This time of the year is Mike Mayock time. The NFL Network’s draft guru is a prominent figure as soon as the Super Bowl wraps up and the collective NFL eye turns to draft talk. He’ll be featured on the network several times to share his views leading up to the April event. And like every year, Mayock devotes time to talk about the draft to inquiring reporters who want to get a feel for his evaluations.
Below is a transcript from Mayock’s conference call from earlier today. There’s a lot to read, but for draft-hungry fans, this is great substance. The 49ers draft needs were discussed as was just about every big-name prospect sure to be called in the first round in this year’s draft.
MIKE MAYOCK: Hey, everybody. Most of you know me. Basically, I’m going to give you about 15 seconds and then you can take it away. The bottom line is there are 330 kids invited to the Combine, plus or minus 250 of them will get drafted. The challenge at the Combine is to make sure we satisfy everybody’s taste for all the big‑name guys without disrespecting the guys that aren’t big‑name guys. I think we try to do the best we can there.
I think this year you’re going to see a ton of underclassmen, especially defensively, go early in this draft. The first round will probably be dominated by defense. Then I think the next two or three rounds you’re going to see some more offensive players than defensive players.
It’s the best defensive end class I’ve seen. And I think the four quarterbacks at the top of my list have got to be figured out. That is the key to this draft as far as the marquee names.
How do you figure these quarterbacks out, who are they, what are they? Who is going to be a boom guy and who is going to be a bust guy. So having said that, let’s open it up to questions and we’ll get through it as quickly as we can.
Q. You mentioned the four quarterbacks in the first round. I wanted to ask you about Pat Devlin though. He seems to have a resume a lot like Joe Flacco’s, but he’s not being considered first round. What can you do to get up there? How do you see his future from the draft on?
MIKE MAYOCK: I don’t think too many people have a Joe Flacco resume because they don’t have a Joe Flacco arm. He’s one of the few people in the NFL that can throw the football with the arm strength and accuracy with the 6’6″ frame. So that’s a different kind of quarterback.
His resume’s similar on paper. Big school transfer, back to a local school, Division I‑AA, goes to the championship game. All of that sounds good. I had a chance to watch him on film with Pat about two months ago, and he sat down at my house for three hours and watched tape with me.
And he’s a really intelligent kid. He understands pass protections, he knows where and when to throw the football. He played in the East‑West game. I think Pat would probably tell you he wasn’t excited about his entire week down there. He’s a very accurate quarterback that didn’t throw it as accurately as he should. And he struggled a little bit in the game.
So right now Pat is considered more of a mid‑round guy, fourth, fifth round guy. As far as what he can do between now and then, now’s the time that he’s going to shine because he’s going to be really good in the interviews. He’s going to look you in the eye. He’s going to spit out protections and numbers and he gets the game of football.
He’s got to throw the football extremely well at the Combine, and he’s got to do it again at his pro day, and that’s the only way he’s going to move himself up.
Q. Can you talk about A.J. Green, the Georgia wide receiver you have ranked number one on your list, Mike?
MIKE MAYOCK: I’ve never heard of him. Who is he (laughing)? He’s a special wide receiver now. You know, the thing that really caught my eye was he had the four‑game suspension, and he came back against Colorado. Colorado has two NFL corners in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown. He came out with like seven catches for like 118, 120 yards, two touchdowns. He dominated the game.
It was his first week back. He had two or three touchdown catches. One of which was a one‑handed back shoulder throw. So to me he’s a top 10 pick. He’s the best wide receiver I saw on tape. He’s got the combination of height, width, speed. He catches the football. I believe he’s physical enough to get off press coverage.
So if you’re ever going to look at a wide receiver and say this is the guy that fits any offense, I think A.J. Green’s the guy.
Q. Patrick Peterson, how do you rank him compared to Joe Haden of a year ago? And additionally, can he invade the top defensive linemen in this draft? Is he good enough to take at six?
MIKE MAYOCK: Patrick Peterson is potentially a top 10 pick, yeah. He’s a big corner. Here’s my take on Patrick Peterson is that whenever you see a corner of his size ‑‑ you’re talking about plus or minus 220‑pound corner ‑‑ he’s got a little bit of stiffness to him that the longer, bigger corners always do or usually do.
So he’s most comfortable in press‑man. If you try to play him in off‑man, he’s going to struggle a little bit. So I believe you need a team that’s going to let him press, get up in‑your‑face, knock him out at the line of scrimmage and turn and run.
He’s got a little stiffness to him, but ultimately he might be best served as a safety. I think he can play corner, but down the road a little bit, because he’s a big, strong tough guy that can run, I think he might be an all pro safety.
Having said all that, it’s a tough comparison with Joe Haden because Haden’s a smaller, quicker guy with feet. They’re different types of animals. So Patrick Peterson is certainly a guy that could be considered in the top 10. But I think it has to fit the type of team. Somebody that’s going to let him get up, press, be physical at the line of scrimmage. That’s where he’ll be the best player he can be.
Q. I’m wondering how many first round grades you have on players, and if this might be one of those years where you get into the 20’s, if there’s a clump of players that might be the same maybe down early into the second round?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think that’s an interesting question. I’ve got a deeper first round than I’ve had in the past several years. I think it starts because of the defensive line class, and let me give you an example.
I’ve got eight or nine defensive ends with first round grades. Typically four defensive ends go in the first round. And I start looking at kids like Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple, an underclassman. He could be a defensive tackle or a defensive end. He could go from 25 to 40, and the kid is a heck of a football player.
I think he would fit into the first round a year ago easily, and he might get pushed into the second round with the quality and depth of this defensive line group.
I think depending on what you’re looking for ‑ and this is how I always look at it ‑ if you’re looking for a corner at the end of the first round, you might have a problem. If you’re looking for a defensive end, a defensive tackle or maybe an offensive tackle, you’re in luck.
So it’s about whether or not your needs meet up with the strength of this year’s draft. Because the corners there is a big drop off after the first two in my belief. The same thing, running backs are really interesting. But there are a lot of running backs in the third round that can get one. So it’s really about what you’re looking for in your scheme.
Q. Cam Newton gets compared a lot to Tim Tebow. How do Cam’s throwing mechanics compare to Tebow, and how are Cam’s throwing mechanics overall?
MIKE MAYOCK: His throwing mechanics are excellent. If you want to compare them to the two best runners in the last bunch of years of big quarterbacks, Vince Young and Tim Tebow, his throwing mechanics are superior to both. He’s a big, strong guy.
We all know he can run, and that’s one of the reasons why last week when he had that media throwing extravaganza I knew I didn’t have to go because I’ve seen it on tape. I knew he was going to look great in a pair of shorts.
So to me there are two questions to Cam Newton, and this is what I mean about these quarterbacks that you’ve got to figure out. He comes out of a very simple pass offense at Auburn. Basically, one look, and either the ball comes out or he comes on out.
Can he process from an IQ perspective, a complicated NFL pass offense? That is number one. And number two, there’s some baggage to the kid. We’ve got to figure that out. I say the same thing with Ryan Mallett. There is some baggage to the kid. Can you figure that kid out? Because those two kids might have the best ‑‑ I’m amazed at how well those two kids throw the football.
In a pair of shorts you say I want them on my team. But you don’t play in gym shorts on Sunday. So you better figure out their work ethics, their toughness, and their football IQ, and there in lies the rub with the top quarterbacks this year.
Q. If you’re picking a three‑four end to be a play maker, top of the draft, who are the guys you’re watching in the next few months and who should you take?
MIKE MAYOCK: Some really good three‑four ends this year. I’m very impressed with J.J. Watt from Wisconsin. He can play inside or outside. He’s a monster, and he could be sitting there when San Diego picks at 18, although I think he’ll be gone.
Cam Jordan from Cal had a great week in Senior Bowl. Love him. He’s a five technique defensive end. Cam Hayward from Ohio State, if you put on the Sugar Bowl ‑‑ not the Sugar Bowl ‑‑ put their Bowl game on and he dominated that game. It was phenomenal against Arkansas.
As you go down, Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple. He might be there in the second round, but to me he’s a first round player. This is one of the better years I’ve seen. You could pick up a Brandon Bair from Oregon in the third or fourth round. So there are a bunch of those three‑four defensive ends out there this year.
Q. Wonder if the uncertainty surrounding a free agent situation this year changes or tweaks the way teams might approach the draft?
MIKE MAYOCK: It’s a good question. I really believe that you don’t even know what the free agent situation’s going to be this year. Is there going to be free agency? Is there going to be a four‑year guy, six‑year guy? How are they going to deal with that whole thing?
If you don’t have those answers, you have to go into your draft room and draft like you always do every year. I think you have to look at the big picture and not just, oh, oh, if we don’t have training camp, do we need a guy that’s ready to play today?
I think if you start trying to answer questions with draft picks on the short‑term, you’re going to get beat on the long‑term. So the best thing you can do is take a step back and say we’re going to do what we always do. We’re going to draft the best football players that fit our scheme because we can’t worry about things we can’t control right now.
Q. Can you tell me about some of the prospects in Southern California schools, and in particular what you think of UCLA?
MIKE MAYOCK: To me, Akeem Ayers I’ve got him, I believe, as my number two outside linebacker prospect. He’s played both with his hand in the dirt and up. He played linebacker at UCLA. I think he’s got first round ability because of his natural ability to get to the quarterback.
Most of the three‑four teams are very interested in him. Although I think he can play in a four‑three scheme. So if you’re scheme diverse, that’s a good thing.
Secondly, Rahim Moore, the free safety at UCLA, in a bad, bad safety year, he’s the best safety out there. Whether or not that gets him in the first round, I don’t know.
He reminds me a little bit of a poor man’s ‑‑ kid from Texas last year who I loved. He reminded me on tape a little bit of Earl Tomas. Not quite as good, but he’s got great range. I think he’ll fit somewhere late one to mid two.
Over at USC you’ve got the big offensive tackle. Moving upwards, everybody’s anxious to see what his real weight is. Nobody seems to know what it is. He looks like he’s about 280, and everybody’s hoping he’s 300‑plus. But what a great frame. Real good athletic ability, huge wing span. People are very anxious to see him at the Combine.
The defensive tackle, Jurrell Casey looks like a late one to mid two. Reminds me of the Patterson kid from a year ago. Then there are several other kids, as there always are at USC, whether it’s Ron Johnson the wide out, Shareece Wright, the corner. They’re more middle round guys, third, fourth round type of guys.
If there is anybody else specifically you’d like me to hit, just let he me know.
Q. I’ve got a multi‑part question about Aldon Smith. The NFL Network sent out the top 5 at each position, I believe it was dated yesterday. You don’t have him listed either at defensive end or outside linebacker. Just what do you think of Aldon? Is he the classic guy who should have stayed in school for at least another year? Ideally do you see him as a three‑four or outside linebacker and a four‑three end? Is there a guy that when you watch him, he kind of reminds of you of who is kind of in the league right now?
MIKE MAYOCK: Yeah, he’s an interesting kid. You could go Jason Pierre Paul. The first tape I saw of Jason Pierre‑Paul, and I saw a little Simeon Rice. One of whom is a defensive end, one of whom is an outside linebacker. So he’s got a little of that ability to go either way.
When you’re going through my top 5 list, unfortunately, because it’s only top 5, you heard me mention earlier I’ve got eight or nine defensive ends that I have first round grades on. So I’m not trying to disrespect Aldon Smith. I’ve got him as my number seven defensive end, which puts him in my first round as far as a first round grade.
Now he played hurt a lot this year. I have had several scouts tell me he had a more explosive year the year before. The ’09 tape is apparently better, but I’ve only seen the 2010 tape.
But I think he’s a kid that’s too explosive and too fast to not go in the first round. He may even go higher than I have him right now. But people want to qualify him, see how big he is.
Like all these juniors, the first real exposure the NFL gets with these kids live is at the Combine. And that’s a big piece of what’s going to happen next week. Those kind of kids. How do they work out and present themselves? Even what they weigh and how long are they?
So Aldon Smith to me is a first round pick, and he probably could play in either scheme but that is something we need to see at the Combine in the drills.
Q. You alluded to Ryan Mallett earlier, and the concerns teams have about him. Just basically what are those concerns and do you think he can overcome them in Indianapolis? Why do you still have a first round grade on him?
MIKE MAYOCK: I didn’t say I have a first round grade on him. I said that I’ve got four guys with first round ability. To me there is a distinction there, and people just assume when I say that I think he’s a first round guy.
Here’s what Ryan Mallet is. Ryan Mallett has unbelievable, God‑given ability to throw a football. And when he has clear pocket and clear vision, there is nobody in the game better. Comes from an offense where you can see him drop back under center, you can see him play action. And there are two plays in the Georgia game that to me summarize this kid, back‑to‑back throws.
The first play he throws a 35‑yard post against Georgia that was on the line the whole way. Thirty-five yards, on a line, he hit his receiver right in the helmet. It was an unbelievably difficult throw, and he made it look easy.
Literally the next play on a 7‑yard hitch, he made a throw where three Georgia players touched it. An under guy, a linebacker coming under, and a corner from behind. It was one of the worst decisions in throws I’ve seen on back‑to‑back throws. That is the problem with this kid.
Every time I get excited he does something from a decision making or an accuracy perspective that bothers me. The common denominator is when he goes bad it’s because of pressure in the pocket. When he can’t step up, when he can’t see, when he doesn’t have clear vision, I believe his production goes way down.
Having said all of those things, I would be very concerned about taking him in the first round.
Q. Do you think he can bridge that gap between first round talent and first round grade with Indianapolis? Are there concerns about his leadership and things like that?
MIKE MAYOCK: It’s not about him throwing in shorts. He’s going to look great whether he throws in Indy or at Arkansas’s pro day or both. He’s going to throw the hell out of the football. It’s more about what he does at night in the meetings and whether or not he can convince the NFL people that he understands the game. He can continue to work through his pocket awareness and get better and better.
Q. The Vikings situation, they obviously need to take a quarterback. But at number 12, do you see them trying to target somebody there, trade up or potentially wait until a later round? Second, third and try to grab somebody at that spot there? What is your view of that?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think what they have to do is they’ve got to grind the top four guys real hard. Gabbert, Locker, Newton and Mallett. They’ve got to look at those four guys and first make the decision that at number 12, we believe that many of them are worthwhile at that pick.
Second thing, if we believe Blaine Gabbert is the best of the four, are we willing to move up? If so, how far do we have to go and what is is going to cost us?
Cam Newton, what do we think about him? Would we be willing to move up, or if he’s there, are we going to take him? That is the first level. And the second level of discussion is if there is a play maker, they’re not convinced, for instance, if they say Gabbert’s the only one that we like ‑‑ and I don’t know any of this, I’m just throwing it out as an example ‑‑ if we like Gabbert, and he’s not there at 12, we’ll take somebody else and come back in the second round.
And who are our choices at that point? And basically you’re looking at Andy Dalton, Ponder, Stanzi, and Kaepernick. Those are the guys that comprise the next level. And I guarantee you that Rick Spielman and his guys are grinding the heck out of that group of eight players, because I think one of those eight has to be a Minnesota Viking next year.
Q. How much does quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Josh Freeman, their ability to extend plays against exotic blitzes help guys like Gabbert and Newton especially with no consensus number one picks in this draft?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think the most important thing is having confidence that your quarterback can understand a very complicated NFL offense, and what NFL defenses are doing in like 1.2 seconds and be able to make the right decisions.
I think the ability to defend plays physically because you’re so big and strong or because you’re so gifted footwork wise is the next level. I think the more important thing is, and Dan Marino is the guy that everybody points out with the quick release and ability to get rid of the football, but if you have that, the rest of it doesn’t matter. If you know when and where to throw the football and have a good release, you can play in this league at a high level.
Now all of these quarterbacks this year ‑‑ I mean, Gabbert is more athletic than people give him credit for. Locker is an incredible athlete. He’s probably going to run a 4.5 or better. Cam Newton is an unbelievable athlete. Mallett, not much. But those first three guys are real athletic, and Mallett is okay. None of them are stiffs.
I think in today’s pressure‑packed NFL defenses, it helps to have a guy with good feet and an athletic body. But with anything, you’ve got to have the football IQ to make it work.
Q. The defensive coordinator with the Niners likes to bring a lot of pressure and bring in the three‑four, they don’t have a great pass‑rushing outside linebacker. Can you talk about they’re picking seven, the guys that would make sense?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think that Von Miller from Texas A&M is the prototype 3‑4 rush linebacker. He’s got an amazing ability to not only have a great get off and quickness, but also to bend his body to twist and turn, flatten the corner to get to a quarterback.
He’s a tiny bit undersized and you’ve got to get yourself comfortable with that. He’s not as big as a DeMarcus Ware was when he came out but I think he’s tough enough to overcome that.
If you’re talking about in the first round at number 7 and you’re looking for an edge rusher, I think Von Miller is the guy as far as the outside linebackers are concerned. I think there are a bunch of guys, as I mentioned before, that I think the defensive end in a 3-4, you could probably pick a real good one up early in the second round.
I think some people are going to look at Clayborn from Iowa as a conversion guy, a defensive end that could play outside linebacker. Didn’t have a great senior year.
And outside of that, Da’Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn are two of the most gifted pass rushers in this draft. I think they’re both fitted more for a four‑three than a three‑four.
Q. With the Bills at three, obviously they’ve been looking for a long‑term solution at quarterback for a while. Cam Newton’s a name that constantly comes up. Also with the defense that’s ranked 32nd against the run, there is pressure to fix that side of the ball as well. Can you just weigh the dilemma, for a lack of a better term there at three, between plugging some holes up on the defensive front versus getting the answer at quarterback with some of the questions that are out there that you already mentioned?
MIKE MAYOCK: To me it’s pretty simple. If you believe there is a franchise quarterback at three, and I don’t care if it’s Gabbert, Newton, Locker, whoever, if the Buffalo Bills believe that, that need trumps everything else.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is okay, but you need a franchise quarterback. If your belief is such, you’ve got to draft them. If not, if you have any doubts whatsoever, you look to the defensive side.
Who makes sense for Buffalo on the defensive side? I think Von Miller makes a lot of sense. The rush linebacker from A&M. I think a corner could make sense. Patrick Peterson could go that high.
So if you’re sitting there with Buffalo and you don’t go quarterback, there is an awful lot of play making defensive players to pick from. Whether it’s Fairley, whether it’s Marcell Dareus, Miller and Patrick Peterson would make a ton of sense.
Q. I was curious about the Browns at number six, and kind of the dilemma of number one receiver or defensive end. I don’t know how you feel about that. And do you think Quinn not playing last year is a big detriment that early?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think as this draft gets closer, you’re going to see Quinn’s name move higher and higher. I’ve actually just ordered a bunch more tape from him in ’09 because I’ve got to figure him out better.
I do know he’s a physical freak. He’s probably best fitted in the four‑man front. You could probably make a Julius Peppers comparison if you want to stay within the same school he goes to. He’s a special, special athlete. You’ve got to figure him out off the field. He’s obviously got some baggage.
What was the other question?
Q. I’m just curious about the receiver and defensive linemen. Then you have these great defensive linemen out there?
MIKE MAYOCK: Yeah, you’ve got to take a look at A.J. Green who is the real deal. The top 10 type versus Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn, or Da’Quan Bowers is out there. All of whom could fit your scheme. So that is a tough question.
Typically I’m not big on wide receivers in the top 10 because I always think you can kind of drop down and get other guys that fit your scheme. However, you’ve got a young quarterback. You don’t have a lot of play making wide receivers. You’ve got a couple of pretty good young wide receivers, but they’re not play makers.
So I think A.J. Green becomes very, very legitimate in that slot. But it depends on which one of these defensive players slips through to number six.
Q. From the perspective of the Broncos at number two and Carolina right ahead of them, Broncos going to the four‑three probably with John Fox. Just wondering Da’Quan Bowers or Nick Fairley, do you think?
MIKE MAYOCK: I mean, you just mentioned two incredibly talented guys that each have boom or bust potential. And Da’Quan Bowers is a one‑year wonder. It was a wonderful one year, but you better make sure that you’re getting what you hope you’re getting because he did not have much production prior to that.
As far as Nick Fairley is concerned, I would also throw in Marcell Dareus’s name. I think Nick Fairley might have a tiny bit more upside than Dareus, but I think Dareus has a higher floor. You kind of know what you’re getting with Dareus.
I would throw all three of those names in the hopper and say the teams are going to grind the hell out of Da’Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley because they’re great football players with all kinds of upside and you just better know what you’re getting after you hand that guy millions of dollars.
Q. Wondering if those eight quarters that you mentioned, you said the Vikings have to come out of there with one of them. Do you think the Bengals have to come out of there with one of them, and is Ford a reach for a quarterback?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think Gabbert’s a top 10 guy. Having said that, every team in the top 10, for me, thinks they need a quarterback to grind the heck out of all of those guys, especially Gabbert. I don’t know. You’re closer to Carson Palmer than I am. I don’t know what’s going to happen are there, you probably do.
You’ve got to grind the quarterback. And it’s the same answer as previous, which is if you think he’s a franchise guy, it trumps everything else and you’ve got to take them.
Q. I don’t think anybody’s close to him now. But you like Gabbert, right? You like his size?
MIKE MAYOCK: I like Gabbert a lot. He can throw. He’s a bigger kid than I think everybody thinks. I’ve got more homework to do with him especially football IQ wise and off the field. He had a couple of bad games. And I think it was a Nebraska tape, he was like 18 for 42 if I remember. I think it was just a bad game.
But if you put the tape on, you realize the kid didn’t realize he had a second to throw the football. Nebraska’s getting home with three and four defensive linemen. Didn’t even have to blitz. They were killing him.
So you’ve got to take with a grain of salt some of the poor performances of Gabbert. And I’ve probably seen at least seven of his games purely on tape. He reminds me of the guys that have done well the last couple of years. He reminds me of Bradford. He reminds me of Matt Ryan.
If you look at the last three years, NFL teams have done a really good job with their first round quarterbacks. It’s been like six hits in a row with no bust. Which probably means we’re due for a couple of busts this year.
Q. I was curious what you think of the depth of the receiver class to the point that the Ravens might want to look at someone like Torrey Smith where they’re drafting toward the end of the round, and if someone like that might outrank maybe a good pass‑rusher like some of these good defensive ends you’ve been discussing and what you think the Ravens needs might be for this draft?
MIKE MAYOCK: The wide receiver is difficult. It’s going to get interesting starting with the Combine. What is Julio Jones going to run? What is John Baldwin going to run? If you’re talking about the Baltimore Ravens, they’re looking for a vertical guy. They’re looking for a guy that flies, and Torrey Smith fits that.
He’s a guy that’s going to run 4.35 or 4.38 or something in there. When you put that with 17 catches or whatever it was, that’s what you see. You see vertical speed. You don’t see him up against press. You just see him run vertical routes, crosses and bubbles, and he can do that. I mean, he’s really special when it comes to those kind of routes.
Do I believe he’s physical enough with the ability enough to get off press coverage consistently? It’s something he’s going to have to get better at. But when you start to compare him to what’s left on the defensive board when you get to where Baltimore’s drafting at number 26, I think they’d love to find a real good corner around are there, but you tell me.
After Amukamara and Patrick Peterson, there is a drop off. And I’m not sure the kid from Texas, Aaron Williams, and I’m not sure ‑‑ I don’t like the Miami kid up are there, Brandon Harris. So I don’t think there is a fit for the Ravens at corner at 26.
I do think a receiver will be there, and I do know that some of those defensive linemen and linebacker types that they like will be there.
Q. Any names that you can throw out that are appropriate for that part of the round at the “D” line and linebacker position?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think at that point, I think Aldon Smith will be there. I think Muhammad Wilkerson will be there. I think those kind of guys make a lot of sense. Cameron Jordan, if he was there, they all make sense.
Q. So many times in the past the personnel moves have been free agency first, and then sort of use the draft to fill in what you can’t do or couldn’t do in free agency. Do you see the draft changing at all or have the dynamics changed this year with the likelihood of having no free agency before the draft? Also as a quick follow‑up, at 22 can the Colts get their left tackle finally?
MIKE MAYOCK: I’ll take the first one. I do think there will be a good left tackle there. Whether it’s Castonzo from B.C. or Solder or Tyron Smith or Carimi. Those four guys are all first round tackles.
And I think out of that group, Carimi’s probably better on the right side but could handle the left. I also think Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State is a guy that a lot of people have in the second round that probably could be a first round left tackle.
So I believe that guy will be there for Indy. As far as changing your draft plans because of the uncertainty of the CBA, I said earlier, you can get in trouble if you start putting the cart before the horse.
You don’t even know what the free agency’s going to look like this year. Four years, six years, what is it going to be and who is going to be available? So you have to go back to the basics, which is what Bill Polian’s great at. Which is who fits our screen, and we’re going to go get them. If you start looking for Band‑aids because the CBA is so uncertain this year, long‑term it’s going to hurt you.
Q. So the draft has to be your life blood even more so now?
MIKE MAYOCK: I don’t think it changes now. The good teams always have been draft teams.
Q. Assuming that the Browns choose one of those elite prospects over A.J. Green at number six, who are some of the wide receivers they might look at with their early second round pick?
MIKE MAYOCK: It depends on what happens. Early in the second round, what I think is going to happen is John Baldwin from Pitt is probably sitting there. He’s an athletic freak. I think he’s probably going to put on a show at the Combine. With his height, weight and speed, I don’t see him getting much past the mid‑point of the second round.
I also think if you’re looking for vertical guys, Titus Young from Boise State could still be there. I thought he was the best senior receiver at the Senior Bowl this year. He gets in and out of his breaks, catches everything. Reminds me a little bit of DeSean Jackson both on and off the field.
And I think at that point if Torrey Smith is still there, I think they’re the logical guys. Titus Young, Baldwin Smith, then you’ll drop down into Randall Cobb from Kentucky. He’s a little bit of an all everything type of guy.
How do you evaluate Greg Little who missed his entire senior year from the University of North Carolina? And at had that point, I think it starts to drop off and you’re looking more at late second and third round guys.
Q. Wondering what you consider the top draft needs at 25. You got an a up close look at them in the New Orleans Playoff game. Then how does the quarterback situation work into that? Hasselbeck’s going to be a free agent and they made a trade from Whitehurst last year. So overall who Seattle might be looking at with that number 25 pick?
MIKE MAYOCK: I don’t even know what their free agency prospects are right now because I don’t do team needs until after the Combine. But from a quarterback perspective they’ve got to make some decisions right now, obviously. Matt Hasselbeck is not getting any younger.
Whitehurst had kind of an interesting season. Had he some highlight, especially at the end of the year there. But I don’t think he answered all the questions. So the first thing that Pete Carroll and those guys have to decide is are they looking at a quarterback there?
There is a guy right down the street who has first round ability, but hasn’t always shown that. It would be interesting to see what their evaluation of Jake Locker is because that’s a really talented kid who has first round potential, but has struggled in the pocket.
Lot of people are writing him off, and I’m not. I’m not. I think he we have to do a bunch of homework on him. If you want to ask me any specifics about positions you might think they’re looking at, that’s fine.
Q. Yeah, defensive line and interior line, you know, maybe a guard to pair with him now that they’ve got him at tackle. They have ten different offensive line combinations.
MIKE MAYOCK: A agree with that watching them on tape. They had a bunch of guys in and out of that lineup. I think Pouncey from Florida probably is gone at that point. Couple of guys I’m intrigued by are Danny Watkin from Baylor, and Clint Boling who played tackle at Georgia. Both of them were tackles in college. Both of them I believe will be interior linemen.
Watkins is a Canadian kid who has only played four or five years of football. He’s got some upside. He’s a tough, nasty kid. And Boling is a better football player than I gave him credit for. I liked what he did at The Senior Bowl.
He’s probably more of a second round guy. But there are some pretty good interior guys.
John Moffitt from Wisconsin, another second or third round interior guy. He can play center or guard, and Rodney Hudson from Florida State is another guy who has played guard. I think he might be a better center to be honest with you.
I could give you a bunch of different names because, for instance, Marcus Cannon from TCU is a kid who played tackle. I think he’s better at guard. There is a small school kid named William Rackley from Lehigh who you could get from the third and fourth round, so I think he’ll be a starter in the league.
It’s a pretty good year for interior offensive linemen. You don’t necessarily have to get them in the first round.
Q. But you think bottom line they have to figure out if there’s the possibility of getting a franchise quarterback late in the first round depending on their evaluation of Locker?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think you always start with the quarterback. If you’re not, they’ve got to evaluate their own two guys first. And if they’re not sure, and there is one sitting there, they’ve got to take him.
Q. Given what you said about the cornerbacks, do you view that is a position that will take at the end of the first round? And what do you think are the best positions for them to target at the end of the first round?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think corner and offensive line are their two most obvious areas of need. Pittsburgh is one of those teams that typically takes the highest rated player at their biggest position of need. And Kevin has done a great job with that.
Remember these are my preferences. Pittsburgh might like the kid from Texas. They might like the kid from Miami. I happen to think the kid from Miami to me is a second or third round corner. He’s not a first round corner.
The kid from Texas, Aaron Williams, to me I’m still trying to figure him out. I’ve watched about three or four of his tapes, and he’s the guy that could fit in at the end of the first round.
Aaron Williams, I think would be interesting to them. He’ll tackle. He’s kind of a physical guy, bigger corner. He might be the guy that they look at. If it’s not corner, then I think it has to be offensive line.
I thought they did a great job keeping it together with all the injuries they’ve had this year. But they’ve got to go get one of those big tackles that I’ve already mentioned or get one of those inside guys. One way or another, they’ve got to upgrade the athleticism of the offensive line.
Q. If he’s still there, what would the Rams be getting in Julio Jones at wide receiver? And if he’s not, are there a couple of defensive linemen either ends or defensive tackles that might be good value in the Rams four‑three scheme?
MIKE MAYOCK: If Julio’s there, they’d probably sprint up the podium with the card. I think he’s a real logical fit, and they have to start complementing Sam Bradford. They’ve got to get some talent out wide.
I think he’s the most logical guy at the entire draft for them at 14. For me, I think that’s where he goes is somewhere between 10 and 18. I think he probably won’t get past St. Louis if he’s there.
As far as, you were talking about defensive ends and tackles, correct?
Q. Yeah, if he’s not there, yeah.
MIKE MAYOCK: The guy that I think will rise up in this draft as we get closer is a junior from Illinois named Corey Liuget, defensive tackle. I think he’s a top 20 pick. I think he’s the ideal three-technique, defensive tackle, quick up the field, penetrating kind of guy. I really like him a lot.
Then as far as the defensive ends, you heard me mention a bunch of them. I think Bowers will be gone. I think Quinn will be gone. You’ve got to look at Clayborn real hard. He’s an edge guy with great burst up the field. Some of the three‑four teams are looking at him also. But I think he can play in that four‑three scheme.
Ryan Kerrigan, you probably already have that type of guy in Chris Long. Aldon Smith is an explosive edge guy, so no matter what sitting at 14 is going to be a really good defensive lineman sitting there, I promise you.
Q. Back to Gabbert for just a moment. When you say you have to do more homework on his football IQ, what questions do you still have about him that you haven’t answered yet?
MIKE MAYOCK: The most important thing for me in a quarterback today is their ability to move to the next level with the sophistication involved. How hard a worker are they. You hear me say it all the time.
I mention Matt Ryan all the time because for me because I knew the kid, I knew he was a no‑brainer. He didn’t have the best pro day I ever saw. I knew he had good skills. He didn’t have elite skills. But I knew this kid wanted to be the best quarterback of all time, and he would do everything he could to do it. On top of it, he’s a tough kid. He’s a smart kid and he had excellent quarterback skills.
So I look at Gabbert and I say, okay, on tape I see a better athlete than I expected. I see a tough kid, and I see a kid that can make all the throws. Those things are all important. But when you chart every throw he makes over a six or seven game period, he’s a spread offense guy. Completely different than what he’s going to do in the NFL.
So I’m talking about the transition from a college spread guy to an NFL guy which is a lot harder than people understand. The footwork’s completely different, the reads are completely different.
So when I talk about football IQ, I talk about this kid’s ability to transition from what he has been to what he needs to be, and how quickly can he get it done?
Q. What speaks out to you about (Indiscernible) and when you look at the Combine, how valuable is it for the smaller group players who could so easily be measured in competition.
MIKE MAYOCK: Good question. The kid in Villanova to me is a really good football player with a lot of upside. He’s a left tackle that was invited to the Senior Bowl and missed it because I believe it was a double hernia surgery. He played the last five six game was double hernia, which shows how tough a kid he is.
He’s got great feet, long arm as. He’s not as tall as they’d like. He’s barely 6’4″, but I think he might kick in size. But I think he’s got the arm length and the feet to stay outside.
As far as the small school kids, it’s critical they take advantage of every opportunity they get. Whether it’s the All‑Star Bowl game, the Senior Bowl, the East‑West, Texas versus the nation, whatever the opportunity is, they need to be bigger, better and faster than the BCS kids. The BCS kids get the benefit of every doubt.
Now he’s and SEC so he played against great competition every kid. If you’re the Villanova tackle or the Lehigh tackle, you better make sure you put your best foot forward every chance you can.
I really think the small school kids are penalized at least a round, a full round by being where they come from. They’ve got to make that up either in the All‑Star Games, the pro days or the Combine.
Q. I heard you talking earlier about offensive linemen that might be available in the first round. I mean those guys are worthy of a first round pick if that’s where the Eagles decide they need to go. Trying to see if there are going to be any good quarterbacks available that late?
MIKE MAYOCK: Again, this is my corner evaluation and, the Eagles or Steelers or whoever may disagree. But I think it’s a drop off after the top two.
As far as the offensive line, I think it’s real deep. I think there’s five offensive tackles that you could take in the first round and could play well. I think Maurkice Pouncey’s younger brother Mike Pouncey could be a first interior lineman.
And after that, depending on what you’re looking for, it gets a little different. The Eagles could pick up a tackle in the second round, offensive lineman in the second round. It depends on how they feel about the corners at number 23.
Q. The Cardinals have obvious needs at quarterback, corner and outside linebacker. If you were Ken Whisenhunt, and Gabbert, Peterson, and Von Miller are on the board at number 5, what player would be the safe pick for the Cardinals?
MIKE MAYOCK: I go back to what I always say. If you believe there is a franchise quarterback that trumps every other need. Since Kurt Warner retired, that underscores that point better than anything I can say.
So if you believe Gabbert is the guy, you’ve got to take him right there. And I think they have to be evaluating him right now. I think they also have to be evaluating Von Miller. He’s the prototype rush linebacker, and he immediately becomes the headache in a guy you’ve got to game plan for every week coming off the edge.
I didn’t hear you, but I’m assuming you probably also threw a corner in there. Did you mention Patrick Peterson?
MIKE MAYOCK: Yeah, Patrick Peterson is the third guy I think you have to be looking at because of his ability to play the corner position, and possibly kick inside down the road a little bit like Antrel Rolle did a few years back.
So if they believe, like I believe, that Gabbert’s the top 10 pick, that would be my guy at 5.
Q. With the CBA, how are draft day trades going to play out?
MIKE MAYOCK: It depends. It depends if, for instance, if by the draft this thing gets done and there is a rookie wage scale, if that comes in place and it gets more cap friendly and dollar friendly for a top 10 pick, then I think you’ll see more movement in the top 10 than you’ve seen in years. There are also high quality players.
If that’s not the case and you’re heading into some uncertainty, I think it’s just business as usual.
Q. This is an interesting class for offensive tackles because the four marquis guys you saw at The Senior Bowl all of them have upside. I wonder if you could go through what you saw out of those four at The Senior Bowl. And also where do you see guys lining up and who might be, in the end, franchise quality?
MIKE MAYOCK: It’s interesting because all of them showed some flaws at The Senior Bowl, and I just watched a bunch of the practice tape last week. For instance, we went into that week, and Nate Solder is 6’8″ with a long wing span. But he showed that he was ‑‑ he’s got some technique flaws.
He’s got great feet, he’s got long arms, but he had a propensity for getting beat inside. Most of it is technique, so you’ve got to buy into the fact that you can coach that and teach that, but he’s got some issues. I think he’s probably a year away from being a dominant left tackle, even though he’s got the height, the weight, and the length that you want.
I think Castonzo was really solid all week in practice. They kicked him around to a bunch of different positions. I thought the kid did a great job in practice. And he had two or three really bad snaps in the game, again, a little bit technique‑wise. He got overextended. Got his weight out over his toes. So he’s a guy that I like in the run game a little bit more than Solder.
And Carimi’s really interesting. Carimi’s a guy that’s got less talent than either of them. But he’s so well‑coached. He kicked inside the guard. He didn’t miss a beat. He played right tackle. I think he’s the kind of guy you draft late in the first round. You try him at left tackle, and if he can’t handle the speed out there, you’ve got an all pro right tackle.
But this kid’s well coached, tough and smart. Wouldn’t surprise me if he could handle the left side.
And Derek Sherrod for Mississippi State is mostly a left tackle. He’s all legs and arms, really long, good feet, and ultimately he’s going to be a solid left tackle.
So all of those guys I think will be ultimately solid left tackles. You just have to figure out how high you want to go for a Solder or Castonzo when there are technical flaws that have to be fixed.
Q. How deep in the draft can the Browns get a solid right tackle?
MIKE MAYOCK: You can go down in the third, fourth round and find some pretty solid guys. For instance, Jah Reid from Central Florida and Joe Barksdale from LSU. To me they’re both going to be right tackles.
Jah Reid played in the East‑West game. You might even get him in the fourth or fifth round. He’s a right tackle only. He’s a huge kid. Doesn’t look good in drills, but he looks good when you get 11 players on the field.
Barksdale is a little bit of an underachiever. A starter at LSU, all the height, weight and speed you want, but not real consistent. Jason Pinkston from Pitt, fourth or fifth round. So I think there’s enough tackles in this draft.
And I’m a believer that you usually ought to be able to find a right tackle anyway. You’re looking for a tough guy that’s going to get some help from the running backs or H‑backs in the pass game that aren’t quite as gifted as the left tackle, so they’re easier to find.
Q. The way that number 13, do you think they can get value and guys to fit their scheme either an outside linebacker or cornerback at that spot?
MIKE MAYOCK: My belief at corner is that both those corners I talked about will probably be gone. If Amukamara, and he’s there, you probably make a move for him. But I don’t think he’s going to be there.
If you’re looking at an outside linebacker position, I don’t think people are going to take Bruce Carter early because he’s coming off an injury. He’s worthy of that pick if he’s healthy, but he’s coming off a knee.
So outside of those guys, there probably aren’t the linebackers at 13 that you’d be looking for. I’m assuming he also might be open at offensive tackles at that point.
I think at that point, that’s about the beginning the of the area where a Castonzo or TyRon Smith of USC or Solder might be interesting.
Q. I noticed earlier in the off‑season talking up Kaepernick’s arm strength. I know he’s a real good athlete. Is he a guy that would climb up in the top 5 quarterback rankings to go to the Combine and impresses?
MIKE MAYOCK: I had a chance to see him last summer at Peyton Manning’s Passing Academy. I spent three days watching the kid throw the ball with Peyton and Eli. He’s got a huge arm. He’s a great athlete, and he’s got a big frame. The kind of guy you want to buy into.
He’s the kind of guy that’s going to rise a little bit. A lot of people thought he was a third, fourth, fifth rounder heading into the season. Now he’s probably a second‑round type of guy.
The way I look at it, I’ve got two different groups. I’ve got the first group of four with first round talent, and the next group of four with Dalton, Ponder, Stanzi and Kaepernick. He’s probably got the most upside of any of them.
But he’s got a very long motion. He’s got some technical flaws that have to be worked on, and he’s a little inconsistent and wild. But if you can work with him, he’s got the most upside of those kids.
You’ll laugh when you see him. He can throw the football through a wall. But there is so much work that has to be done with this young man. The tradeoff is how early do we take him versus when can we get him on the field?
Q. I was wondering about the Slippery Rock kid. You had a chance to see him in The Senior Bowl. Just curious what your take on him was?
MIKE MAYOCK: You know he hung in there. You’re talking about Fusco? Again, you’re talking about the Division II kid that’s coming into The Senior Bowl, and he’s playing a position that’s not a high draft priority. What I was impressed about after I put the practice tapes on when I got back home was he hung in there, he was a tough kid. He’s one of those guys that looks a little better on 9 on 7 than the individual one on one drills.
So is he a draft pick? If he is, it’s going to be late. The key for this kid is he’s got to play all three interior positions.
Q. The Redskins want a quarterback. Say they can’t get one in the first round. First, who would you expect them to go and take in the first round. And which quarterback, knowing what you know about Mike’s offense and these quarterbacks, which quarterback after the first round would sit what they want to do best?
MIKE MAYOCK: First tell me what you think Washington needs? I don’t do the team needs till after the Combine.
Q. I think they need a nose tackle, outside linebacker, they could use receiver help?
MIKE MAYOCK: At nose tackle it’s a deep draft. They don’t have to get one. If Dareus and Fairley were there, they’re not noses but they’re defensive tackles. If either one of those kids were there, which I don’t think they will be, I’d jump all over them.
After that you’re probably not going to get a nose tackle until the second or third round. Phil Taylor from Baylor would be a logical guy for them in the second round.
As far as evaluating the quarterback position and what they try to do with their down the field vertical attack, it’s interesting. Everyone wants to talk about Cam Newton at number 10, and he could be the pick. He could very well be the pick if they’re convinced he’s the right kind of guy as far as being a leader and his football IQ. If not and you drop into the second round, I think Kaepernick is a little bit far away to be ready to play for them.
I think a guy like Ricky Stanzi from Iowa, I think he’s a real logical player. He’s a big, strong guy. He makes every throw. He’s been a little bit inconsistent especially in the fourth quarter. But I think he’s the kind of guy that makes sense for what they do.
Q. A couple of questions on the Redskins as well. Which of these five techniques in the top part of the first round do you see maybe being fit for them? Are there any you feel could convert easily to maybe an outside linebacker spot that could give the Redskins help out there?
MIKE MAYOCK: A five technique and outside linebacker are two different kind of body types. Really different types of players. If you’re looking for the five technique at the tenth spot, my guy would be J.J. Watt from Wisconsin. He’s a 295‑pound kid that’s got big hands, heavy hands. He could put another 20 pounds on him and kick inside. That’s how big his frame is. He’s quicker than people think and he’s the prototype five technique.
If you’re looking for a rush linebacker, that is a different animal. And again, I think Von Miller will be gone. It might be a little early for Akeem Ayers, and they have to look at Adrian Clayborn as a conversion guy.
As far as other five techniques, I think they could pick up a five technique in the second round whether it’s Muhammad Wilkerson or Hayward from Ohio State.
Q. So no rush for them then?
MIKE MAYOCK: Yeah, I think they’re deep enough at the five technique to wait is unless you like a guy like J.J. Watt, and there’s a lot to like there.
Q. If you were the Patriots at 17 and going at outside linebacker in the three‑four defense, who are some of the guys there that you think might be a fit?
MIKE MAYOCK: Akeem Ayers from UCLA is the most logical guy at 17, because Von Miller’s going to be gone. I’m not sure Justin Houston from Georgia makes sense there. I think he’s more of a second round guy.
So if you’re trying to lock in on a guy, and obviously they need somebody who can get to the quarterback without a lot of help. I think Ayers is the guy that makes the most sense.
Q. About a five technique at 17, 28, 33?
MIKE MAYOCK: I tell you right now there’s a bunch of them. I mentioned J.J. Watt. I like him more than other people, but he’s to me the prototypical guy. He fits exactly what they do.
I think Cam Jordan from Cal fits into that slot. He’s got some natural pass‑rush to him. A little more than ‑‑ J.J. Watt’s probably a little more stout against the run, where Jordan can probably naturally get to the quarterback better than Watt.
Cam Hayward, I mentioned he could be at 33. Muhammad Wilkerson could be at 33. They’re the real logical guys anywhere from 17 to 33.
Q. With the recent success that undrafted and late‑round drafted running backs have had in the NFL, where’s your stance on investing in an early first round pick into a tailback?
MIKE MAYOCK: For me, it’s pretty simple. If there’s a guy, a special running back out there like an Adrian Peterson, you treat it like a special athlete at any position and you covet it and you try to get it.
Beyond that, I think what we’re seeing is running back by tandem throughout the NFL. You either get a couple of guys that can split the load or similar type of players, or you get two different kind of guys. You get that two‑down guy, the bigger downhill, one cutback, and complement him with a third down change of pace guy.
I think we’ve all seen, because it’s a pass first league, that the running back position has been denigrated a little bit. I think there are plenty of guys in every draft, and especially this year. You can drop down to the third, fourth, fifth round and get a quality running back to fit your system.
Q. Who are some of those sleepers that you think could run for 1,000 yards in any NFL offense that might not be a first round pick?
MIKE MAYOCK: I’m not sure any of them are sleepers. But Jacquizz Rodgers is a guy that’s tiny. He’s 5’7, 191. People want to say he’s a third down change of pace guy. He’s got over 900 touches in three years which is mind-boggling.
He’s tougher than people think. He’s a home run hitter. He’s the kind of guy that I would bet money on as far as whether he gets 12 touches or 20 touches, he’s the kind of guy I want on my team.
Then you start dropping into the third, fourth and fifth round, and what you see are the bigger backs like Carter from Syracuse. Probably could get him in the fourth round. He’s 225 pounds. But in the zone scheme, downhill, one‑type guy, he could carry the ball 20 times a game.
Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State is more of that third down change of pace guy. John Clay from Wisconsin is a 250‑pound tailback. If you’re talking thunder and lightning, he’s thunder. If he keeps his weight under control, he’s a lot like Stephfon Green. He’s even bigger than Stephfon Green. He’s got that kind of skill set, but he’s got to keep his weight under control.
Q. You kind of pressed on this. But obviously there are a lot of questions about these quarterbacks and there are a lot of veteran quarterbacks available. Do you think some of these teams with quarterbacks will be more willing to wait and not reach for a draft pick. Saying well, if I don’t get a guy here, I can get a guy I later like Cobb or Palmer or whatever, or will they be tempted to reach because they need a quarterback?
MIKE MAYOCK: I will say one more time. If there’s a franchise quarterback available in the draft, that trumps all other needs and they go get them. What makes it even more interesting is it’s going to cost them to get Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer. Either in a trade, what do you have to give up to get them, or in dollars and cents.
You’ve got to sit there and say is it going to cost me a first round pick to get Kevin Kolb? And if it is going to cost me a first round pick, am I better off taking one of these other guys that there’s a little more uncertainty about but maybe have a bigger ceiling? So there is a tradeoff.
I think every coach and every team will look at it a little bit differently. If you have a team that’s pretty good and you think might be a Super Bowl type of team, you might want to go get Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer because you need somebody to produce now. Outside of that, I typically would go through the draft.
Q. Regarding Peterson that you touched on. His size, did you see anyone that’s analogous to him in the NFL? From the recent past or a long time ago, is there anyone comparable to his size at quarterback?
MIKE MAYOCK: He’s a big guy now. I’ve only seen him on tape. I have not seen him in person yet, which I’m really looking forward to doing.
The most impressive corner I’ve ever seen in my life from a physical perspective was the day I walked into the Pittsburgh training camp in 1981 as a tenth round pick. They had a guy named Mel Blount who redefined the position at 6’4″ and they changed the rules because of him.
He was the most impressive specimen from a size perspective I ever saw at corner. I’m anxious to see what Patrick Peterson looks like. I’m also amazed how well he returns punts and kickoffs for his size. Just tells you what a great athlete he is.
Q. I’ve got two Virginia topics. One, Tyrod Taylor as a quarterback, what his potential might be in your opinion. Also the UVA Ras‑i Dowling at cornerback had such a weird senior year. I’m wondering what he may have to do at the Combine to turn some heads?
MIKE MAYOCK: As far as Tyrod Taylor is concerned, he’s a pretty interesting guy. I think he’s got a bigger arm than people want to give him credit for. I saw him down at the East‑West game in addition to the tape I’ve watched.
I think the perception that he can only be a scrambling quarterback, that’s a little unfair to the kid. He’s almost 6’1″, 216 pounds. I think he was 24 touchdown passes against five interceptions with a 50 or 61% completion rate this year. He was the ACC Player of the Year. My gut tells me give this kid a try.
Is he going to be a high level first, second, third round pick? No. But like most undersized quarterbacks, he’s going to have to prove himself. Just because he has athletic ability, he doesn’t have to be a pocket passer.
As far as Ras‑I Dowling is concerned, he’s one of the kids around the country that needs the Combine, pro day, and this process more than anybody else.
You can’t put the tape on this year because there’s little to none of it. You’ve got to go back to tape before that. You’ve got a big kid in the corner with some athletic skills. So you have to put the old tape on and make sure you’re okay with his durability, and at some point you have to see him work out and compare it against the ’09 tape. That’s going to be the key. The next two months are key for this kid.
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