Oregon Ducks Mariota, Grasu, Ekpre-Olomu projected first-round picks in 2015

Oregon Ducks Mariota, Grasu, Ekpre-Olomu projected first-round picks in 2015
May 13, 2014, 11:00 am
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Mariota: Spring game and summer prep

Oregon Ducks quarter back Markus Mariota sits on the bench in the fourth quarter at Autzen Stadium.

(Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

What's the first thing any self-respecting NFL Draftnik does hours after the Mr. Irrelevant's name has been called?

They begin looking ahead to the following year's draft.

Now keep in mind, little in the world of sport prognostication is as ridiculous as a mock draft formed a year early.

Case in point: Many mocks projected running back LaMichael James to be a top 10 pick prior to his junior season (he went late second round), and had cornerback Cliff Harris going in the first round (he went undrafted and even had he not gotten into trouble would never have gone anywhere near the first round).

Early mock drafts essentially are based more on name familiarity than they are actual scouting because virtually all of the time spent on player evaluation the previous year was spent on out-going draft prospects.

Furthermore, mock drafts are not made by NFL personnel decision makers, whose opinions are the only ones that really matter. But the football world is rife with NFL Draft "experts" who offer their usually educated guestimates for entertainment purposes. We do the same here.

See former USC quarterback Matt Barkely as an example of hype run amok. Many believed Barkley hurt his draft stock by returning for another season at USC. However, his rating as a top-10 pick was based on mock drafts, not true NFL evaluations. Once they sunk their scouting teeth into him they uncovered all of his flaws once masked by gaudy numbers and the glitz and glam of playing at USC. 

There's no way Barkley's performance in 2012 was so much worse than his performance in 2011 that he fell from a high first-round pick to a fourth-round pick, drafted to be a third-stringer in Philadelphia.

Yes, his stats took a dip (seven interceptions to 15) but Dan Marino's took an even more dramatic downturn in 1984 pus he was hounded by false drug rumors and still Miami selected him in the first round.

Point is, Barkely lacked the skills of a first-round NFL Draft pick in both 2011 and 2012. Hype, not his talents, made him a mock draft favorite.

That all said, it's still entertaining to look at where some folks project where Oregon Ducks will fall in next year's draft.

Of course, most, if not all early mocks, have quarterback Marcus Mariota being selected with the first overall pick.

NFLDraftScout.com, WalterFootball.com and RotoWorld.com wasted no time ranking Mariota No. 1. 

This could hold true. Or is he another Barkley? Not likely.

At the very least, Mariota should be a first-round pick. But despite his good numbers he does have some warts. Consistency in being accurate, especially on deep balls, is an issue that even he says he has worked to correct. Also, ball security has been an issue, something else he has worked on. Footwork has also been refined.

Should he display improvement in these areas, Mariota will likely be a top-10 selection. One thing he does amazingly well, that's difficult to teach, is he doesn't make many foolish decisions that result in turnovers. That skill is shard by all of the greats.

All three sites also project cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as a first-round pick. NFLDraftScout calls him the 12th best prospect in next year's draft. Both WalterFootball.com and RotoWorld have him going 17th overall.

Ekpre-Olomu, many thought, would be a first-round pick this year, but his draft grad reportedly came back lower, influence him to remain at Oregon for another season. Staying another year, however, does not guarantee that he will be taken in the first-round next year, but at least he'll now leave Oregon with a degree. At worst, he should go someplace within the first three rounds.

An interesting situation is that of center Hroniss Grasu. WalterFootball has him going 24th. RotoWorld projects him 19th. NFLDraftScout is calling him an early second-round pick.

Few centers are ever taken in the first round, let alone within the top-10 picks. The center is the least valued player along the offensive line because they doesn't have to operate in space like tackles while pass blocking against speedy pass rushers, and unlike guards they are not required to pull and run as often.

Grasu will be a four-year starter, which makes him a name we know but not necessarily a sure-fire, first-round pick. It's my understanding that his grade this year was not better than third round. Making up two rounds is a lot to ask but it is possible, especially since Grasu is a born leader, has already added some weight and will certainly improve his fundamentals because of his work ethic.

Grasu should go no later than the third round but could play his way into the second round. I'm just not sure that at this time I buy him as a first-round pick at center. We shall see.

Here is where things get funky.

Inside linebacker Derrick Malone is projected to be a late second-round pick as an outside linebacker by NFLDraftScout and it ranks him No. 2 at that position.  This is not to doubt the man's abilities - he led UO with 105 tackles last year - but Malone is listed at 216 pounds. Meanwhile, 225-pound Boseko Lokombo went undrafted over the weekend a year after 225-pound Michael Clay went undrafted in 2014.

Unless Malone puts on 25 pounds and has 15 tackles for loss next season, there is no way he will be a second-round pick.

Defensive end Tony Washington is another interesting case. NFLDraftScout projects him to be the No. 5 defensive end in the 2015 draft. He's a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end, not exactly a highly sought commodity in the NFL. He also plays a hybrid 3-4 linebacker at UO, but doesn't appear to have the speed and athleticism to make that his primary position at the NFL level.

As somewhat of a tweener, Washington still should get drafted but going within the first three rounds, as a No. 5-rated defensive end would, doesn't appear likely at this juncture.

NFLDraftScout projects defensive lineman Arik Armstead as a late second-round selection, which makes sense given his physical ability. But he has to stay healthy this season and become more productive to cement that status.

Here is something else to chew on. Wide receiver Bralon Addison, likely out for the season with a torn ACL, is projected to be a third-round pick by NFLDraftScout.

Huh?

Senior right tackle Jake Fisher is projected to be the eight-best tackle prospects by NFLDraftScout.

Assuming all of Oregon's prospects have strong seasons, the Ducks could produce their strongest draft class in history.

The 2002 and 2009 NFL Drafts saw six Ducks selected.

Mariota, Grasu, Ekpre-Olomu, Malone, Armstead, Fisher and Washington would make seven in 2015.

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