Defensive linemen dominate this year's combine class
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - This year's class of quarterback prospects isn't as sexy as last year's group led by Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Nor does it feature the tantalizing talents of next year's headliners: Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm.
There are a few passers who merit first-round consideration, but what teams will see an abundance of at the NFL scouting combine this week are the players who will make their living chasing, corralling and clobbering quarterbacks.
"To me, it's all about big guys," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "Premier talent and depth at the defensive line position, inside, outside, it's outstanding. And it carries deep into the draft."
It's not only the rush, but the push.
Defensive ends led by Ohio State's Nick Bosa and Clemson's Clelin Ferrell are prized pass rushers, but nowadays players such as Clemson D-tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are just as highly valued for their interior pressure.
"I think we're getting to the point in this league where we've become such a pass-first league that you take those guys wherever you can get them," said Mike Mayock , who parlayed a 14-year run as the NFL Network's draft guru into the Oakland Raiders' general manager's job.
Mayock said he's spoken to just about every top quarterback in the NFL since 2004 and he's asked them all the same question: What bothers you the most?
"And almost every top-flight quarterback says, 'immediate pressure up the middle,'" Mayock said.
"It disturbs sight lines, forces you to readjust your feet. So, I think we're at the point now where people are throwing the ball so much that you've got to find a way to affect it regardless."
Broncos new coach Vic Fangio concurred, saying it's no longer enough to have two great pass rushers such as Denver's duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
"You want four guys that the quarterback can feel caving in on him," Fangio said. "And that's critical in the pass rush. And that's an area that we need to improve in."
There's plenty of those players in Indianapolis for interviews, physicals and testing this week.
Despite the down year for QBs, there's still plenty of intrigue at the position thanks to Kyler Murray, who followed Mayfield from the state of Texas to Oklahoma, won the Heisman Trophy like Mayfield did, and is now following the Cleveland Browns' starting QB to the NFL after spurning the Oakland Athletics.
"He's a guy that, once again, people are going say is small and too short, but the kid knows how to win," Mayfield said. "When it comes down to it, that's the most important thing."
After committing to football over baseball, the biggest questions surrounding Murray this week aren't about ability - "Kyler can make every single throw," Jeremiah insisted - but his height and weight.
So his weigh-in Thursday will garner as much interest as anything else this week.
Is he really under 5-foot-10? Has he really bulked up to 206?
Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones and Ryan Finley all project as a solution to somebody's quarterback quandary despite the relative weakness of this year's QB class.
The scouting combine always seems to come on the heels of another Super Bowl parade for New England. As usual, Bill Belichick isn't among the coaches and general managers who will meet with the media, so football's focus moves on to other topics:
Where will Antonio Brown play next season? Don't count out Pittsburgh. Or, for that matter, Baltimore, Cincinnati or Cleveland. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he'd prefer to keep one of the league's top playmakers in Pittsburgh. If he does trade Brown, he'd rather deal him out of the AFC North.
"If a team comes through with the best compensation, we have to balance that out: OK, we're going to play him twice a year, but we're going to get the best compensation," Colbert said.
Don't expect the Raiders to use one of their three first-round picks on a quarterback after Mayock's high praise of Derek Carr on Wednesday.
"I think it's really difficult to improve over a franchise quarterback like the one we have in our building right now," Mayock said.
ELWAY'S QB CAROUSEL
For the first time in four years, Broncos GM John Elway attends the combine knowing who his quarterback will be. He has a trade in place with Baltimore for Joe Flacco once the league year begins March 13.
Just like last year, when the Chiefs had a deal pending that would send Alex Smith to Washington, the Broncos and Ravens are barred by NFL rules from discussing the matter, making for an awkward situation as both teams dance around their franchise's biggest offseason story line.
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