When Mike Mayock left his job as the NFL Network’s senior draft analyst three months ago to become the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, it created a significant hole in our draft coverage.
For the last 15 years, Mayock has shared his expertise with our readers, providing them an exclusive position-by-position breakdown of the draft.
Needless to say, he won’t be doing that this year. Fortunately, I think you’re going to really like the guy I’ve found to replace him.
Ben Fennell is an Emmy Award-winning producer, editor and researcher across several football media platforms, including NFL Network, ESPN college football, The Athletic, and the Philadelphia Eagles.
He spent the last four drafts working closely with Mayock, and now is in his first year working with NFLN’s new senior draft analyst, Daniel Jeremiah.
He also works weekly college football games with ESPN’s broadcast team of Greg McElroy and Dave Pasch, and with Fran Duffy on Eagles Game Plan, the popular weekly Xs-and-Os show on philadelphiaeagles.com.
Fennell, whose Twitter handle is @benfennell_NFL, has become a must-follow on social media for football junkies.
Fennell, 32, who grew up in the Poconos and graduated from Drexel, learned the game at the feet of people such as Mayock, Matt Millen, Brian Baldinger and former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly over at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, while working on NFL Network’s popular Xs and Os show, Playbook. He later became Mayock’s chief draft researcher. He began working on Playbook while he still was at Drexel.
"When they offered me the job, I said, ‘I’ll make it work,' " he said. “I took night classes, online classes [to finish his degree in sports management]. I was taking classes with 40- and 50-year-olds who were working on their majors in a second-career kind of thing.”
When Mayock later asked Fennell to assist him during the offseason on draft preparation, he gladly added that to his already busy work schedule.
“Mike was all about having people that he could just talk to," Fennell said. “He knew he could just talk to me. He didn’t want to explain what a 3-tech or boundary corner was, or what a cross-post was. He just wanted to be able to talk.
“All of my jobs kind of tie together. ESPN, going to college games, seeing players close up, talking to coaches in production meetings. Then into the draft cycle with Mike, and now Daniel, at NFL Network. It all feeds perfectly into the next thing."
Mayock’s hiring by the Raiders might’ve led to an NFL scouting job for Fennell if he had been interested. “It was never anything we really talked about, he said. “A lot of people asked me if I was going to go [with Mayock] or was interested [in going]. But I just felt my career was going in one direction and that would’ve taken it in another one.
“Working on the personnel side of an NFL front office is a completely different life. About my third or fourth year working on Playbook, I was trying to decide, do I go TV or do I go football? I’m kind of happy I stuck with the media side of things.
“When you work in this business, you never lose a game. You never make a bad draft pick."
Just as Mayock did each year, Fennell will break down the draft by position for us, selecting the best player, riser and sleeper at each position. First up, the running backs:
Josh Jacobs, Alabama
5-10, 220 | Hands: 10 1/8 inches | 40 time: 4.60 seconds | Vertical jump: 35.0 inches | Broad jump: 9-4 | 225 bench press: 18 reps
Round projection: 1-2
Ben’s take: “Jacobs is an interesting player. He’s a 220-pounder in a draft with not a lot of big, heavy running backs. He doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him. Only had 251 carries in three seasons at Alabama. Teams that believe mileage is a finite thing and that the body can only take so much wear and tear are going to like that about him.
People are questioning his top-end speed because he only ran a 4.6 40 at his Pro Day. But that’s fast enough for his running style. He’s more of an explosive runner.
“He’s a tough yards-after-contact runner. You can’t arm-tackle him. He’s going to fall forward and is good in short-yardage situations.
“One of the reasons people are excited about him is because he’s good in the pass game. He has very good hands. He can adjust to balls behind him. Ran a lot of down-the-field routes at Alabama, including some where he had to change shoulders during the process of tracking the ball, and had no trouble doing it."
Miles Sanders, Penn State
5-11, 211 | Hands: 9 ¼ inches | 40 time: 4.49 seconds | Vertical jump: 36.0 inches | Broad jump: 10-4 | 225 bench press: 20 reps
Round projection: 2
Ben’s take: “Sanders started to separate himself from that clump of Day 2 running backs with his impressive showing at the combine. He looked really good. He tested well in nearly every drill.
“He was stuck behind Saquon Barkley before finally getting his chance last year, and he ran with it. He has great patience. He has excellent vision in pro-style running schemes. He’s a slasher. He has breakaway juice, yet he’ll also play with power. He’ll lower his pads and fight for extra yards.
“That occasionally has gotten him into trouble. He had five fumbles last year, four off of contact. But none of his fumbles were in short-yardage situations. They all were down the field when he was trying to make defensive backs miss.
“In short-yardage situations, he was excellent. He converted 26 of 27 situations of two yards or less. He’s a three-down back who was really good in the screen game. He doesn’t have the sexy upside that maybe somebody like the Saints’ Alvin Kamara had as a receiver. But he’s a guy you’re not going to have to take off the field."
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
5-8, 206 | Hands: 9 ¼ inches | 40 time: 4.51 seconds | Vertical jump: 33.0 inches | Broad jump: 10-1 | 225 bench press: 19 reps
Round projection: 2-3
Fennell’s take: “He led the SEC in rushing, so he’s not a sleeper in the true sense. But in this draft, with just a lot of guys clumped together in that second-, third- and fourth-round area, he’s not getting a whole lot of attention.
“He’s not a big guy, but runs much harder than his size. When you rush for 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns in the SEC, you’re doing something right.
“He’s very, very physical. Good in the screen game. He’s a three-down back who will be tough to take off the field. He’s a high-mileage guy. Had 600 carries in three years at A&M, including 250 last year. He was one of just two guys in FBS who had 250 or more carries and still averaged more than six yards per carry.
“He has these bulging abs and likes to wear the crop top. Looks a little like Zeke Elliott. Has a lot of the same body motion and a similar running style. The difference is, Elliott is 225 pounds."