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Draft Chat with Mel Kiper Jr.

Posted by Taylor Price on April 11, 2013 – 12:56 PM

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. discussed his predictions for the 2013 NFL Draft in a Wednesday conference call.

The long-time draft analyst mentioned several players profiled in 49ers.com’s “49 in 49” draft series as potential first-round targets for San Francisco.

The first name mentioned from Kiper was a standout Pac-12 defensive lineman.

Datone Jones, a defensive end from UCLA, that would be a little bit of a curve ball,” Kiper explained. “He’s a had a great Senior Bowl week.  He had a heck of a year for Jim Mora.  He’s ideally suited for what they do.”

Kiper continued on his possible first-round targets for San Francisco by highlighting a player 49ers.com featured on Wednesday.

“As a safety, Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International, good football player,” Kiper said. “He’d be a great pick at 34 or 31.  Matt Elam, a safety at Florida, would be in that mix as well.”

The final possibility Kiper discussed was a player the 49ers coaches have worked with that also fits a position of need with the departure of tight end Delanie Walker.

“At tight end,” Kiper began, “do they look at Zach Ertz from Stanford?  Do they wait until late second round and look at either Ertz, if he’s still there, or Gavin Escobar from San Diego State or Dion Sims from Michigan State?”

Kiper summed up his thoughts on what the 49ers should do with their first two picks, No. 31 and No. 34 overall.

“I would think at defensive end, safety, and tight end, if you can get those three positions filled with those picks at 31, 34 and 61, it would be a nice draft for Trent Baalke and company.  And hope that A.J. Jenkins can come back year two and give you something at wide receiver.”

Here’s Kiper’s full conference call transcript:

I’m sure you’ve seen the reports today about Rolando McClain looking like he’s nearing a deal with the Baltimore Ravens.  Your take on Rolando, how that changes your opinion?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  They’ve done some really good things, with Spears, of course, McClain, adding Michael Huff and Dumervil as well.  You’re getting an inside backer, relatively young, former top 10 pick in the first round with ability.

Of course, Ozzie Newsome, an Alabama guy, there have been several Alabama players that have come through this program through the years, Rolando McClain, Jarret Johnson, Terrence Cody, the list goes on and on, last year Courtney Upshaw.  They’ve done well with Alabama players.  Ozzie Newsome’s connection.

It’s a big hole, a key need for them to go with an inside linebacker.  They need one, maybe two.  They also need another safety as well.  It would allow them not to have to force something.  If there’s not a player there, they don’t have to have that need filled via the draft.  But certainly an inside linebacker would be at the top of the priority list.

When you look at 24 with the Colts, do you see them possibly moving back?  If they stay back, receiver, what kind of quality, value are they going to get at 24? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, you got a corner like Desmond Trufant from Washington would be a nice fit, Xavier Rhodes from Florida State, D.J. Hayden from Houston.  A lot of the corners are still going to probably be there at 24.  Maybe one of them is gone a little earlier.  But certainly Dee Milliner is going very high, we know that, from Alabama.  But that next corner, whether it’s the second or third corner, could still be there for the Colts at 24. 

They don’t have the second round pick right now.  Certainly you think about other need areas, there’s obviously things they have to do via this draft to get some players in here.

At wide receiver, I have them actually picking Aaron Dobson from Marshall in the third round.  He’s also looking at Markus Wheaton from Oregon State, Ryan Swope from Texas A&M.  There may be some nice third round options at wide receiver.

If you’re thinking first round wide receiver, you think at that point Robert Woods from USC, Cordarrelle Patterson may be there, maybe not.  I think Robert Woods would be a nice fit.  He could help you right away. He’s polished.  You think about what Peyton Manning had with Reggie Wayne, Andrew Luck could have with Robert Woods.  Draw strong comparisons through the draft process to a Reggie Wayne.

I know you’ve talked a little bit about the possibilities of getting a Milliner or Ansah.  Would you be upset if they drafted a Chance Warmack, perhaps?  What would be your opinion if they went guard at that position as opposed to defense? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He’s certainly a great player.  I just think when you look at that division, if you get a Dee Milliner or a pass rusher, that’s helping you against Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, people like that. 

Certainly you think about where Minnesota could be with Christian Ponder.  Have to wait and see on that.  Two quarterbacks in that division, led by Aaron Rodgers, that you have to get through to get to a playoff spot. I think a corner or defensive end would be the guys to consider.

But Warmack is a heck of a player.  It’s helping out, obviously, your running game.  He’s a run blocker and an underrated puller, helping out Matthew Stafford.  I would be surprised if they didn’t take a defensive end or a corner.

Looking at the Chargers, how do you see it breaking down for their first pick at 11?  Do you think Keenan Allen can be there in the second round because of his slow time in the pro day?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He could.  Actually when you redo the whole projection, I had Keenan Allen going 40 before his pro day.  That would be a couple picks before San Diego.  If you redo it now, you’re thinking 44. 

He could be gone by that second round pick at 45.  If he is, maybe you’ll get a linebacker like Arthur Brown.  You think about the first round, are they going to trade up to get Lane Johnson or Eric Fisher?  They can’t sit there at 11 probably and see one of those tackles on the board at that point.

If they’re gone, do they look to move down at that point?  That’s another option you would have.  If the guys you want are gone, you move down.

I think moving up to get Lane Johnson, Cleveland picks at six.  If they want to take a Geno Smith, maybe they can move down from sixth to 11th, take Geno Smith there, that would allow San Diego to go up and get Lane Johnson.

The Browns possibly moving down, but if they stay at six, do you still see them taking Dion Jordan?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  That’s a tough call.  That’s the sixth pick now, because if Milliner is gone, then you look at Dion Jordan.  You have Jabaal Sheard who is going to project to that position opposite Kruger.  Do you take, at that point, the next corner?  You can’t.  You can’t reach for the second corner.  There’s nobody to consider at that point. 

For a team picking where they are, the big issue is going to be quarterback.  If they don’t feel Brandon Weeden is the guy, Jason Campbell is the journeyman backup now, do you look at Geno Smith?  It depends on their feeling on Geno Smith and how they feel about Weeden.

So if they’re not high on Weeden, they like Geno Smith, you can move down off of six.  You’re going to get offers.   Who’s going to represent a left tackle?  You could end up maybe getting Geno Smith at a more palatable spot in the first round.

With the Eagles, would it be sensible for them at number four, a lot of people have them picking Star Lotulelei or Sharrif Floyd, and making them a five technique.  Would it make sense for them to do that when they already have Fletcher Cox?  Most 3 4 teams get their pass rush from outside linebackers and not five techniques.  Also if they wanted to trade down from four, do you think they’ll have the luxury of doing that?  Is that a coveted spot?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Depends how the first couple picks go.  Again, you’re representing those left tackles which is a hotspot.  You could be looking at a Dee Milliner at that particular point if he’s still available.  You have to wait and see. 

Dion Jordan, Chip Kelly coached him at Oregon.  You have some guys in the mix at pass rushers in that 3 4.  Are they satisfied with what they have?  Do they want to upgrade potentially with Dion Jordan?  Do they want to take a quarterback like Geno Smith or wait for the second round to take E.J. Manuel?  Those are some of the options that the Eagles have.

But certainly trading down, you’re going to get offers because it’s not costly to be up there.  It’s a case where there’s going to be some hot players, and the hot players are going to be those left tackles.  Everybody seems to want to go up and get those guys.

After Joeckel goes, if he goes one, that’s going to make Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson two possibilities for teams that are going to look to move up.

It depends how it flows through.  I think they will get offers.  I think Dion Jordan and Geno Smith will have to be in the mix.  I would not look at a 3 4 defensive end.  You think about Tyson Jackson of Kansas City, to me you can find those types of players down the road.

I would prioritize the pass rusher, the cornerback, like Milliner.  In this pass happy league in the NFL, I would go that route over a 3 4 defensive end.

You mentioned Manuel.  There are differing opinions on him.  He’s not in your top five.  What are your biggest criticisms of him?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, I love the kid.  Great character.  Just tremendously likable.  Just comes into a room, you have to root for this kid.  The likability, the ‘it’ factor is there with him from that standpoint.  Big at 6’5″, 237, fast.  He can run the read option, runs it pretty effectively.  Tough to bring down when he does run the football.  He can pick up some yards with his legs, beat you with his legs.  He can pick up first downs and keep drives alive.

I just saw a kid who didn’t go through progression to the third or fourth option.  He’d go one, two, and underneath.  Didn’t have to read the whole field, read half the field, that’s a concern.  At times he made inaccurate throws, questionable decisions.  That’s a concern.  I didn’t see him take his game to an elite level despite having elite physical and athletic skills.

On the numbers alone he’s first round.  He tests like a first rounder.  I thought his performance was more like a second or third rounder.  Do the math on that, you’re thinking late one, early two.

Wanted to ask you about Landry Jones.  Last year when he was considering coming out, he was sort of thought of maybe as a first round prospect.  He kind of had a better statistically senior year than junior year, but his stock has dropped considerably.  Why do you think that’s happened?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think his performance leveled off from where he was early on when he was considered to be the next Sam Bradford.  Now you look at some bad decisions, inaccurate throws.  When he gets pressured a little bit in the pocket, some things break down fundamentally. 

He’s got talent.  The kid’s got a lot of ability.  If you can harness that ability, develop that talent, you might have something.

I think he went from being a first round potential and first round talent as a young quarterback to somebody who leveled off, didn’t progress to the point you expected, and is now considered a third or fourth round pick.

I was going to ask you more about Luke Joeckel.  Is he pretty solidified at number one?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, the potential movement would be a trade down.  If somebody wants to move up and get a Dee Milliner, then you would move down if you’re Kansas City and still get a left tackle.  I mean, you can move down from one to five and still get Eric Fisher, move further down and get Lane Johnson.  There’s some flexibility down to seven for them to move and still get a left tackle.  If they don’t, I think Luke Joeckel would go number one overall. 

On Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, do you think that his times at pro day helped him considering he wasn’t able to run at the combine?  Where do you see him falling overall in this draft and what do you like about him?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You like his size and his physical ability.  At 6’3″, 210, 215 pounds, he can be a vertical threat down the field.  I think you look at the third round, mid to late third round is when I would consider Aaron Dobson.  I don’t think he shows the explosiveness that you need to be an early first round or second round pick.  He’s got talent, but he needs to be coached up a bit as a wide receiver coach looking at him, developing him. 

He has the talent, the raw talent.  He’s not as polished as some of the other receivers.  I don’t think he’s as explosive as some of the others.  That first out of the break, you don’t see like you do with some of the other receivers.  That’s why I think third round instead of first or second round.

I’m wondering about the two safeties from Georgia.  Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo.  Rambo was an All American a few years ago, but Williams seems to be tracking if not ahead on draft boards.  Where do you see these two guys? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think Shawn Williams is a very solid, reliable safety.  He’s tested well.  He played well.  Had a good Senior Bowl week.  I think he’s solidly in that late second, early third round discussion. 

Bacarri Rambo made a lot of big plays.  A little bit of an inconsistent tackler at times.  I think he’s a third or fourth round pick.  Sanders Commings, the quarterback safety, is more of a fourth or fifth round pick.

Most folks have Barkevious Mingo or like a Jarvis Jones going to the Saints with a 15th overall pick.  But if a guy like Patterson or Austin are still on the board, do you think an offensive mind will be tempted to go that route?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think it’s a little early for Patterson.  Patterson is raw.  I don’t think he can help you necessarily as much as his talent indicates as a rookie. 

I think Austin is spectacular.  I love Tavon Austin.  I think he would be a guy to consider, especially when you look that St. Louis could take him at 16.  You could even see him going to a team like Carolina a little earlier.

So I would take Austin over Patterson in that scenario.  But I do think when you’re a 3 4 team now, Jarvis Jones, or if Mingo was there, I wouldn’t say a guarantee, but an awful tough guy to pass up.  I think it’s either going to be the outside linebacker or the slot receiver like Austin who is also a great return man.

You have Margus Hunt at 31 to San Francisco.  I’ve watched him the last four years here, and I think he’s a little raw.  Are teams just enamored with his size, strength and athletic ability?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, that’s what it’s doing.  You’re talking late first round, early second round for Margus Hunt.  He’s got tremendous physicality and potential.  He’s a great athlete, has the right attitude. 

Yeah, he’s raw.  I think the ball location skills, you question him when you watch him.  Obviously he needs to improve his technique.  You think about where Margus Hunt can be in two or three years with pro coaching, that’s what you’re drafting him on, where he can be two or three years from now, not where he is as a rookie.

He’s going to be raw coming into the league.  He’s inexperienced.  You see that when you watch him.  I talked about that during the year.  That’s why he flashes.  He’s not consistent.  He doesn’t have the right technique.  He’s not instinctive as the defensive lineman.  I think all those things are concerns.

Physically he’s a top 10 pick, but he’s going to be a late one, early to mid two because of the fact there is a bit of a roll of the dice whether it will all come together for him as the pro level.

When you look at the Ravens, is this a good year to have a late pick in the sense that they have, it seems to be, a deep draft into an inside linebacker and safety, and there may be some really good players at the end of the first round?  Do you see this being a year where they go defense when you look maybe into the third day drafting guys, could be a defense heavy draft for the Ravens?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  It should be.  They’ve done some really good things in free agency with the players they picked up.  That’s alleviated some of the concerns and some of the forces you need to deal with on draft day because of needs that are there and you have to fix.  I think they’ve given themselves some flexibility.

You look at the inside linebacker position still is in play with a Kevin Minter possibly from LSU.  Still a safety is in play with a Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International, or Matt Elam from Florida.  Look at second round at a D.J. Swearinger from North Carolina.

There’s a lot of depth at safety.  There’s not a lot of depth at inside linebacker after a third round.  So Steve Beauharnais from Rutgers, Jon Bostic from Florida in the third round.  If you’re looking at Arthur Brown from Kansas State, you’re probably looking second round.  Safety, inside backer, left tackle.  Maybe Terron Armstead from Arkansas Pine Bluff at the end of the second round for the Ravens.

Following up on your previous comment about the Browns and the possibility of taking Geno Smith, I know you had Geno going earlier than sixth in some of your mocks.  What do you think the chances are he’ll be available at six?  Can you break down what you like about him and what concerns you have?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, you don’t know.  Philadelphia is the pivotal team there.  They could take Geno Smith, they could pass on Smith, look at a quarterback like E.J. Manuel in the second round, which would put him there for Cleveland at six.

What I like about him, I like the fact that he can spin the ball.  He’s got the live arm, he can make any throw you want.  He’s mobile, very good mobility.  Beat you with his legs, he can run, pick up significant yardage.  He’s a kid that seems like he’s going to work hard at his craft.

Concerns would be, the pocket collapsed a lot for him.  The offensive line didn’t do its job.  When he was harassed, the accuracy diminished and he made some bad decisions.  He had some fumbles in the pocket.  Ball security was an issue.  But he’s got to take better care of the football.  Can’t have fumbles in the pocket.  He’s got to be a little more precise with the football.

But I thought he hit his stride pretty well at West Virginia.  Gave him a chance to do a lot after the catch, which impressed me.  Some of the other quarterbacks did not.

He reads the whole field, which I like.  He’s not just reading half the field, he reads the whole field.  He’s the kind of guy that if handled properly could be a very, very good starting NFL quarterback, I believe.

When you look at the Raiders, how much of it has been a poor evaluation of players, picking the wrong guys, and how much of it has been bad development?  If you could give an assessment of Reggie McKenzie’s first draft?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You look back, you see a lot of choices that were made because of the physical and athletic ability, speed of some players.  That’s a roll of the dice.  You go back to Darrius Heyward Bey, that top 10 pick that hasn’t panned out.

They believe in the physical ability, the computer numbers, the speed factor of their players.  There’s no question about that.  I mean, you move forward to now where they are, they got a defensive line situation at tackle, which obviously has to be a huge concern.  You have a cornerback situation, which is going to have to be addressed at some point.  They have a lot of need areas.  They could go several directions.

But Sharrif Floyd from Florida in the first round I think would make a lot of sense.  You have no second round pick.  You come back around in the third round and address maybe that cornerback spot with Darius Slay from Mississippi State.  So a lot of need areas, but I think Defensive tackle, cornerback have to be front and center right now.

I want to talk about a guy like Jamie Collins, outside linebacker from Southern Miss.  He really lit up the combine and improved his stock a lot.  Do you think a guy like him, a former safety with a lot of athleticism, is going to move into the first round?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I don’t think first.  I think he would at least deserve some consideration in the second round area.  He’s almost 250 pounds, 6’3″ and a half and he can run.  Like you say, he’s multi-dimensional potentially at the pro level.

I thought he had a very good year for a bad team.  Contested off the charts.  I think second round is where I think you’ll see him come off the board.  But, hey, nothing shocks you.  When you have the great workout that he does, he’s productive as well.  It wouldn’t shock me, it would surprise me.  But nothing would shock me.

When you talk about this league, what you’re expected to do, you have to be multi-dimensional now.  He can run, he’s athletic.  He has the stats to back that up.  His production was pretty good.

To me, second round is where I would project him right now.  At worst, the third round.

You talked about Landry Jones earlier.  You talked about Lane Johnson a lot.  I was wondering what Johnson, Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills have all kind of done to rise or fall over the last two months of this draft process?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Tony Jefferson’s stock has dropped obviously from the workout.  The numbers weren’t what they were expected to be.  But he’s a good football player.  So where does he go?  I’d start thinking about him early day three.

Kenny Stills, he had some inconsistencies at Oklahoma.  Had some good workouts.  Ran well.  I think he’s a three or a four.

Lane Johnson is a top 10 guy.  At worst 11 to San Diego, possibly a five, seven to Arizona.  He would be six if Cleveland traded out.  If it trades out, seems like San Diego jumps in.

Lane Johnson, he’s the kind of guy that has to be in the discussion even at five for Detroit.  He’s right there with Joeckel and Fisher.  It’s really a three way battle to see who is going to be the first tackle taken.

You lean a little bit towards Joeckel because he’s  been there with two systems.  More experience.  Fisher is Mid American Conference competition.  Then you think about Lane Johnson, with all the changes of position, a little late developing, stronger in the lower body, improve his technique just a bit.  I think certainly his Senior Bowl week really helped him.  He can play left tackle or right tackle.  Lane Johnson is solidly one of the top 11 players in the draft.  I think he goes in the top seven right now.

I’d like your thoughts on two University of Miami players, cornerback Brandon Magee and running back Mike James, where they might go in the draft, what attributes they could bring to a team as well as any negatives you perceive. 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I like Mike James.  He was one of the guys I think you can get probably a little later in the draft.  I think about day three.  It’s a kid over 220 pounds, has better quickness than he does 40 time.  He runs inside very effectively.  Can bounce it to the perimeter.  He’s got some skills.  I think as a later round pick, he’ll make a team and contribute.  You saw what Florida’s Alfred Morris did last year as a sixth round pick.

Not as high on Brandon Magee as some people may be.  He has recovery ability.  He flashes in coverage.  I think he still needs a little bit of work.  I projected him more as a late round pick.  So they’re both late round picks, I’m just a little higher on James right now as I am on Magee as an overall rating.

Earl Watford, can you assess Earl in general, showing at the combine, where he’ll go, what teams may be interested in him?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I like him.  I actually wrote about Earl Watford during the year when I do that column on Sunday for espn.com.  A nice football player.  He’s 300 pounds, he can move, he can pull.  To me he fits a number of schemes, he’s not just locked into one.  I think the zone blocking scheme obviously you look at.  Certainly I think he can fit anybody.  He did a great job at a lower level of competition.

To me he’s one of the top.  When you really look at the guard position, there’s some real good ones this year.  This is a strong year for guards.  Normally he’d be a top five guard.  This year he’s in the nine or 10 area.  There’s a couple of non Division I A players are in that top 10 group, he’s one of them.  Ryan Jensen, the kid out of Colorado State, Pueblo is one of them.

But in a normal year, he would be one of the top five guards.  Now he’s in the top 10.  He probably projects right now, because of the strength at guard, as a fourth or fifth round pick.  Normally he would be a third round pick, but now because of all the guards that are of top quality, he goes fourth or fifth round.

I wanted to ask you here, we have a lot of attention on Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, what are your thoughts on Stedman Bailey, where he may go and what kind of career he may have in the NFL?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  5’10” and a half, compact, quicker than you think.  Don’t worry about the 40 time.  I think he goes in the third or fourth round.  I think he can help a football team.  You need five guys out there playing and catching the football.  He has ability after the catch.  He’s a tough guy to handle in the open field.  I’d say third to fifth round field for Stedman Bailey.

I wanted to ask you about the Vikings linebacker situation.  Do you think they’ll be okay with getting a Kevin Minter or Robert Jones later on or do they need to think about trading up given what their linebacker situation is?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You could do that in terms of move up.  You could hope maybe a 52, second round pick, maybe Arthur Brown is there from Kansas State, Jonathan Bostic from Florida is there at that point.  If they want to go up and get Manti Te’o.  They may have to get a 15, ahead of 15 where New Orleans picks.  They may have to get ahead of 17 with Pittsburgh, obviously the Giants at 19, Chicago at 20.  Those are the viable teams for Manti Te’o.  If you want Te’o, you have to probably move up a little bit.

Ogletree, I could see going a little earlier, maybe to Cincinnati or the Giants.  I think they’re borderline for both.  I think they’re just off where they need to be at 23.  I think if they were sitting at 19, they would be okay for Te’o and Ogletree, but at 23, that may be pushing it a bit.

But to get either one, they may have to move up a bit, get lucky.  I don’t think Te’o will be there, but you never know.  We’ll see.  There’s a slight chance or scenario where they both could be there, but both could be gone.  It’s really whether they want to roll the dice or not.

Some teams are patient, they wait it out, get some good fortune come draft day.  The Vikings would need some very good fortune to have Te’o or Ogletree still be there.  If they’re gone, then you have to look at Minter.  If you think it’s too high, you could trade back and get him maybe early second.

You also have to think at that particular point about a wide receiver, think about whether it’s going to be Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee, whether you want to look at Robert Woods from USC.  I think the wide receiver position, obviously the middle linebacker spot, defensive line, particularly at tackle they could address at some point.

So, you know, it’s going to be interesting with Te’o and Ogletree whether they’ll be there.  That’s very debatable at this point.

With the 35th pick in the second round, what kind of talent could the Eagles be looking at?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think you look at the offensive line, particularly the right tackle.  If it’s Menelik Watson from Florida State, Kyle Long from Oregon.  He could play right tackle, left All England Club.  He played for Chip Kelly at Oregon.  Kyle Long, if he’s still there, would be a viable option for the Philadelphia Eagles.  Coaches like familiar players.  Obviously Kyle Long has a ton of versatility.  He has the bloodlines with his father Howie and his brother Chris.  I think he would have to be in the discussion along with Menelik Watson from Florida State.

I see you have Fluker at 12 with the Dolphins.  Lane Johnson’s name has been bantered around a lot.  If neither of those two are in their plans, where do you see them going?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I don’t think Fluker will be gone.  I think Fluker will be there at 12.  It would be a great bet at right tackle if Jonathan Martin can get it done at left tackle.  It will help your running game as the best running blocking right tackler to come out in years.  You could look defensive end.  I don’t think it will be necessarily a player there that will be attractive enough.  You could trade down off of 12.

Lane Johnson will not be there at 12.  I don’t think there’s any chance of that happening.  If Miami wants him, they have to move up to get him.  Remember, Lane Johnson can play left tackle or right tackle, but you have to move up to get him.  Fluker is a prototypical right tackle.  I do think he will be there at 12.

Looking at your big board in the mock drafts, the SEC is packed again with football talent.  Curious, do you think teams need to focus more on that conference, per se, considering the talent coming out these last few years?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, all those kids are getting a lot of publicity.  They’re all coming out after getting tremendous acclaim and tremendous notoriety at various SEC schools.  You see it dominated at the top with Texas A&M, SEC, Florida.  You think about what Alabama does year after year.  LSU year after year.

So there’s really no way around it.  The SEC has won all these national championships in a row for a reason.  A lot of great players are produced by those schools.  You evaluate them at individuals.  You don’t worry about that other stuff.  Some feel because there’s great players around them, they’re coached up so well, particularly Alabama players with Nick Saban, maybe overrates them a bit.  That’s been proven to be the case with some players coming out of Alabama, but there’s other ones that are great players.

You just have to do a good job of evaluating and not worry too much about what happened in the past in terms of a couple players busting out or whatever, make your assessments and hope you’re right.

How long do you think it will take Barkevious Mingo to develop into an every down player if he was in a 4 3 defense?  And what’s the latest you see the two offensive linemen going, Joeckel and Fisher?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Either Joeckel or Fisher, I think by five, they’ll be gone.  I think by seven, they’ll all be gone.  I projected Jonathan at 11.  I think you need somebody to move up to get him or Fisher.

In terms of Mingo, I look at him as a developmental defensive end.  He has to get a little stronger to play that position, get a little bulk to his frame.  I look at him as a 3 4 outside linebacker, an attacker off the edge.  I think he’d be a factor right away at that spot.  The majority of outside linebackers in that situation are.

I would say Mingo immediately as a 3 4 outside linebacker would be a major league factor.  He gets from Point A to Point B lightning quick.  I would like to see him be more productive this year.  If he would have been, maybe he would have been the top three pick.  If the Jets can get him at number nine, that’s a real nice value pick.

Wondered what your latest take is on Ezekiel Ansah?  Seems to be all over the board with the different prognostication where he could go? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He’s enjoyed his meteoric rise up the board as any other players in my 35 years covering the draft.  So I would say two to Jacksonville or five to Detroit, at worst eight to Buffalo.  Anywhere between two, five and eight is where he could come off the board, which is amazing considering he was off the radar, completely undrafted when the season began.

Ironically, this past year, had a guy in my top 15 All year, Vontaze Burfict who went undrafted, signs with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent.  This year you have a guy undrafted when the season began, now all the way up clearly in the top 10, maybe even the top five.

With Tavon Austin, is he rising on the draft board due to the 40 time or because he’s versatile and can do anything?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think it’s his production.  When everybody watched him play, they saw an electrifying, dynamic, versatile performer who changed the scoreboard.  That’s what he’s been doing since his high school career at Dunbar High in Baltimore.  He’s a business like kid.  He’s serious about his work.  Team oriented kid, works hard.  Today’s NFL is built for Tavon Austin at 5’8″ and a half.  Ten or 15 years ago, he would have been a third round pick.  Now he’s a top 16 pick because today’s NFL allows him to be successful.  I think he could go 16 to St. Louis and be a real good pick for Bradford and company and give some juice to that offense.

I wanted to ask you about Florida’s draft class this year.  There’s a lot of guys that could go in the first round this year.  What do you see from this class past Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, Jonathan Bostic I think is a guy you’re going to like, the way he plays the game.  I have him slotted to go either in the second or third round area.  So he’s a nice football player.  He really put together a heck of a year.  He made some really good plays.  When you watched him in coverage, sideline to sideline against the run, just did a heck of a job.

I think you look at Jelani Jenkins, the injury obviously, the durability concern with him.  He’s built for today’s NFL with a potential coverage ability.  Jenkins is more of a day three guy.  I think he will come into the National Football League and help you.

Jordan Reed’s stock has dropped a bit at tight end.  Aaron Hernandez was a fourth round pick.  Maybe Jordan Reed’s a fourth or fifth round pick.  But I think he’ll help a team in the NFL.

Xavier Nixon is a day three pick who can get the job done as a bookend tackle.  I think Xavier Nixon has a lot of ability.

Mike Gillislee as a second tier running back, you get him in a fourth to sixth round area, he’ll make your team, help your team.  I think he certainly has a chance of being a solid back in the NFL.

You have a couple of receivers who will probably be undrafted free agents.  Deonte Thompson was an undrafted guy last year, and the Ravens think he can be a real factor as an outside receiver this year and a kick returner.

Florida’s got a lot of kids.  If I missed anybody, I apologize for that, but that’s a good group overall.

What do you like most about Jonathan Cooper from UNC and how high do you think he’ll go?  There’s another kid from Wilmington in the draft, Nick Becton from Virginia Tech, what do you think his draft prospects might be?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I expect him a late rounder, priority undrafted free agent.  Cooper top 10.  Certainly top 12.  I think Buffalo at eight could look very seriously at Cooper.  Tennessee at 10 could look very seriously at Jonathan Cooper.  He’s as athletic a guard as you’ll ever find.  You can see him 30 yards down the field making a key block. 

Chance Warmack from Alabama is a great player as well.  So you have some elite guards and I think Cooper could come off the board in the top 10. 

We seem to be quite undecided about what the Lions are going to do.  The 36th overall pick, do you project Werner might be available if they don’t get a defensive end in the first round? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think he could be.  I think Werner’s stock dropped a little bit.  He didn’t test out as well as people thought.  Still a little inexperienced as a football player.  A little raw.  Great motor.  Potential is there as a pass rusher.  I think he could be a possibility at 36. 

You get Dee Milliner at 35, Werner at 36.  Quinton Patton from Louisiana Tech who can help that wide receiving core.  Had a great Senior Bowl week and a great career.  Very productive this year at 21 catches against Texas A&M this year.       

If they could come away with those three players in the first three rounds, they’d be in pretty good shape.

The Tavon Austin to Percy Harvin seems to be a natural comparison.  How well does Austin stack up to Harvin when you compare them, and is Austin a reach for a team such as the Jets at number nine?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He’s 5’8″ and a half.  You think about where he can be in the NFL, he’s got great potential to be an electrifying performer the way today’s NFL is.

Durability is the problem with Percy Harvin.  Let’s hope, never had an issue.  Tavon Austin, you can put him in the backfield, in the slot, in the return game.  Gives you a lot of versatility.  With the ball in his hands, he’s electric.  Very tough to corral.

So is it too early to?  You could debate that at 5’8″ and a half.  Is it too early at 16?  No.  If you’re getting a great player at 16, can you make a great player at nine?  Sure, you can.

It’s a case where, hey, I always believe that you had to take a guy where he was slotted.  Now if the guy can play, he can play.  If he can play at 16, he can play at nine.  The Jets have a ton of needs.  They need a play maker.  If they wanted to take a versatile kid like Austin who is going to change that scoreboard, I don’t think anybody would have a big issue with it.  They may say it’s a slight reach, but so be it.  Slight reaches sometimes turn out to be great players.

Talking about college football recruiting, the 2009 class, what did you think of that class?  What does it say about guys that don’t have the college careers, yet here they are in the league?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  It’s about talent.  Bryce Brown had great talent.  He’s not rated that highly for no reason.  Matt Barkley was considered the number one player going into this year.  Obviously things went awry, then the shoulder injury. 

Burfict was a top 15 guy on the big board in October of last year.  You know why he plummeted, ended up being a heck of a player with the Bengals this year.  All the other kids you talked about have ability, are highly regarded.

Some kids pass to the NFL differently than others.  Their journey to the NFL hit some bumps in the road.  If you can play, have talent, Bryce Brown proved that out as a late round pick.  He has to shore up the ball security and fumbling, but he’s got the ability running with the ball, like I say, if he doesn’t turn it over, you got to eliminate that.  As a late round pick, he was a good selection for the Philadelphia Eagles.

His brother, Arthur Brown, has a chance to be a solid second round pick as a heck of an inside linebacker who can also be an outside linebacker in the right scheme.

Eddie Lacy has a pretty late pro day tomorrow.  This late in the process, what could he gain or lose?  Also another Alabama player, what are the pros and cons on Jesse Williams at this point?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  A kid who played nose tackle in that 3 4, is incredibly strong, powerful kid, still raw, still learning the game.  I think you look at him as a second round pick.  I think Eddie Lacy is a borderline first.  I think he could easily go where St. Louis is picking at 22, think about Green Bay at 26, even as early at Cincinnati at 21.

I don’t see a scenario where Eddie Lacy doesn’t go in the first.  He’s a runningback.  I’ve never been an advocate of taking a runningback in the first.  They’re going to go.  One usually goes.  You can go back years and years before one didn’t in the first round.  I think Lacy finds a way to go in the first to one of those teams that I mentioned.

Can you assess the Ohio State players, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Nathan Williams?  

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think you look at Hankins in the second round.  He wasn’t as dominant this year as he was two years ago, but he’s got a lot of ability.  I can see like Seattle in the second round could look at him.

You look at John Simon.  I like the way he plays the game.  He’s got a lot of versatility.  He plays with energy.  You look at John Simon, you think early to mid third round.  I project him to Buffalo, 71st pick overall.  Energy, kind of like the old Mike Vrabel who came out of Ohio State, had a nice career in NFL.  Play down end, gives you some scheme versatility.  Great kid.  Tremendously hard worker, great passion for the game.  I think John Simon solidly in the third round now.

Concerning Jarvis Jones, his stock has fluctuated quite a bit.  Where do you feel would be the best fit for him?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He was productive.  He just didn’t run well.  Some don’t.  Look at Terrell Suggs.  I think he goes in that top 15 to 17.  I think he could go to New Orleans after 15, Pittsburgh at 17, maybe even as early as the Jets at nine.  But if I had a say right now, it would be New Orleans at 15 or Pittsburgh at 17.

Da’Rick Rogers at Tennessee Tech, what round you have him going?  How much may he have helped himself if he didn’t have the off field issues?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He’s a talented kid.  He showed that in the SEC at Tennessee.  Certainly this year at Tennessee Tech, had his moments where he looked like an early round pick.  I think gets pushed down a pick.  There’s a lot of wide receivers in that group that don’t have any red flags.  Certainly talent could get him in the fourth round, maybe even the third.  I’d say early day three for Da’Rick Rogers.  If I had to project it now, I’d say fourth round.

You talked in the past about Marcus Lattimore and D.J. Swearinger.  Focus a couple of other South Carolina players, DeVonte Holloman, Devin Taylor, and Ace Sanders.  Where do you think those guys will go in the draft? 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Devin Taylor is the enigma.  All that talent.  Kept waiting for him to become a first round pick.  He never did.  Produced the kind of results you expected.  Flashed, wasn’t consistent.  If you get into the fourth, fifth round area, day three with a kid with that enormous physical gifts he has, it makes sense.

Ace Sanders, the returnability in the slot, didn’t run as well as people thought.  You think about where he can be with his size situation.  At 5’7″, 174, I think he would normally would run in the 4.4s.  He plays to that level.  He’s tremendously quick and explosive.  So with the returnability he could be a day three guy who makes the team and contributes.

Holloman the same way.  I project him as a day three player who makes the team as an outside linebacker.

I was wondering what you thought about the pair of Arkansas runningbacks in Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis?  Do you see any particular fits for them?  How high do you think they could go?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  The teams that need runningbacks, you would look at Green Bay, you would certainly look at Cincinnati, St. Louis, teams like that that could certainly use a runningback into the equation.  Dallas could, as well.  DeMarco Murray has had those injury questions.  Any one of those other teams I mentioned.

Certainly Dallas wouldn’t be a bad spot for him.  You look at where he could end up, as far as a round projection, maybe in the third or fourth for Knile Davis.

I was curious, I saw your recent draft, you had D.J. Swearinger going to the Panthers in the second round.  What did he do to improve his stock so much?  On the Marcus Lattimore front, does any of the stuff he did at pro day help him since he did not run?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think everything he does helps because he’s a great kid.  He’s out there trying to get back to 100%.  He’ll work as hard as anybody possibly can to do it.

I think his passion, his desire, his character is all going to help him because you have to have that to rehab the way he needs to to get back to 100%.  Fortunately there was no nerve damage.  He’s going to play football again.

I think he probably will redshirt this year.  He’ll be ready to go in 2014.  A team that has extra picks in the third or fourth round, I think could look at Marcus Lattimore very seriously at that point.

As far as Swearinger, he was productive.  He’s a good football player.  Second round pick.  The bottom line is when you look at the safeties in that second group, after you look at the top three, which are Vaccaro, Elam, and Cyprien, in no particular order — if you want to put Vaccaro at one, that’s fine, then either Cyprien or Elam — the next fourth safety off the board could be D.J. Swearinger.  Looking at that spot, I gave him to Carolina at 44.  I think he’s a solid second rounder now.

I notice on your latest mock draft, you have the Broncos taking D.J. Hayden at cornerback in the first, Damontre Moore DN in the second, which definitely fits, addresses their priorities here.  Runningback is another one.  I was wondering if you could talk about those two players, why you have them fitting the Broncos?  And were there any runningbacks you considered kind of waffled down, went back and forth with putting a runningback with the Broncos in the first two rounds?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Hayden has a great story to have come back from the life threatening situation, to get himself back in the late first round discussion.  Good cover guy, not great tackler, not great support, but a real good cover guy, and in this league, that’s what you need.

Certainly you look Damontre Moore, great production, great athlete, great intensity.  Just only did 12 reps at the combine.  Only ran a 4.95.  Never saw that when he played.  Saw a kid who produced.  Looked like a top 10 pick.  But if you could get him in the late second, that’s a good choice.

You could look at Giovani Bernard in the third, you can look at Johnathan Franklin from UCLA in the third, Mike Gillislee from Florida in the fourth or fifth, Le’Veon Bell from Michigan State in the fourth or fifth.  Christine Michael from Texas A&M.  Same thing with Knile Davis from Arkansas, Miguel Maysonet from Stony Brook.  There are a lot of backs in this draft.

There’s going to be some steals and some great finds in the late rounds, Joseph Randle at Oklahoma State, Montel Harris at Temple, Jawan Jamison at Rutgers, Kerwynn Williams at Utah State, George Winn at Cincinnati.  There are a lot of backs that are going to be evaluated.

I can guarantee you there’s going to be some fifth, sixth, seventh backs and some undrafted free agent backs that make a team and contribute.

Happens every year.

You said something interesting on D.J. Fluker about how his stock is rising.  Teams are going over their notes and everything.  Why is his stock kind of going up now?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, when you go back, I think everybody looks at the tape, they go back to the games, they look at numbers, they put it all together.  When you have a right tackle who can dominate as a run blocker like he can, incredibly long arms, incredible size, and very little body fat for his size.  He’s very, very, very well put together.

He’s a much better pass blocker than people gave him credit for.  When you looked at what he did, and I said that all year, he did a good job.  Go back to the LSU game.  He wasn’t dominated.  All the great pass rushers were going to get the best of D.J. Fluker, and they didn’t.  There was one team that thought he could be a left tackle.

So as a dominant run blocking right tackle who is adequate in pass protection, could be a little better than that, he deserves to be a top 15 pick, and Miami at 12 would make an awful lot of sense.

You touched on Geno Smith earlier.  When all is said and done, what kind of player do you think he’ll be?  And Matt Barkley, too, for that matter because you have the two of them rated fairly closely.   

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, I think Geno has a chance to be very good.  I think he has the right kind of work ethic.  That’s going to be critical because he’s coming out of a system at West Virginia, transitioning.  He’s going to have to make an adjustment.

Bottom line is he saw the whole field, read the whole field.  He’s not limited in that area.  He was pressured a lot.  That offensive line let him down time and time again at West Virginia.  He’s got some fumbles, got to take better care of the football, better in the pocket.  He has to work on some things.  There’s some concern.

He’s got the arm.  He looked taller than 6’2″, 6’3″.  He’s mobile.  He made a lot of plays with his feet.  Can beat you running with the football.  I think if it all comes together for Geno Smith, he can be a very good quarterback in this league.

For Matt, Matt is a hard working kid, can throw the football.  I hope his arm gets stronger as he moves into the NFL like some have.  He’s limited because he’s a pocket guy.  He’s not going to beat you with his legs.  As a second round pick, I think it makes a lot of sense.

I want to get your thoughts on three Kansas State players.  Arthur Brown, Chris Harper, Collin Klein.  Where do you see them possibly going in the draft?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I like Arthur Brown.  I like everything about the kid.  Collin Klein was on the radio with us at ESPN Radio and raved about him.  Great character, great production.  Has the versatility to be an inside or outside guy.  I think he’s a solid second round pick.

Collin Klein as a quarterback, I don’t see it.  He wants to be a quarterback.  I think he’d have to be a tight end H back.  He doesn’t really want to move to that position, so I think he’s a late round undrafted free agent. 

Looking back a little bit instead of at this draft, early to mid rounds there have been moves in free agency in recent years that have set them back.  I’m wondering when you evaluate a team’s drafts in the past, evaluating the Buc’s drafts, can you evaluate them in terms of misses?  Comparable to other teams.  Look at the 2009 roster, one guy on the roster, which is Josh Freeman.  I think you know these picks.  Do you have a sense of any of that?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, you need some good luck.  You need some guys that stay healthy.  They’ve had some bad luck on that front.  Gerald McCoy was a slow developer, had a nice year, but hasn’t played to the level they thought he would on a consistent basis.  Hopefully he’s turned a corner this past season. 

Defensive linemen they thought they would bring in.  Great pick with Lavonte David.  Mark Barron’s a solid football player.  This year, you think about where they are…

Darrelle Revis trade.  They could at some point add a defensive tackle.  At some point they have to look at the cornerback position if they don’t get Revis.  The cornerback spot this year is very solid.  I think you have to have some good luck and some good fortune.  So far, some things haven’t gone their way. 

But, hey, the bottom line with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is Josh Freeman.  He has to be the quarterback that they drafted him to be and he’s shown flashes of being.  They helped him with the supporting cast.  He’s got to take the next step forward.  If he does, then they have something.  You can overcome some of the mistakes you made or some players not developing like you had thought. 

It’s all about the quarterback, and this is Josh Freeman’s year to put up the numbers or they may have to go in a different direction in 2014. 

If the Bills don’t take Jonathan Cooper or any guard at number two because they’re picked or don’t want one, what position do you think they would go for next?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, they could look at a player like Ezekiel Ansah, if he were still there, or Barkevious Mingo.  You think about the Buffalo Bills at the quarterback position.  Everybody seems to think Ryan Nassib from Syracuse is going to end back up with Doug Marrone, who coached him in college, whether it’s trading down in the first, or trading back into the late first, taking him in the early second. 

That’s the options they have.  I think the guard, it’s very viable, because elite guards, Cooper and Chance Warmack, then they would make a lot of sense to pick number eight. 

There’s some great evaluators that tell you don’t take a guard in the first round, let alone the top 10.  Some teams won’t be interested in guards.  Some will.  I know John Hanna went fourth overall in 1973.  It’s been rare, but it’s happened.  It’s been a rare scenario to see two guards going this high. 

Curious with the muddled quarterback class at the top, a lot of these quarterback needy teams expected to pass in round one, what is the level of risk for Buffalo in round two to wait on a quarterback knowing there’s other quarterback needy teams that may be in the exact same boat in front of them?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You have to be careful or you can get lucky.  Cincinnati waited for Andy Dalton.  Everybody thought Cincinnati was going to trade up to get Andy Dalton, or would have to trade up to get Andy Dalton, it didn’t happen that way. 

Everybody thought San Diego — you know, Drew Brees fell to them after they made the deal with Michael Vick, allowed Vick to go to where he did, Atlanta Falcons that year.  Allowed them to get LaDainian Tomlinson.  They were able to get Drew Brees. 

It has worked being patient and getting some good luck and good fortune.  But to get Nassib where they’re picking in this second round, that’s debatable.  That’s a 41.  He could easily go before that. The strength of their conviction on the quarterback will determine a lot of that.  If they feel like we have to get Ryan Nassib, then they’ll get out of 41 and move up.  That is determined by their feeling. Are they going to be hoping to be lucky and have good fortune or are they going to aggressively move up to get him?  That’s one of the interesting scenarios and dynamics in this draft.           


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