a real solid signing," Mayock says. "He played a lot of snaps at Notre Dame and he's a smart, tough kid and he has played well. If you look at the interior, they're either rookies or second-year players and they're playing pretty solidly. You have to like those guys.
What's interesting to note is that much of the recent success in the draft correlates with the revamping of the team's scouting staff. If you remember, the Bengals added two regional scouts this offseason and have been vigilant in their road trips to watch Pro Days. As one of our loyal readers points out often, "correlation doesn't equal causation", but sometimes where there's smoke, there's fire.
The above-mentioned players will be in the spotlight of Thursday Night Football and hopefully they'll give Mayock and the Bengals a reason to continue smiling about them.