Transcript of ESPN’s NFL Draft Conference Call with Mel Kiper Jr.


Transcript of ESPN’s NFL Draft Conference Call with Mel Kiper Jr.

Q: Do you think there’s a chance Omar Bolden or Vontaze Burfict may not be drafted?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  It’s a chance they may not, but we’ll go to Burfict first.  You think about the year that he had, which wasn’t spectacular, for the fact that he ran the five flat 40, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties we chronicled.  I had written about that all year.  I think you look at Vontaze Burfict as a guy that has probably dropped as much in this draft in terms of his rating as probably any prospect in recent times in terms of going from an early rounder to being talked about now as a sixth, seventh rounder or undrafted free agent, in an inside linebacker group that frankly is very poor, very weak.  There’s not that many, so this was a year where if you’re an inside linebacker, middle linebacker you thought that you would have had a reasonable good chance. 

I’ll give you an example.  Another Pac 10 inside linebacker who can also play outside, Mychal Kendricks, his stock has soared to the point where he’s probably in the early to mid-second round discussion now.  So here’s a Cal kid, same conference, in the early second, and here’s Vontaze Burfict, who’s now late round or undrafted free agent, so that’s pretty amazing.

In terms of Bolden coming back from that injury, the torn ACL, he didn’t have it and actually when you think about as late as some of the other kids have had it, so that will help him moving forward through the process.  He was a heck of a player when he was healthy.  You go back to early in his career, he was an outstanding player.  You go back to the year 2010, he did a real good job, and if he can stay healthy, he’s over 5’10”, he’s a solid 200 pounds, strong kid, understands what it takes to play that position at the pro level from just an awareness and instinctual standpoint.  I would say he could end up — and the cornerbacks are going to come flying off the board.  The receivers are very strong this year.  The position is very deep at wide receiver.  You can make an argument, a strong argument, that there’s probably going to be    if you just took a top 150, you could put 29 to 30 wide receivers in that top 150.  You’ve got to match that.  So I’d roughly see 25 to 27 cornerbacks that could be in the top 150, 175.           

So in this league, this pass happy league, you’ve got to have corners, and that’s going to help Bolden maybe become an early day three pick. 

Q: Tell me what you like about Morris Claiborne, how he compares to Patrick Peterson and what he needs to work on, and then two, Rueben Randle’s chances of staying in the first round among the wide receivers. 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, Randle, I’ve got to start with Randle first.  He didn’t wow me over.  I think you talk about burst out of his break of explosiveness.  That’s something, that wow factor he didn’t have, and some of that obviously had to do with the quarterback play and the passing offense at LSU.  But he’s probably a second round pick.  I’m not as high on him as maybe some people are.          

Claiborne, I’ve been high on all through the process as you probably know if you followed the rankings, and certainly as a pure corner, from a technique standpoint, a ball skill standpoint, excellent player.  Obviously you want to see him be in a situation where he can rough that receiver up a little bit more, use his hands a little better, control things early, which you can do in the NFL, you cannot do down the field, so there’s an automatic adjustment period for these college corners that like to lay back and then drive and accelerate down the field in certain situations where you can’t at the pro level.           

So there’s an adjustment period there; rough them up early, then you’ve got to back off or you’ll get penalized time and again.  I think that’s something he’ll adjust to.  Phenomenal, he’s got wide receiver type ball skills in terms of when the ball is in the air, it’s his.  Size wise he’s over 5’11”.           

He’s the kind of guy who can return kicks if you need him to.  He’s not the great athlete that Patrick Peterson is, but is a pure corner.  In this league, he’s needed.  That’s why he’s in the discussion at three for Minnesota and probably won’t last anywhere past Tampa Bay at five. 

Q: Obviously the Colts are going to take the quarterback at one, probably Luck.  Through the years teams have taken a quarterback No. 1 and then not given him the right people around them.  How important is it for the Colts to make sure they get the wide receivers and the offensive line to give this guy a chance, and how do you see round two and three guys that might be there, Coby Fleener or whoever, that might help this team give Luck a chance to succeed early and often?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  This team has so many holes.  I mean, it almost on paper looks like an expansion team.  With the No. 1 pick, they pretty much are tearing it down, trying to build it back up.  It resembles an expansion team.  They obviously have Freeney and Mathis and they’re going to be adjusting possibly to new positions.  You think about offensively Reggie Wayne is there, but he’s at the end of his career.  If you look at the kind of players they’re starting, like I say, it has the look of an expansion team.          

It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re picking No. 1 again next year.  Andrew Luck, you just hope he can survive.  You put him out there; you hope he can survive with this personnel around him.        

Obviously they have a pick in the top of the second, and you also have to think about the defense.  You can’t forget about the defense.  The defense has a lot of holes, too, and if you’re going with this scheme you need players who can play it.  They brought in a couple guys from the Ravens, Redding and Zbikowski, to help out there in terms of just understanding what Chuck Pagano wants.        

But will Fleener be there in the second round?  Possibly.  I’ve been going one pick ahead, and obviously if you have Andrew Luck, you bring in Coby Fleener, there’s nothing wrong with that.  (Peyton) Manning relied on the tight ends heavily and certainly Fleener did it at Stanford, was a key guy.  Fleener was the go to guy for Andrew Luck.  Andrew Luck also had two other tight ends that were heavily in the mix.           

The bottom line is, yeah, that could be, but you have so many need areas.  You could go wide receiver at some point early, offensive line early.  You could go defensive line early.  This team has got so many holes where they can just basically set up their board and just pick accordingly. 

Q: I just want to ask you about being a University of Miami guy, what are your projections right now for Lamar Miller and Tommy Streeter and what are the biggest concerns that are keeping those guys from being higher on the board?  Is Miller’s shoulder surgery an issue?  And also your thoughts on Sean Spence?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, basically the lack of versatility from Miller.  He’s a great runner.  He’s explosive, he’s dynamic.  At the NFL level you’ve got to be able to be an accomplished receiver, you’ve got to block and you’ve got to be durable, and I think that’s where Lamar Miller has got some questions to answer in that regard, but as a runner he’s exceptional.  I really liked him at Miami.  He can hit that hole.           

You watch him play, you don’t think he’s as big as he is, but he’s not a little scat back, but he plays like it because, like I say, he’s such a home run hitter.  He’s a game breaker.  But the versatility is not there.          

For Streeter, here’s a guy I thought needed some more time at Miami, raw, has some talent, there’s no question about that.  I think another guy that’s very intriguing at that particular program just because I think he can do a little bit more would be Benjamin.  I think he’s the kind of kid that you look at can probably give you a little bit more in terms of overall versatility, which is what teams want early on.  He’s a flier.  He’s a great athlete, tremendously fast, and when you think about what he can do in the return game, I think he might give you a little more early on while Streeter is developing as a pure receiver.  Maybe Streeter down the road can be something that gives you an opportunity to maybe see him push to the third spot, maybe the second spot because he’s a big kid.  You’re talking about a kid that’s 6’5″, angular, and he’s only 217, but at 6’5″, he can definitely present some matchup problems.  But he’s a one year wonder and he’s got some work to do.          

I think down the road, two, three years, Streeter may be the better pure receiver, but I think the versatility that Benjamin provides will help them.  Spence, the big thing is the size.  You look at him and you think, I thought maybe he could be a safety at certain points in his career because he didn’t look like a linebacker.  But he’s a form tackler.        

On the weak side, Lavonte David is another one out of Nebraska, the throw back type guys, the 4-3 weak side guys that can cover that aren’t that big, and Spence for me is a kid who is very good tackler, one of the best tackling linebackers in this draft.  But at 5’11” and change, about 228 to 230, that’s the only issue is the size factor with him.  I think he will be, though, a late second-, early third-round pick, and he’ll help you on special teams.          

But 4-3 teams that need a weak side linebacker will look at Spence.  He and Lavonte David fit that mold.  A lot of these other guys are your 3-4 guys, guys that you can project inside.  He’s one of the true 4-3 weak side linebackers, and I think that will help him maybe get into the late second round. 

Q: What would have to happen for all five Alabama players not to go in the first round? Would you also touch on some of the other later round guys such as Josh Chapman, Marquis Maze and those guys?                 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You could get great odds on that.  It’s not happening.  There’s no chance of that happening.  I would think there’s a much better chance of four of those five going in the first.  There’s no chance of none of the five.  There’s no chance of only two of the five because I think Richardson is a lock, Barron is a lock.  They’re top ten guys.  Richardson is in the top five.  Barron is in the top 10 to 15.  So those two are elite.  You’re talking about elite prospects in this draft.  So those are two guarantees.       

After that, Hightower is a borderline first, Upshaw is a borderline first, Kirkpatrick I think is going to go in the first or probably say between 20 and 32.  So at the end of the day, probably four go.  Maybe one doesn’t.  At the worst you’ll probably have three, and then you could have, like I said, up to five.          

Upshaw is a good football player.  I think people just don’t know where to play him.  You talk to some teams, they say, well, he’s only a defensive end.  He’s 280, he can only be a defensive end.  Then others say, well, he’s 6’1″ and a half and he’s got short arms, he can’t be a defensive end, he’s going to have to be a linebacker.  But he’s 280 and he’s not that explosive.           

I compare him to LaMarr Woodley.  LaMarr Woodley wasn’t even a first round draft choice himself.  So this notion that everybody loved LaMarr Woodley is ridiculous; it wasn’t true.  LaMarr Woodley didn’t go until the second round.           

So for Courtney Upshaw, I still think because he’s a good football player and played for Nick — and I think Nick helps these guys in terms of their preparation and playing on a great team, and they probably all help each other.  But the bottom line is I could see all five going in the first.  Like I say, at worst probably four of these guys.           

And the other kids, Maze in the return game, the guy could be your fifth receiver.  He can help you as a late-round pick.  Menzie’s speed, there’s a lack of catch-up ability that hurts him, could project inside to safety, good football player, though.  He could end up in the late rounds.  He’ll make a team; he’ll get helped by playing for Nick Saban at Alabama.  He may end up being a fifth-round pick despite the lack of great recovery speed.           

Maze — I think Miller’s a sixth or seventh round.  Chapman, I think the injury hurt him, but I think as a nose tackle you can do some things scheme wise with him the way Nick did.  I think he could end up being maybe a fourth-, fifth-round guy.           

All those guys, they tend to help — I think playing for Nick Saban helps these guys in that round of say three through seven, and it may give them a half a round bump up, because people love the fact they’re coached up so well, basically pro coaching, and they’re so much more prepared for what the NFL is going to have to offer.  So those kids will benefit from their career at Alabama playing for Nick Saban.   

Q: I was hoping that you could do a quick breakdown of Chris Rainey and Jaye Howard out of Florida, maybe what round you think they’ll go in, the teams that might be interested, maybe especially on Rainey, I heard he’s been getting a lot of interest lately?            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think he should.  When you look at Rainey, I think there’s speed and versatility, and he gives you the ability to do some things with him in this game.  This is today’s football.  Today’s NFL is different.  When you get a kid you can move around like Rainey can be moved around in offense and present some real matchup issues with his speed and help you on special teams, as well, I think he’s a third, fourth rounder.  I thought that all along.  Jeff Demps would have been in that third round mix certainly if he wasn’t pursuing another sport other than football.        

Howard, we were always waiting.  I talked to people in August.  We kept waiting for him to really come on.  He had the ankle sprain as a junior.  This year he’s a starter — but more productive, you’ve got to give him credit.  He did produce better this year.  He had almost six sacks, five, six sacks.  So the guy did produce.  He had some games where he kind of made some things happen.  You go back to the Georgia game, you go back to the Vanderbilt game, the Florida State game, so he did some things a little bit more impressive than he had been during his career.          

But game to game, at 6’3″, over 300 pounds, I think what he’s got to do at the pro level is get a little stronger in the weight room and be coached up technique wise, and if he is, then maybe in the fifth, sixth round you get yourself a kid who as a defensive tackle can help you.     

I’d say midday three for Howard, I’d say probably early day three, late day two for Rainey.

Q: It was reported this morning that the Browns are conducting a private workout with Matt Kalil, so I was just hoping you could let me know if you think there’s any chance the Vikings could pass on him at three and kind of break down the decision the Browns could face if he ends up there at four.            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  That’s something that’s been discussed a lot because of Minnesota, seeming like now they’re kind of    I wouldn’t say lukewarm, but maybe going a different direction other than Matt Kalil, who they do need.  Minnesota needs a left tackle but they have a need at wide receiver, they have a big need at corner.  They have nobody at corner, and they’re in a division with Stafford, Cutler and Rodgers.  So you’d better have some corners.  They don’t have any beyond the guys that they’re penciling in as starters and there’s some iffy situations there.      

So I would say Morris Claiborne could jump in there.  There’s been talk about them trading down.  But if Kalil is there, you’ve got Joe Thomas.  You’ve got one of the best left tackles in the game.  You could say, well, plenty of right tackles and other issues, you could move somebody over there, fine, but this team needs skill players.          

It would be great to say you could bring Matt Kalil in, but are you going to pass up a running back like Richardson, are you going to pass up a wide receiver like Blackmon?  They passed up Julio Jones last year at seven, let Atlanta come and get him.  The worst skill position talent in the NFL is at Cleveland, and I’m not touting the quarterback because the quarterback had no chance, didn’t have a fighting chance with the talent around him.         

So I can’t see that.  Again, you’re woefully lacking.  You can’t make the argument that Kalil is in the stratosphere of tackles because he’s not.  You can’t say, well, they take the best player.  I would argue I think Kalil, Claiborne, Blackmon and Richardson all bunched together, and you just take the one you feel you need the most.            

Another offensive lineman brought into the mix playing a position he didn’t play, I would not go that route, no.  It’s nice to do all your due diligence, but I would go rather the skill position player or else you’re going to be spinning your wheels again, I think. 

Q: You’ve been doing this a while, and with Luck, is he your highest-graded quarterback since John Elway and that class of 1983, and if so, how high is RG3 in regards to your grade for Luck, and just wondering, you kind of answered it a little bit ago calling the Colts an expansion team, but who has a better chance to have the rookie of the year impact if they go where we expect them to?       

MEL KIPER, JR.:  The second part of it is a tough question, but I think the first part is pretty easy.  Andrew Luck is, in my opinion, and I think you’ve heard that echoed by a lot of people in the league, one of the best quarterbacks to come out    you can go back to Manning, you can certainly go back, as I do, to Elway.  I think he has everything it takes.           

You just hope that he doesn’t end up being like Archie Manning was, with a bad team and never got any help.  You hope that they can build up the personnel base around Andrew Luck.  That’s a challenge of that organization.  Andrew Luck, there’s no question, if Andrew Luck doesn’t look great, it’s not his fault.  He should be a great quarterback.  If he doesn’t, because a quarterback needs help to be effective, then it’s their fault, it’s not his.  He will work as hard as anybody.  He will do everything it takes to improve.  He’s a team guy all the way.  If he’s not successful, it’s because the organization wasn’t able to allow him to be successful.  So this will be on the GM, okay, and the front office and the scouts and all the personnel people and the coaches.  That’s who it’s on.  Andrew Luck has got it.  The question is can they allow him to play to the level that he should.           

You know, in terms of the rookie year, I don’t worry about rookie years.  Too much is made of these rookie years.  Everybody raved about Sam Bradford, now he’s fallen back and there’s questions about how great he can be.  Josh Freeman looked good, now it’s questions about what he is in Tampa.  Then you see guys that take time.  Aaron Rodgers sat for four years, and he’s a great quarterback.  Brees was in San Diego, then he goes to New Orleans and he lights it up.  Eli Manning was called almost a bust at one point, now he’s won two Super Bowls and he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.  Look at Flacco; Flacco was a question, now they say he’s the best, and he’s had a good year overall.           

The bottom line is I think quarterbacks are really in a bad situation now.  They’re asked to play too early, they’re scrutinized as veterans in their first and second year and they’re not ready to be, and they’re kicked to the curb far too early.  There’s guys in their second and third year and they act like they can’t play.  What, because they didn’t show anything as a rookie?  Big deal.  John Elway didn’t show anything as a rookie.  You go back to Troy Aikman’s rookie year, Manning threw 28 interceptions, Peyton Manning did his rookie year.        

To answer the question about the rookie year, if RG3 — because he’s in Washington with Shanahan, a team that beat the Giants twice this year and beat the Green Bay Packers their Super Bowl year two years ago — is he with a much better team?  Sure he is.  The Redskins are ten times the team that the Colts are right now, so RG3 should have a better chance to be successful this year.  Will he?  I don’t know.  He’s still going to be a rookie coming out of a completely different offense at Baylor than the one he’ll run at Washington.  So we’ll see.           

But I think the challenge for the Colts is obviously to build up the talent around Andrew Luck, and I think it’s going to be on that organization to do it.

Q: What impresses you most about Zach Brown when you watch him on film and is he a good fit for a 3-4 and a 4-3?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think he’s a 4-3 guy, but I’ve never seen him as an attacker off the edge.  He’s got speed.  There’s no question about it.  He didn’t test out quite as well athletically as I thought at the combine, not super instinctive.  He was more productive this year than he had been.  He got his weight up, he’s at 243 now.  I just don’t think he’s ever defined exactly what he’s going to be at the pro level.  Very difficult evaluation.         

I’ve said all along, I think Alshon Jeffery on the offensive side, the wide receiver from South Carolina, presents a very difficult evaluation, at least for me, and Zach Brown for me, as well.  Both will be second-round picks probably, but very tough to project how they’re going to fit in at the pro level.  I’ve been kind of all over the place on Brown in terms of a rating, trying to figure him out, and I don’t know right to this day if I have.  He’s the toughest defensive player probably to evaluate, and I think Alshon Jeffery was the toughest offensive player. 

Q: Is Jerel Worthy a first round guy do you think, and just a couple other middle-of-the-pack kind of guys like Cunningham, Martin and maybe Trenton Robinson if you have a handle on where those guys might go?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think Worthy is probably an early two.  Worthy’s production overall from game to game and how he fits in — he’s another guy who ‘how does he fit into a defensive scheme up front I think’ will push him into the second round.          

Robinson, I like what I see of Robinson.  He’s one of those guys who is a playmaker and he tested out extremely well.  He’s a guy that you look at as a football player.  You don’t look at him and say anything else when you see Trenton Robinson play.  I know he’s only 5’10”, 195, but he’s the kind of guy on day three, I think, will be an interesting pick.         

Keshawn Martin, you can move him around a lot as they did at Michigan State.  Get the ball in his hands, he’s great after the catch in the open field, reverses, the wide receiver screens, all that type of thing they do, return game, all those things Keshawn Martin can help you with.  So I think he’s one of those guys in the third, fourth round, will be interesting.         

Cunningham, had some drops.  I think his consistency improved later in his career.  He’s the kind of guy, big target at almost 6’2″, 6’1″, 215 pounds.  He’s got a chance as a day-three pick to make a team, and I think Brian Linthicum, the tight end, has a good chance to make it.  I know he wasn’t invited to the combine but he did some nice things during his career.  Two years ago, I thought he was really good, leveled off a bit and then came on again this year, the transfer from Clemson.  So Linthicum has got a chance as a late-round pick, and at worst a priority undrafted free agent to make a football team. 

Q: When you look at the Detroit Lions and their running back situation, I know you project something, but when you look at LeShoure coming off the injury, possible suspension, you look at Best with the concussion, then you look at Kevin Smith who’s never been able to stay healthy throughout his career, do you say, hey, if there’s a Doug Martin available, they should go after him, and are there other guys you think maybe the Lions should target at maybe that running back position?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, that’s a great question on Detroit because that is true.  In fact, I’ve been discussing that the last couple days when we’ve had our meetings.  The Lions, you know how high I am on Matthew Stafford.  Matthew Stafford is phenomenal, and you’ve got the Megatron, you’ve got the great receiver.  You’ve got all this talent on offense, but you’re scoring points, but you’re putting so much pressure on the passing game, and the passing game should open up the running game, but you have Best with the injury situation, LeShoure with the injury and then the other issues.         

I think Martin is attractive.  If you want him you’re going to probably have to take him at 23.  Maybe you trade down a little bit and get him at the end of the first round or in the early second, but there’s a couple other teams, Giants certainly could take him at 32, Tampa Bay could look at him at 36.  So I would think Martin is a guy you could maybe move down a few spots and still get him.       

Either way you’re going to have to think about a running back at some point, but you’re also at 23 going to have to think corner.  Do you reach a little bit based on the off the field concerns, because talent wise you’re not reaching.  Janoris Jenkins, do you take a chance on Janoris Jenkins, the cornerback from North Alabama there.         

That’s the debate.  Do you look at the corner?  What if Dre Kirkpatrick slides down there from Alabama?  Or do you take the running back or do you trade down?  I think trading down is an option for them if, in fact, Doug Martin is their guy.  I think he would be a viable option on this football team coming in, and a safety, as well.  Harrison Smith from Notre Dame would look good in a Lion uniform.           

They have a couple areas they need to fill.  The defense has got to get a lot better.  Stafford is out there trying to match points with the opposition.  The good offense is just lighting them up, and they’ve got to get better on defense.  It’s going to be tempting to go defense, going to be obviously something with offense with the running back spot, offensive line they could look at at some point in this draft.  But that’s a good question about the running back position because I think they have to address it at some point in the first three or four rounds.  

Q: Just wanted to ask you about the proliferation of the spread offenses in college and how much more difficult that’s made it on projecting guys, whether they’re going to be able to make that jump from college to the NFL and maybe which positions are hardest to evaluate.        

MEL KIPER, JR.:  It makes it difficult from the standpoint of you’re talking about a situation at linebacker where they’ve got to cover.  It’s not the old days where you had to worry about a guy, okay, is he a good run stuffing linebacker, is he a guy that can run sidelines.  Can he cover, and if he can’t, then it’s going to be hard to get him on the field, because you’re passing all the time now.  It used to be situational substitution.  First two downs, then — now every down is a pass.  The passing numbers are through the roof, and it’s going to keep getting — I say worse and worse.  I frankly don’t like all this passing, but it’s not going to decline.  There’s not going to be a drop in this.  It’s going to keep going up and up and up.         

And then you have all the influence of the college coaches coming to the NFL every year and the college influence coming into the NFL.  And I think that’s going to be something we see more and more and more, and that’s the way it is.  So you need all these cornerbacks are getting drafted for that reason, linebackers have to be able to cover, and you need pass rushers.           

On defense if you can cover and you can rush the passer, you’ve got an edge over everybody else, and on offense if you can catch the ball — backs got to be able to catch it, too.  Blocking for backs is very important now because it’s not just blocking on certain — now you’re blocking all the time because you’re passing all the time, so backs have to be able to block.          

Obviously you want the versatile tight ends.  Well, a tight end doesn’t have to block anymore, he just has to be a glorified wide receiver.  So you have to really change.  I’ve been doing it since ’79.  I’ve had to completely alter the whole mode of operation of how you evaluate players.  You have some misses along the way.  While you’re adapting you miss on some guys because you’re too wrapped up in what was going on 10, 15 years ago, so you’ve got to change with the times or you’re going to end up having more misses, and everybody is going to have misses but you don’t want to have misses because what’s in place now is something you have to live with.  You just have to live with what we have now in the NFL and evaluate accordingly, and if you don’t and you get caught in the past, then you’re going to make a lot of mistakes.     

I think the game has changed.  Today’s NFL is the way everybody refers to it, today’s football, today’s NFL, and like I said, you’re going to see more and more of this — not the spread necessarily, as you see in college, but this notion that quarterbacks are never under center.  They aren’t; they’re not under center.  They never command a huddle.  They’re never in a huddle.  Evaluating everybody is a lot different than it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, even well into the ’90s for that matter. 

Q: Other than Chris Rainey and Jaye Howard, are there any other Florida players you can see getting drafted, and what your take is on John Brantley, the quarterback?      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, in terms of Brantley, I almost wrote him up.  He’s a guy that was one of those borderline write up guys.  I listed him.  I didn’t write him up.  I think he’s probably a free agent.  I’d be surprised if he was drafted.  Can he get to a camp?  That’s the thing, you don’t know for sure if a guy just because he’s not drafted will even get to a camp.  There’s only so many spots.  Teams don’t go after 25 to 30 undrafted free agents.  They only usually go after 10 to 15, so it makes it difficult.         

I just hope he’s able to get to a camp.  He’s got some ability, but it’s going to be a difficult situation in terms of trying to project him in this draft because other quarterbacks that are rated ahead of him probably won’t get drafted, and that’s the problem I had when you try to project should you write him up or shouldn’t you.  I just had other quarterbacks that were already evaluated and ready that I thought still maybe going to fall into the undrafted free agent category.            

In terms of the other Florida Gators, no, I don’t see — I’d say Deonte Thompson maybe, the wide receiver, has got speed.  He has some inconsistencies catching the football during his career, but I think the guys that we touched on were the main guys, and certainly, like I said, I also mentioned Jeff Demps because, had he been playing football, continued his career, he would have been a third round or fourth round possibility. 

Q: As far as running backs, has it gotten to the point now that you almost have to be special like a Trent Richardson to be a first-round pick as a back?  And you talked about Jenkins a little bit, but I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit more about Jenkins and maybe a couple other guys other than Burfict who really are questionable whether they’ll go due to character concerns.        

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think in terms of the way you talk about in terms of the character concerns, character concerns vary from team to team.  Some teams look at it and say, hey, we’ve interviewed the guy, our take on the interview and the research we did is different from another team.          

So that’s hard to say.  You have 32 teams in this league.  But I think in terms of Burfict, it wasn’t just the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, it was the fact he didn’t have a great year on the field, then you run a five flat 40.  So it’s a combination.  It’s not just one thing with Burfict that has pushed him into the late rounds or an undrafted free agent situation.  It’s a lot of things.          

Janoris Jenkins is a very intriguing prospect for that reason.  Talent, top 10 to 15.  If he had no red flags, he would be, I think, in the top 15, at worst the top 20, probably top 17 because Cincinnati is picking 17 and needs a corner.  He could still be in the mix; the Lions need a corner desperately at 23.  You could see New England.  One thing about Bill Belichick, he does like Florida players, and Jenkins is a former Florida Gator, had eight interceptions during his career in the SEC.         

Or he could get into the second round very easily.  I have him looking right now going to Carolina, picked 40.  Could he be a first?  Yeah, but if that does push him down, it’ll be for that reason.         

Dre Kirkpatrick gets pushed down a little bit because of that, maybe into the 20s because of that type of scenario.  You know, other than that, in terms of getting hurt dramatically by anything like that, just go through — I can go through, if you have any names of anybody that you want to throw out there, but there’s a lot of guys who have red flags, how many will be affected and impacted severely, I think you pretty much hit on the one that’s going to be impacted the most would be Janoris Jenkins because he would have been a top 10 to 15 pick.    

Looking through as far as the other guys I’m looking through the notes that I had — West Virginia, Bruce Irvin two years ago looked like a first round pick as a defensive end, outside linebacker, pass rusher.  Now he’s probably a second, at one point maybe looked like a third.  Didn’t have the great year he had two years ago this past season, but still, talented.  You could argue he’s one of the top 15 to 20 true freakish talents in this draft.  He’s got unbelievable athletic and physical ability.  33 and a half vertical wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, but I think he could be a second-round pick who at one point in time looked like a first.           

Just going down the line, Janzen Jackson, the defensive back from McNeese State gets pushed down probably into the day three category.  At one point in time he looked like an early round draft.           

Cliff Harris, the cornerback from Oregon, at one point in time he looked like a first- or second-round pick.  He gets pushed down, as well, into the late rounds.  He also was a dynamic punt returner, as well, during his career at Oregon.  Two years ago he was one of the best return men in college football.  He gets pushed way down into the day three category. 

Q: I know you’ve been doing this for a while, and I’m sure you’ve studied a ton of general managers around the league.  Saying that, how do you explain what Kevin Colbert has been able to do, especially in the first round over the past 12 years?  He nearly never misses, and how important is that and how unusual is that for a general manager to do something like that?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, he’s done a great job, and he’s obviously — you have to have good scouts.  It’s not only one person.  That’s the thing, one person gets the credit and they get the criticism.  I think it’s too much.  It’s like you talk about the one entity on a football team, well, the quarterback gets all the praise and all the criticism, and the quarterback needs help and it’s not always his fault, and the same thing with the GMs and the personnel directors.  They get all the credit or all the criticism, and you have to listen to your scouts.  You have to take all that information, sift through it, debate things, flush it all out and figure out what you’re going to do, and who can go through all that information.  You’re going to have scouts that disagree on players, you’re going to have coaches involved in this process that disagree.  How do you work through all that?      

I just know from my standpoint, you evaluate on your own, you talk to everybody, get tons of information, and your head can be spinning after a while.  I’m sure for them, and I know talking to GMs, that’s what happens.  But who works through it the best, you’ve got to have some good luck.  Positional need has to fall a certain way.  The way that draft unfolded that particular year has — so you need, in addition to a lot of skill, you need a lot of good luck and good fortune, and they’ve done a good job.        

Now, they have some holes.  For as good as they’ve done, they still have some holes, and they need a Cameron Heyward to come on.  He was a first round pick a few years ago.  They need him to produce.  And they have some issues.  The offensive line right now is a problematic area.  Willie Colon, we’ll see how he can do, but the bottom line is there’s only two set positions on that offensive line.  Ben Roethlisberger has been getting hit and getting hit a lot.  Is this a declining team?  This is a team that needs a strong draft.  They’re a team you would argue is on the decline.           

And they’ve got to get better, especially like you said on offensive line.  If Ben is going to keep getting hit, you saw him limping around last year.  Now you have Mendenhall off injured, when will he be back?  So you’ve got a running back situation that you’ve got to maybe look to address.      

Nose tackle, you’ve got to address that.  Casey Hampton was a great player for a long time.  You’ve got to get a young nose tackle in that mix.  Inside linebacker, as well, Donte Hightower’s name has come up who would fit that scheme.          

So there’s some issues with this team.  There are issues with the Ravens. The Bengals are kind of an up and comer, so this is a division where the Steelers and the Ravens definitely have some holes to address.  And the Ravens’ offensive line is a concern and the Steelers’ offensive line is a big concern.  And the Steelers also have a tough schedule this year, too.  That’s another thing to have to deal with. 

Q: There seems to be a popular opinion that the second tier of players after that elite group of six or seven stretches from maybe pick seven all the way down to 20.  Assuming you might subscribe to that opinion with the difference in the caliber of players in that range, considered, I’m assuming to be marginal, do you think that means it’s less likely for teams to trade into that range or to try to move up in that range?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, I think there’s a group up at the top that’s very much mixed opinion on.  We’re acting like, I think, a lot of the talk about it always goes down so far.  Well, I can go down to seven and tell you people are kind of critical of some of those players and don’t think they deserve to be up there.       

There’s really not — the only consensus is really the two quarterbacks, Luck and Griffin.  They just go back — somebody asked me about the difference between Luck and Griffin.  Luck has a 9.8 grade, Griffin has a 9.4 grade, so in terms of the range, there is a difference between the two coming in, but Griffin is the second-highest rated player in this draft.  Luck is in the stratosphere.  Griffin has got an excellent grade but not in the stratosphere like Luck is. In terms of the guys in this draft, I don’t like to tier it because if you tier the draft, then you’re talking about how all the seconds and thirds are going to be better than the first? 

The perception going in, like I said, the revisionist history that goes on with the draft is amazing when you go back to how they were viewed when they came in.  I don’t care how they were viewed three years down the road.  How were they viewed when they came in, and that’s what you always have to look back on.  So I go back and I’ve been doing it 34 years.  I can tell you how they were viewed when they came in.         

But people always want to look at stuff after the fact and not use them as comparisons because they made it or they didn’t make it.  I always go back to — everybody thought they exactly had all the answers then but they didn’t.           

So I think the seconds and thirds, the fourths, the undrafted guys, three years from now they should have been in the top 20.  So this is a very inexact science, and I think to make it that way acts like it is exact, and it’s far from it.    

So this perception going in or this feeling going in that everybody agrees with the tiering, they don’t.  You’ll talk to five teams, you’ll get five different tiers and you’ll get guys in the top seven of one team that the other team doesn’t even think three of those guys even belong in the top 15.  So there’s no consensus to seven, eight, nine, ten.  I can just tell you that.           

There’s some people that have some concerns about Matt Kalil being in the top group.  There’s people that have concerns about Blackmon being up there.  Melvin Ingram, where do you play him?  Some don’t think he’s a defensive end, some think he’s an outside linebacker, mixed opinion there.  You talk about Michael Floyd, mixed opinion there, should he be up in the top ten?  Quinton Coples, should he be up there in the top 10 to 15?  Dontari Poe, defensive nose tackle, defensive tackle, should he be up there?         

So it’s really a case where, like I say, I think the ones that I haven’t heard a lot, you could say Trent Richardson, but he’s a running back.  Is it enough?  I’ve said this for 30 years, is it enough value, should you take a running back in the top five when you can get great running backs down the road?       

Then you think about Mark Barron.  Mark Barron has had the hernia surgery but he’s coming back from that.  He’s a safety.  I think he’s one of the elite players in this draft.  You might get him at 14.  I think he’s one of the best players in this draft.         

At the end of the day, opinions are still going to be all over the place, and I think tiering it is a dangerous way to go. 

Q: The Redskins’ third-round pick, obviously they’re looking at right tackle, defensive backs, corners, possibly running back.  I’m curious from your perspective where is the best value there for that and where do you think they should go?       

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, there could be a pretty good corner at that point.  I mean, the right tackle spot, Kelechi Osemele, will he be there; Zebrie Sanders has played right tackle.  I don’t think he can play left tackle in the NFL, so right tackle could be a spot, so it could fall that there’s some players at those positions that help them, and remember, you’re thinking early third round here, this is 69th pick, so there should be a very good player that slips in, probably will be a player that shouldn’t expect to be there that does, which is normally the case in the early third round. 

Q: I just wanted to ask you about three South Carolina players, Stephon Gilmore and Ingram and Jeffery, who you already touched on a little bit.  Where do you see Ingram playing and what’s been so difficult about Jeffery for you to judge, and also, briefly, Furman cornerback Ryan Steed, and do you think anybody will take a chance on Stephen Garcia?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, first of all, I’ll get to South Carolina.  The biggest problem with Jeffery is you don’t know what his body type is going to be.  You always want a player to be the same weight and the same — in the range of speed to show that kind of game day speed that he tests out at a certain weight.  The weight that Alshon Jeffery tested at is not the weight that he played at.  He didn’t play at 212.  He was at 225, 230.  He wasn’t 216 or 212.  So what’s he going to play at?  What’s his best playing weight going to be?  Can he be strong enough at a lower weight?  Is he going to be that power forward at the lower weight?  If he gets his weight up, is he going to separate enough?  Is he going to be able to get open?  I think that’s the question with Alshon Jeffery.  In addition to not having a quarterback to give him the ball on a regular basis there, they went through Garcia and Shaw and all that.          

Bottom line is Jeffery is still going to go in the second round I believe, and he’s a very intriguing prospect.  I was high on him and I dropped him down, and at the end of the day with the way his weight changed and shifted around there, it’s going to push him I think into the second, but he’ll be a guy that’s going to be an interesting case study to see what happens to a player that you didn’t have the assurance that this is going to be his body type at the pro level.         

In terms of Gilmore, he’s skyrocketed because he’s a good football player and he’s a great kid.  When you’re smart, when you’re competitive and as intense a competitor as he is, you’re smart, your character is high, there’s no red flags there, you’re six foot and a half, you ran a great 40, 4.4, you played well, you may be a little stiff, not as fluid in coverage as some of the other guys, but the bottom line is he could go in the top ten.  Just talk about Jacksonville, Carolina, I have him at Cincinnati right now at 17.  But he’s going to go pretty high.           

In terms of Ingram, the big question there is what position does he figure at at the pro level?  Is he a defensive end at 6’1″ and a half with short arms, which as a combination usually isn’t a recipe for success as a pass rusher against these long-armed offensive tacklers you’re going against?  Is he a guy that can play on his feet?  Yes, a 3-4 outside linebacker may be perfect for him.  Some people think he’s a middle linebacker, an inside backer.  So bottom line is Ingram is going to be a heck of a player in this league, it’s just a question of what team is going to feel he’s the right fit for what they’re doing.          

In terms of Garcia, free agent obviously there.          

In terms of Steed had he run a little bit better at the combine, I thought he probably had a chance maybe to be about a fourth or fifth round pick.  If I had to project Steed right now, yeah, he’s 195 pounds, he only ran 4.69 at the combine.  Good player at that level.  I’d say now probably fifth or sixth round.  

Q: I wanted to ask you about Lane Kiffin’s two most touted signees in Tennessee in ’09 in Janzen Jackson and Bryce Brown.  I know you just briefly touched on Jackson a second ago.  Why do you have him as a day three pick?  And then I asked you about Brown on the first one of these you did, and you thought he was probably in that free agent category and he’s since kind of run well at pro day.  I didn’t know if that had changed anything.       

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Janzen is a talented kid.  He can play corner or safety.  He’s 5’11” and a half, a solid 190.  He could get a little stronger in the weight room, but he’s got the kind of measurables you look for.  Didn’t run as well at the combine as I thought he would, tested athletically like you thought he would.  He’s a talented kid.  You combine his size, the leaping ability, the athleticism, what he was doing early on at Tennessee.  But I think the off-the-field concerns, they had a disappointing combine workout, as well, so when you have the combine that wasn’t up to the level for a kid that was expected to be such a great talent, then he didn’t show that enormous talent at the combine.  Then, the off-the-field concern, instead of being a second-, third-round pick you become a day three pick.           

In terms of Bryce Brown, all you can go by, there’s not a body of work there.  What he did in high school, it’s not like the NBA where high school tells you what a kid is going to be coming out of high school, sometimes go right in.  I know he’s got the perfect physical components to be a good running back in this league, but the body of work is not there.          

The bottom line is that the production would have been there, yeah, he could have been an early-round guy.  Can he get drafted?  I have him right now — you’re talking about 30 running backs.  Are there going to be 30?  No, so I would say probably undrafted, but if somebody feels like his potential and his workout was enough to say let’s roll the dice in the seventh round, maybe, but I’ll still say undrafted free agent who can get to camp and maybe surprise a little bit, but there’s just not enough body of work to say he’s a draftable player for me right now.  That’s just for me. 

Q: Regarding Brad Smelley, I’m wondering if the trend of smaller H-backs is enough for him to get drafted.            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I’ve liked Brad Smelley through the process.  I think he was a guy that was kind of one of those under-the-radar major college contributors at a top level team that won a National Championship, an H-back, the move to tight end position is perfect for him.  This is a kid that catches the ball extremely well in the passing game.  He was the guy that McCarron looked to along with Marquis Maze certainly, but I thought Smelley was a guy with excellent hands, made some big catches.  You think about how he was at crunch time of games and in important games. 

There’s a role for him.  In this league right now, in the NFL right now, there’s a role for Brad Smelley.  How high will he go?  Probably not until late.  He wasn’t even invited to the combine workout, but I think late as an undrafted guy, remember Dane Sanzenbacher went undrafted and was a key guy, a go-to guy as a wide receiver at Ohio State, played at a high level.  He made the Bears and he contributed.  Cutler got the ball to him some this year, and he made some nice catches and contributed to that offense there.  So there’s a kid Sanzenbacher I thought would be a fourth-, fifth-round pick, he went undrafted.  Smelley I think could be a fifth- to seventh-round pick.  Could he go undrafted?  Sure he could.  Do I think he makes the team and contributes, I really think Smelley will make a team and help them out this year as a rookie in the NFL.  We’ll see.  But I think he’s draftable.  If he doesn’t get drafted, he makes the team. 

Q: Just looking at some defensive ends who could fit the Lions.  I wanted to see if you can compare Whitney Mercilus, Nick Perry, Andre Branch, anyone else who could be in that mix?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I like Mercilus out of that group you mentioned, a guy that leads the nation in sacks, leads the nation in forced fumbles.  I don’t like one year wonders, but you’re not taking him in the top 10 to 15 there at 23.  I think he could actually go a little earlier than that.  I think he would look good in a Bear uniform.  But I think when you look at him and 6’3″ and a half, 260 to 265 pounds, strong in the upper body, closes well.  I like the fact he’s a natural pass rusher, got natural pass rush instinct and natural pass rush moves, which is critical moving forward in the NFL.  He plays the run adequately.  I think you look at a guy right there who with another year at Illinois, if he would have played one more year at Illinois, he would have been up there where Simeon Rice was, in the top five, Simeon Rice, the former great player at Illinois and a good player in the NFL.  Bottom line with Mercilus, if you can get him at 23, you’ve got yourself value.  I don’t think he’ll be there.  I think Perry will be.  I think Branch is more of a second-round pick.         

I think Perry is a late one.  Perry could also fit a 3-4 scheme.  He’s a pass rusher.  He had a real good year a couple years ago, then a lackluster year the following season and came on this past year.  So a little up and down during his career at USC, but a guy that did show the ability to put heat on the quarterback.  I would think– Perry, that’s borderline at 23.  I would think you could consider Mercilus kind of a value pick at that point. 

Q: You touched on this earlier, the Ravens and how many needs they have on the offensive line.  How important is it that they address that position in Round 1 and do you feel like there’s enough depth at that position where they can possibly go another route in the first round like wide receiver, linebacker and then address the O line later?

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, they’re going to be a team that I think will address the offensive line at some point.  They could go the center-guard.  They could also look at an offensive tackle.  I think it’ll probably fall, either a Peter Konz from Wisconsin, a Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin who’s a guard, as well a real mauler up front.         

I think you look at the linebacker situation, if they could add a linebacker at some point I think they would.  Wide receiver has to have return skills.  That’s again where you look at a lot of these guys, a T.Y. Hilton from Florida International would fill that void in terms of the return game and also be a slot receiver.  Joe Adams from Arkansas.  Some of the guys early if they’re good receivers, you don’t worry about their return skills because it’s not like you have to have that.  You would prefer it, but you can get some guys, maybe a guy late that can just fill that type of role.  Maybe a Mark Rodgers from Cal Poly, a running back, could fill that role as a return man.   

You don’t necessarily have to have that guy that can do both, but they have to get another receiver.  They have to draft another receiver at some point.  But I think the center position because you’ve got Matt Birk with one more year here, that’s it.  You could play Konz at guard.  He pulled, he trapped, he showed a lot of ability at Wisconsin from that standpoint.  I think he’s the kind of guy you could take as a rookie, put him at guard knowing that the following year he moves inside to the center position. 

Q: Two questions:  As we bear down in the last week here, are there a couple guys who have moved dramatically one way or another on your board, and my second question is sort of local, a kid out of Toledo, Eric Page, who’s coming out a year early as a kick returner, receiver type, just if you have any thoughts on him.    

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, I have Page — he was a guy, he made some impact plays, and he jumped out at you in some of those Toledo games.  I commented about him even on College Football Tonight with Freddie Coleman when we do it on Saturday night, even during the day when you do your hits on game day on the radio side.  Page was a guy when you were watching the game with Toledo, he was the impact player, the difference maker on offense.  5’9″, 185 pounds, fast enough.  He gives you that versatility in the return game.          

I gave him a late-round grade.  I think he could be a guy you could look at in the sixth, seventh round or as a priority free agent.          

In terms of guys moving up a little bit, on the big board today, which will be up on, I can tell you in terms of the top group, not a lot of movement for obvious reasons.  Today was the last day teams could bring players to their facility, so you have 30 guys you can bring in between the end of the combines or late February until now.  That ends today.  You can still go out and privately work kids out, and that will be happening.  The late medical came in, late character stuff comes in, coaches are involved in the process.  There is some movement or fluidity on boards, but I would say moving up or moving down, Bobby Massie is a kid who I have at 21 right now, right tackle at Ole Miss.  They beat Alabama in the recruiting process to get Massie.  He’s done everything through the process, had a good solid career at Ole Miss.  He’s the kind of guy who’s just one of the really good football players in this draft.           

I’ve always been high on the Lavonte Davids and players like that, so they’re in the top 25 still, even though they got pushed down a little bit because of the ascension of a couple other guys.        

Courtney Upshaw at 25, he’s dropped because you don’t know where to play him.  Again, I think he’s an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but people beg to differ, some do, that think he’s a defensive end.  We’ll see.  That’s why he’s at 25.       

Mark Barron has moved up a little bit as one of the best pure football players in this draft, a safety out of Alabama.  David DeCastro, the guard out of Stanford, you could make an argument he’s one of the safest picks in this draft as a guard who’s got a heck of a pro career ahead of him.  Stephon Gilmore, I had him at 13, he’s up to 12, but in the NFL he’s being bumped up.  A lot of positive commentary about Gilmore.      

Cordy Glenn, I bumped up because I liked him all year and I like his versatility, and I like the fact that if he doesn’t get it done at right tackle you’ve got yourself a heck of a guard.  I liked Glenn back in September.  I went right back to where I had him, which is at 14.          

Quinton Coples has come down a bit, just because he wasn’t productive from the start to the finish, and he doesn’t have the great wingspan of some of the other defensive linemen that have come out with his hype of height at 6’6″, so he’s dropped a bit.  I left Tannehill at 18.           

So pretty much that’s the little — let me see, as far as the positional breakdowns, you’ll see some changes there, some slight changes.  Jeff Allen is a kid out of Illinois, a left tackle, can play a variety of positions up front, started 47 consecutive games, never made that many mental mistakes at Illinois, very smart football player.  Because there aren’t many left tackles, Jeff Allen from Illinois could be in the early second round discussion, and A.J. Jenkins, the wide receiver from Illinois, because of his great hands and he ran so well, he could be in the early second.  So the Illinois kids, Mercilus, Jenkins and Allen, have all enhanced their rating since the end of the season and all could go, Mercilus as a one and I think Jenkins and Allen are twos, so that’s three Illinois guys in the first couple rounds. 

Q: You touched on Mercilus a little bit before, and I guess a broader question concerns I don’t want to say one year wonders, but the projections or the reaching that might be going on in this first round, and I’m looking also at Stephen Hill.  Looking at guys who don’t have the four years or three solid years, is this a draft where people are may be looking at a Quinton Coples and overlooking an attitude because he’s a better physical specimen?  Are there going to be some disappointments in this first round because of infatuations with a guy like Hill, maybe his speed or Mercilus with the sack total for the one year?       

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Just what you covered is the tough part of the whole process, the juniors come out with somewhat of a limited — more limited body of work, but sometimes that helps them because you can’t shoot as many holes, find as many red flags.  And then the guy that stayed a long time, you’re picking them apart and you find something that bothers you.  And in this game, which is the tough part, some of these guys play through injury, and you might see some things they don’t like, but they weren’t 100 percent, and when they are 100 percent they’re a different player.        

Then you have Dontari Poe at Memphis.  Not productive, but he’s playing at Memphis.  They were dominated in just about every game, and he’s the one guy you had to block if you’re the opposition to handle them, and then also you don’t get the    one thing about defensive linemen in the college game, you don’t get the rest.  You don’t get a chance.  Stamina and endurance, you get worn out because you’re playing so many plays, and in the NFL you rotate, so you have a lot more limited play number.           

So when your play numbers are down in the NFL, you have a chance to sustain it.  You can’t sustain it in college when you’re out there every play.  That’s why they wear down.  That’s the one criticism of these defensive linemen in college; they take plays off.  Well, they’re tired.  These are 300-plus pounders, in Dontari Poe’s case a 345 pounder.  So I think that’s where you’ve got to try to weigh all this.  It’s not easy.        

There’s not many sure things coming out of the draft every year, so that makes it very difficult.  But I think your point is well taken about the one year wonders.          

I mentioned Tommy Streeter, the wide receiver from Miami, you talk about Mercilus and what he did this year was spectacular.  But you go back to August with Mercilus, he wasn’t even considered one of their top five defensive players going into the year, and he emerges as this dominant player.         

There always comes with that, some risk, but at the end of the day, he’s going to go in the top 20 to 25.

Q: My question is about the Jets.  They have several needs, but it looks like at 16 the top guys, maybe their top target at those needs will be gone.  Do you see them as a candidate to move up to try to grab a guy like Barron or Ingram, and if they do stay at 16, do you think they’re going to be left with a player– you talked about Upshaw, maybe questions about exactly does he fit in the 3-4 outside linebacker scheme?             

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, thanks for your participation in this and I appreciate the question.  I think in terms of the Jets, they have probably as many holes as any team that’s considered a playoff team in the NFL right now.  If you look through that roster, you see areas that they need help.  They need another defensive end in the mix.  You have DeVito opposite Wilkerson, they could upgrade the right defensive tackle spot, they could certainly upgrade the outside linebacker position.  They lack a pass rusher that can close and finish.  You think about the secondary, LaRon Landry has had two straight years with Achilles injuries, and he’s only had four career interceptions, not a ball hawk back there.  You think about the offense, the right tackle position.  You also have a situation at wide receiver.  You would expect Santonio Holmes to bounce back and play better, but we’ll see.           

Then the running game, I know Greene got better as the year went along, but he’s not a great back, so you have a lot of issues there.          

In terms of where they could go, I still think a pass rusher, but I don’t think necessarily it’ll fall that way for them.  Do they take a guy like Michael Brockers and put him on the other side with Wilkerson who was their first-round pick last year?  Barron would be a great pick.  Mark Barron is a heck of a player, but you’d have to probably move up.  You have Dallas looking at Barron, you have Philadelphia maybe looking at Barron.  So I think they would have to jump up a little bit to get a guy like Barron and bring him into the fold.  And Michael Floyd if he were there — is Michael Floyd still going to be around? — probably not.  To get maybe one of those types of guys, they’re going to have to move up a little bit.  If they stay where they are, then they may end up with a defensive lineman.  If they want to take an outside linebacker and project a Mercilus to that position, they could go that route.          

Like I said, if they want a right tackle, I’d move down a little bit and look at Bobby Massie from Ole Miss.  I don’t know if they’ll go that route or not, but that could be another option, particularly maybe when you think about the rounds after the first.  I would think a right tackle at some point has to be heavily in the discussion, and Bobby Massie would be perfect.  He could be an immediate hole-filler at that spot, a heck of a player coming out of Ole Miss. 

Q: I wanted to see what you thought of Drew, Blair Walsh, and I guess Hilton, the top returner in the group.           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, T.Y. Hilton is the top returner, Rodgers from Cal Poly is a heck of a returner, there’s a lot of guys, Joe Adams is a phenomenal punt returner at Arkansas.  A lot of things he did were highlight film material.  Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton, guys like that definitely can help you in the receiving game.           

I think in terms of the punters, Anger at Cal was a top punter.  Butler is the second-highest rated punter.  Both are day three guys, probably fifth- to seventh-round type guys.  Shawn Powell from Florida State is think is your third punter, so those are your three that I think are at the top of the group.           

And as far as the kicking situation, I have Walsh as the third-highest rated kicker.  You look at the inconsistencies this year, I think he went from being a draftable guy to probably being an undrafted free agent.  Hey, if you look at two years ago, he looked like he was a fifth round guy.  I’d say Butler, late rounder free agent, Walsh same thing, probably more of a free agent, but I think he’ll have a chance to compete for a job. 

Q: Can you first talk about University of Missouri’s draft prospects this year, particularly Michael Egnew, Dominique Hamilton and Jacquies Smith and kind of where they’re predicted to go?  And also, how far away is the University of Missouri from getting a reputation for turning out top talent on the defensive line?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, in terms of Smith, you think about a kid who can get after the quarterback, gives you a little versatility, he could be in the late-round discussion.  I think in terms of Egnew, he’s in the early-round discussion.  I’ve said that all along.  I said it back at the beginning of the year and middle and end.  His rating dropped a little bit from where it was.  He wasn’t elite because he’s not going to be an in-line blocker, you know that, but in this league right now, at 6’5″ he was 249, he’s going to probably carry 265 during his career.  He ran a 4.53 at the combine, tremendous athletic ability.  He’s got soft hands, very athletic kid, going to get bigger.  This is a guy that caught a ton of passes the last two years.  This past season he dropped in terms of his receptions.  So the 50 the previous year, with Gabbert he had a ton of catches, 90 catches.  You’re talking about a guy that caught a lot of balls, and now what hurts, as well, people get into that, well, the trend of Missouri tight ends with Chase Coffman not getting it done, Martin Rucker not getting it done, but you’re not going to be looking at Egnew.  Those guys weren’t early round picks, super early.  Egnew is probably going to be a third-round pick, and you hope he can make it one for three, that he can be one of the last three tight ends at Missouri to really develop at the pro level and be a guy that can really help an offensive football team, a team on the offensive side of the ball. 

I’d roll the dice with Egnew and hope that he can do that in the third round. 

Q: With the Eagles and their situation, there’s been a lot of talk about them possibly moving up into the top ten, and I think that there’s some speculation they’d be more interested in a guy like Fletcher Cox than Ryan Tannehill if they did that.  How do you see that whole thing playing out, and where do you think the best value is for them if they move into the top ten?             

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think Cox is a guy, as all these defensive tackles are, that’s a bit of a roll of the dice.  There’s always going to be some boom or bust with these guys.  Cox started slow, came on as the season went along, and he’s a one gap penetrator.  That’s what he is.  So he’s a little different than a Poe and a Brockers from that standpoint.      

I think when you look at moving up, I would look at Mark Barron.  The safety position is a problematic area for them.  They tried with Nate Allen, they tried with Jarrett.  It didn’t work, up until this point at least it hasn’t.  You can get a guy like Mark Barron if he’s there, and I don’t think he necessarily will be.  I think Dallas has to certainly look at him, but he would be a guy if he’s there to definitely have an eye on.          

But I think in terms of the defensive tackle spot, Cedric Thornton has ability, young kid there, but it makes sense to go defensive tackle.  And Cox, personally, I think he could be there.  There’s talk about Carolina at nine.  That would be the one team that could look at him as far as a defensive tackle early on.  Kansas City is looking more for a nose tackle like Dontari Poe, okay, so then you’ll think Seattle is looking more for a defensive end, so I would think if you’re looking at Cox, if Cox gets by Carolina you’re fine.  The question is, will he?  So if they’re concerned about Carolina, then you jump up with Jacksonville to seven and you take him.          

As far as Tannehill, I can’t see that.  I think quarterback maybe in the second round.  You have two second-round picks, you’ve got the pick from Arizona at 51, you’ve got your own at 46.  If you like Kirk Cousins, say, which there’s a lot of talk they like Kirk Cousins from Michigan State, then you think about him there.  But for Ryan Tannehill, that’s a luxury pick there at that particular point.          

To move up, they’ve got to give up something, as well, and this team has got some holes.  This is a team that could bounce right back into contention for some real good things next year and have a bounce back year, but they’ve got a couple areas they need to address, defensive tackle obviously one of them, safety being another.  They feel like Bell will give them the left tackle that they need to make up for the injury to Peters.           

But I think the safety and the defensive tackle spot has to be addressed, and there will be an opportunity.  If you move up to seven — I would move up to get Barron at seven before I would move up to get Cox, and I would certainly think even with Barron, if Barron slips, the team you have to get ahead of would be Dallas at 14.  So there might be some competition there.  If Barron slips down a little bit, which I think he will because those teams don’t need safeties, and all of a sudden you’ve got teams in the same division, Dallas at 14, Philadelphia at 15, that could definitely use a guy like Mark Barron.  Dallas has a big problem at safety right now.  They added Brandon Carr in free agency.  I think it’s going to be interesting to see how those two teams figure it out in terms of the middle of the first round. 

Q: I’m just wondering what you can tell me about Riley Reiff, what you think his strengths are and what kind of impact he will make right away. 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, you like Iowa offensive linemen, number one.  Kirk Ferentz really helps those guys, like Nick Saban helps defensive players we say coming in and players in general, so does Kirk with his ability to coach up offensive line.  That’s his specialty.  I think when you look at being a left tackle in a left tackle situation this year that’s not very strong helps him.  He can also play right tackle.  This is a guy that gets after you.           

Arm length is an issue at left tackle.  He doesn’t have the longest arms of left tackles in this draft or any draft for that matter, so that’s a concern at the left tackle spot.           

We saw it with Marshal Yanda when he came out of Iowa.  He was a guard because he doesn’t have that ability at tackle, that arm length that you look for, as well.  But at 6’5½” 310, 315 pounds, a rugged approach, really serious about his business, functionally strong, has the wrestling background you like, works on his game, practices hard.  I think he’s still in the developmental stage to a certain extent.  Kirk got him to this point.  Kirk Ferentz and that coaching staff got him to this point.  I think he’s deserving of being a top ten pick.  I think he could get down to Arizona at 13.  He’ll be in the discussion for Buffalo at 10.  But he’s certainly off the board by pick 13. 

Q: If the Ravens don’t go offensive line, do you see them going with one of those Alabama prospects or could they even go for a wide receiver like a Stephen Hill even though he’s kind of raw?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, they could.  I think Hill would be somebody maybe they would look at.  You think about the wide receiver position, does it supersede the line?  The line is so critical, and they have a couple guys from Wisconsin that could be staring them in the face.  I don’t think you take Hill when their situation over because the wide receiver is the deepest of just about any spot in this draft.  There’s a ton of wide receivers are going to get drafted.  You might see 30 wide receivers taken, maybe more than that.          

So there’s going to be a lot of lot of wide receivers taken, and I’m talking about slot guys, too, in that group.  They’re all considered wide outs, too.  Some are the outside guys, some are the inside guys.           

But in terms of the Ravens I think that’s a need area for them.  Down the line I think they can get it, like I mentioned T.Y. Hilton from Florida International and some other names of guys that I think could be attractive at that point.  There’s not going to be an attractive center or guard at that particular point.  I mean, the guard has got a little bit of depth but not a lot, center has no depth.  I would think Konz or Zeitler from Wisconsin would make sense for that reason.          

Linebacker wise, a guy that fits what they do is not going to be easy to find.  If you want to replace Jarret Johnson, Shea McClellin would be a guy from Boise State who could fit that mold, tremendously versatile, and he’s a pass rusher.  Jarret didn’t give them a pass rush.  Jarret was a heck of a player, not a pass rusher.  He’s in San Diego now.  But I think a Shea McClellin would give them another dynamic there.  You’ve got Kruger now penciled in at that spot, but that would be a possibility.  McClellin is in that first-round decision right now, and you have to think also about at some point in time you think about the whole linebacker and inside linebacker situation, as well, down the road.  But there’s not that many in this draft that could help them.  That would probably be a late-round possibility. 

Q: You talked about Ingram and Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina.  What about Antonio Allen, where you see him going in the draft, and what about Marty Markett?  I know he made a very good impression on pro day here a few weeks ago.            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You know, I’ve been with Allen all year because the safety position is so weak this year, and it’s such a lean position in terms of depth.  I pushed him up there a little bit because of that.  I like him.  I gave him actually a little bit of a higher grade than Brandon Taylor, kind of flip-flopped on those.  Taylor has got the ability, I just want to see more plays.  He should play a lot better in my opinion, make more impact plays.           

In terms of Allen, he’s an in-the-box guy.  He is what he is.  6’1″ and a quarter, he’s about 210 pounds.  Strong kid, pretty good athletic ability.  I thought he made some decent plays in coverage.  I studied him a lot during the course of the season.  You talk about the entire SEC, he’s a guy that I thought had that underrated tag overall.          

I think he’s the kind of guy you get into the third — in this draft, in the third or fourth round with the safety position being such a position that lacks depth, you could argue there’s only probably five that’ll go in the first say four or five rounds.  I would think early day three at the worst is where I think.  At this stage of the game I would think that would probably be where I would see him coming off the board.  If he goes a little later than that, it wouldn’t shock me just because of the fact that there’s probably going to be a lot of corners taking a hit.  There’s going to be as many corners taken probably as the wide receiver position.  I would say that’s the only thing that could push him down maybe into the fifth round. 

Q: I just wanted to ask you, this is kind of a weird thing, but could you see that maybe the Browns would consider maybe taking Blackmon and Weeden and maybe that would kind of alleviate some of the issues you wondered about Blackmon if he already had the chemistry with his quarterback?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  That’s an interesting discussion about doing that at 22.  If you get Blackmon, you come back — but do you pass on the running back Richardson?  You can only take one player at four.  You’ve got a lot of guys that could help you at four.  Richardson, taking a running back, it’s hard for me to say that, because I’ve always argued against it for 30 years, taking a running back high.  But when they’re good, you think about McFadden, look what he’s meant to the Raiders.  When he’s not healthy, they lose; when he’s healthy they’re a winning team and they are considered almost a playoff-caliber team.          

So fear factor players like Reggie Bush, fear factor player.  When he’s in the game, defenses are up.  That’s the thing:  People will be critical of some of those guys, but when you talk to the guys that matter in the league, the defensive coordinators and the personnel people that talk to them, even if they’re not productive they scare you and they open things for other players.  So that’s what a McFadden does and a Bush does and all those other fear factor players.        

So he to me, Richardson, could be that kind of guy.  And to have a multidimensional player on the field that you never have to take off the field just like Steven Jackson with the Rams, he never has to leave the field, he never fumbles the ball, one fumble his whole career that was lost, it’s tough to overlook that.         

But I can see what you’re saying.  The Blackmon-Weeden dynamic is real.  I mean Weeden has tremendous respect for Blackmon and vice versa.  We talked to Brandon about that.  He raves about Justin Blackmon and the synergy they had together.          

So that’s interesting.  Do I think they’ll do it?  They could, but I still think Trent Richardson is going to be hard to overlook, and we’ll have to see how Ryan Tannehill figures into this whole equation at the quarterback position, as well. 

Q: Three Virginia Tech prospects I had questions about:  David Wilson, where he does fall in the pecking order of the running backs; Jayron Hosley at corner, how big a factor is his size; and is there any shot for Danny Coale, the receiver, being picked?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, that’s a good question, also Eddie Whitley at safety I like, is an underrated guy, wasn’t invited to the combine, but all that kid did was show up and make plays.  I think Eddie Whitley is a late-round undrafted free agent that can make a team.  Coale has great versatility, punted and did all those things.  He can play.  I mean, he can make a team as a fourth receiver, fifth receiver, so I like him on day three.          

Hosley, I loved him a couple years ago when he was making all those interceptions.  This year, yeah, he looked like — to me something was just missing with his game.  He was beaten.  He didn’t look — the awareness, the instincts of the position you didn’t see that you did two years ago.  Like I say, size will work against him at the pro level to a certain extent. 

But I think the fact that he wasn’t as good in coverage, which was his forte, the big plays in coverage was something that was the reason he was so highly regarded going in.  He’s a 5’10”, 175 to 180 pounds, runs well, but I think second round is still a possibility, I’d probably more say third round for him.     

But I would say second is a possibility for Wilson.  The issue is, and they even came on the radio on ESPN with us on Saturday, is the fumbling issue.  If he can figure that out and eliminate that from being a problem, fine.  He’s got good hands out of the backfield.  He had a lot of long runs, 30 plus yard runs in six of the last seven games this year, which is impressive.           

Blocking is going to have to be something that he works on at the pro level.  If backs don’t block, they’re not going to be on the field, so I think it just shows a little bit more versatility from that standpoint.  Blocking is critical for these guys.  They’ve got to learn that and understand that.  And eliminate the fumbles.  I think that’s the reason why instead of a second-round pick    I mean, this guy is one of the best athletes of any running back to come out in years.  He has a 41 vertical, he runs a sub 4.4 sometimes, so the bottom line is he should be a two.  If he’s a three, it’s because of the fumbling issue and because of the fact it’s the NFL, you’ve got to be a running back who can block. 

Q: Was just wondering in your mock draft you had Derek Wolfe going in the first round to New England.  What do you like about him and Isaiah Pead, and do you see any other UC prospects being drafted?    

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You look at Wolfe, I just look at the other defensive tackles, and the productivity doesn’t match.  I look at his combine numbers, 6’5″, almost 300 pounds, running the way he did, under 5 flat, 4.94s and 33 and a half verticals.  You say, well they’re just numbers, but you’re testing the athletic ability, you’re testing the explosiveness, the quickness, and you’re also testing to see how they stack up against all the other guys in all those categories.           

Now, in terms of the overall ability of a guy, if you want to talk about the elite defensive tackles, is he Dontari Poe, no, but is he tremendously more productive than Poe was?  Sure he was.  Derek Wolfe had a ton of tackles, he was behind the line of scrimmage wreaking havoc, he showed pass rush ability.  You’ve got to love the fact that when you look back in his career, a rough, tough aggressive player.  I like a lot of — I’ve always liked Derek Wolfe, and I think for me he’s a late first, at worst he’s an early second, and he’s a 3-4 guy, too, so he fits both schemes.  That versatility will help him.  The production — the computer numbers match the production and vice versa.  So there you go.       

Pead is really ascending.  He could end up being the third running back taken behind Richardson, Doug Martin, and then he could come off the board next very easily because he’s a guy that has outside — you like to see him hit it up inside a little bit more; he doesn’t, he bounces everything wide.  And he will block.  This is a guy that understands protecting the quarterback, and he will block, and that’s a big, big plus for Pead.          

And he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he’s showed he’s got some return skills.  So that’s going to allow him to be maybe a mid- to late-second, early third.  I think Pead has helped himself during the draft process and the All Star Game scenario as much as any running back in this draft.       

I think Wolfe probably second round; Pead, like I said, early second or third, two guys who I think are good football players. 

Q: Some questions about the Boise State guys.  You’re one of the guys that’s moved Shea McClellin up into the first round.  I’m wondering what’s gone on the last couple months that’s pushed him up there.  I think you’ve got Doug around 49 and then I’ve heard you say maybe first round today, so just kind of talk about the possibilities for him.  And then the rest of the Boise State guys, anything that stands out to you about that group. 

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think in terms of Shea McClellin, what you like is the fact that they move him around and he was productive, and then all of a sudden you think about his overall numbers across the board were very good.  At 6’3″ and a half, 260, he can do a lot of different things for you.  He’s athletic.  In their structure, you’re talking about playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker, put his hand on the ground.  There’s a lot of different things you can do with him off the edge, and the most important thing in this league is finding guys who can get after the quarterback.  He can, and I think that’s why when you look at what he did in the Senior Bowl practices and those one-on-one drills, that was eye opening, as well.  He played like a first-round pick during his career at Boise, he played like it at the Senior Bowl, and he tested like it.           

So I think he’s got — and you think about Green Bay, you think about New England, he fits those schemes ideally in the late first round.  So I think he’s got a good chance to be a late first round draft choice.        

Q: On Doug Martin: There’s a big swing between maybe late first round all the way to the middle of the second.           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, for a running back it’s really not, because there’s very few teams that need a running back.  That’s why there’s a big swing.  You’re not going to see certain teams even think about taking a running back in the late-first or early- to mid-second round.  There’s a handful; it’s just like quarterback.  When you do a projection, other positions, teams have multiple needs, and they need a couple linebackers, need a couple linemen, secondary.  But you either need a quarterback or you don’t; you either need a running back or you don’t.  And a lot of these teams don’t; some not only have two, some have three.        

So I think when you look at Doug Martin trying to find a team in the late first, I found one:  The New York Giants, okay, at 32.  If they didn’t take him, then you’ve got Tampa Bay at 36.  They certainly could very easily.  You’ve got San Diego at 49.  You have Denver at 57.  So there’s some teams there that could take a running back.  But that’s why you have that difference of maybe 15, 20 spots in between where he could go and where he may go.  It’s just because he’s a running back, and historically we’ve seen that all over the place, great running backs and good running backs drop a lot further down the draft board than they should.  I don’t think he’ll drop past the early- to mid-second. 

Q: Which quarterbacks in the draft do you think would be good schematic fits for a West Coast offense, and I know we focus so much on the first round picks, but how important is it for a GM to hit on the second- and third-  and fourth-round picks?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  You’ve got to.  It’s critical.  And I think in terms of this draft, even more so.  A lot of good football players are going to go in the second.  Look at last year’s draft; it was same thing.  You talk about hitting on second-round picks, last year’s draft overall from top to bottom was outstanding, and you look even at the third round.  You could go even a little further than that.  You think about where teams would be, second round picks last year, Andy Dalton was a second round pick, Jabaal Sheard in Cleveland was a second round draft choice, the Tennessee Titans got some starters.  They got Akeem Ayers, got him in the second.  Brooks Reed, and look at the contributions he made right away with the Houston Texans.  You’ve got Orlando Franklin with the Denver Broncos, Stefen Wisniewski in Oakland.  These are guys that definitely showed last year — Torrey Smith, look at the contributions he made.  Now, Greg Little had a lot of drops in Cleveland, but he did have some productivity.  Marcus Gilbert with the Steelers.  Think about third round, Justin Houston what he did in Kansas City, got some sacks and got after the quarterback.  I think Chris Culliver did a nice job in San Francisco.  So you’ve got to hit those picks.        

In terms of the type of offense and what they fit and the schemes that the quarterbacks belong in, obviously some of these guys — you think about Shanahan with RG3, I think he’ll fit what Mike likes to do and Shanahan likes to do very well in time.  I think you look at Brandon Weeden, the offensive line has got to protect him.  He can get the ball down the field.  He’s a guy, a down the field thrower.  Same thing with Osweiler, same thing with Foles.  Kurt Cousins is a guy that doesn’t wow you over with arm strength; I think he would kind of be a fit there, as well.         

I think obviously if he’s going to make it, you think about Kellen Moore in that type of system only, that would be the only type of system he could fit, maybe an Austin Davis at Southern Miss, but I think in terms of Kellen Moore, if he’s going to have any chance at all with his skill set coming to the NFL, it’s going to be in that type of offense. 

Q: I wonder if you could talk about the depth of talent at the defensive tackle this year, and along the same lines, among the first round defensive tackles, I’m wondering if you see guys that could also play a little bit of defensive end even if it’s a 4-3 system?      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, I think Derek Wolfe in a 3-4 could do that.  A 4-3 probably not.  Brockers was a defensive end in high school, Michael Brockers was at LSU.  He would be that 3-4 and not a four-man front.  Fletcher Cox could certainly play in that system, as well.  Kendall Reyes could, as well.  In terms of a guy in a four-man front you could kick outside, I don’t see anybody there that would fill that void.  I’ll tell you, Mike Martin is a kid at Michigan, liked him throughout his career, has a wrestling background, he was productive.  He plays hard.  He went up in practice against David Molk every day, the center who will be a late round pick, good player.  He presents some versatility and he’ll be a nice third-round pick for somebody.        

Those are some of the guys.  In terms of the four-man front kicking them outside, I think in a 3-4, yeah, you’ve got guys that can play different roles and certainly the five technique.  So I think there’s plenty of those guys in this draft.       

A guy that we haven’t talked about at Boise State, Billy Winn from Boise State, some people like him in the third round, an athletic kid, had some real good games, had a little inconsistency in certain games where he wasn’t as much of a factor.  But here’s a guy that’s got some talent at 6’4″, almost 300 pounds.  There’s a lot of those guys.          

Akiem Hicks is another kid, Regina, Canada, plays for the Regina Rams.  Was at LSU, big kid, needs to be coached, plays high, lacks technique but has ability.  He could be a third- or fourth-round guy that could fit a couple different schemes and gives you a little versatility there, as well. 

Q: Has your view of Orson Charles changed since the end of the season till now, and how do you see him fitting in among the tight ends, and also, with Brandon Boykin, how does he stack up with the cornerbacks and what impact does his leg injury and not working out at the combine and pro day have?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Let’s start with Orson Charles first, then we’ll get to Boykin.  When you’re 6’2″ and a half you’ve got to run a little better and show that — and he did it with the pads on.  The kid made some real good catches.  He can stretch that deep middle which you like, is strong in the upper body.  He’ll block.  That’s the one thing I like about him.  He will definitely help you as a blocker.  He’s not going to shy away from that.  So I think for Orson Charles he was kind of one of those guys, you thought maybe late first, early- to mid-second, then he got pushed down a bit, now he’s kind of back up.  I think he’s in that second, third round.  He’s in that day two discussion.           

For Brandon Boykin, size is the only thing that you would look at with him.  The injury you mentioned, but size is the only thing that I think is going to push him maybe into the third round.  He’s a good return man.  He certainly did a good job in coverage during his career, but at 5’9″ and change, about 180, 185 pounds, that will probably push him down a bit.  But his punt return skills, his overall return skills, kickoff returner, as well.        

I like his feisty approach.  I like the way he gets after it.  He’s got a lot of confidence in his ability, played a lot of good football in the SEC.  So I think maybe second but I’ll say third round right now for Brandon Boykin. 

Q: Just wanted to get your thoughts on the defensive linemen coming out of Clemson Branch and Thompson.  Is there a perception throughout the league that Clemson has become a prime producer of defensive linemen?  And also Coty Sensabaugh had a pretty good combine.  Where might he go?           

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I mean, Thompson, he was actually on the cover of my NFL draft preview that went out in November.  He’s just a solid player.  He’s not spectacular, doesn’t give you the wow factor.  But he will give you like I say, a workmanlike approach, and he gives you what you want in a defensive tackle.  He’s going to occupy, he’ll free up your line and make some plays behind the line of scrimmage occasionally.          

I thought he was a little under publicized.  His quickness, the power was good.  Yeah, I thought he freed up the linebacker, as I said, very good.  You think about upside, he doesn’t have that enormous upside.  That’s why he’s probably going to be more of a two, three, but a good football player.           

Andre Branch, the defensive end, kind of lukewarm at times on him.  I got excited in a couple games watching him, but I’d say more second round for Andre Branch.  I’m not going to think late first like some others, I’ll think more second round for Branch.  Third round probably for Thompson.       

And for Sensabaugh, in this draft, as the way it has been approached, and we talked about how many defensive backs are going to come off the board, yeah, there’s a chance in the late rounds, but I wouldn’t say any higher than that.  I’d say probably when you look at the players that are rated ahead of him and where they’re going to go, probably sixth, seventh round I would think right now is the best scenario.          

You can always — in terms of defensive backs, they can always surprise you.  There’s a couple kids that I haven’t gotten to that are definitely moving up the board, but I would think for Sensabaugh, he’s got good size, he ran exceptionally well.  There’s very few 4.35 to 4.4 corners in this draft that are his size that almost — you know, 5’11” and a half, 190 pounds, so if you look at the measurables and you’ve got a defensive back coach that says, hey, I like his numbers, he played in a good conference, I’ll take a chance with him, then you’re talking about a fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round pick.  If not, then you go undrafted, but I think there’s a chance he could get into the late rounds. 

Q: Could you get into the Browns’ pick at 4 as to what you think they will do?  Sounds like you think they should take Richardson.  But they need a quarterback, and why might Weeden be a good fit for them or Tannehill if they manipulate around up there?      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think you have to decide as a quarterback which one you think can be a successful starter.  It’s not about where they’re rated, it’s not about all that, it’s individual teams assessing — it’s not just because we need one.  You don’t just push one out because you need one.  Is he worthy?  Is he a guy that you think — and if you do like him, do you like him now or do you like him three years down the road?  Aaron Rodgers probably would have struggled his first year or so in the NFL.  He tweaked his delivery significantly.          

So I think when you look at the work that you need as a receiver for 30 games, as a quarterback for only 19, is he going to be expected to be the guy right away, or are they going to know coming in that it’s going to take him a couple years to be an NFL starting quarterback?  Or else you put him out there and look bad and he’ll end up like Blaine Gabbert and others that have been scrutinized and criticized heavily and they lose confidence, and their organization loses confidence in them.        

How do they feel about Tannehill?  That’s something only they can answer, but I would think if you’re looking to help out Colt McCoy, whoever the quarterback is, maybe you decide to go Weeden at 22 or wait until the early second round to take Weeden or look at Osweiler or look at Kirk Cousins or look at any of those quarterbacks, okay, then you’ve got to help them out.  They have the worst skill position talent of any team in the NFL.   

That’s the bottom line when you think about running back, wide receiver, and obviously these impact the quarterback.  So when Greg Little is your best player on the offensive side at wide receiver with the drops he has and being a former running back turned wide receiver, he had one year away from the game, and he’s all of a sudden your guy?  I mean, come on.  And I like Little’s potential, but he can’t be the best weapon there in the passing game.           

I would say Richardson or Blackmon would make sense.  Like I said, I don’t like taking running backs in the top ten or first round for that matter, but for this team and what Richardson brings you, you don’t need anybody else at that spot, he can carry the workload because he can catch, he’ll block, he doesn’t fumble, he can return kicks if you want, he runs inside, he runs outside.         

So for this team Richardson I think is the third best player in this draft, you’re picking fourth, you don’t want to get the sixth, seventh, eighth best player.  Like I said, they have to make a decision on Tannehill.  That’s a call that an individual team has to make.  I can just tell you if you think he’s going to beat out Colt McCoy this year and be able to lead them to victories, I think that would be a tremendous upset and be tremendously optimistic to expect that to happen.  

Q: The Browns need a right tackle, too.  How late could they wait to get a starting right tackle, and who are some of those guys?            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I mean, you think about the early second round, that’s a position in the draft where Bobby Massie from Ole Miss possibly could still be there.  If he’s there at 37, that’s a nice pick.  If you can get a Trent Richardson at 4, determine what you want to do at 22, if you want to go Weeden, you’re going to have to have a strong offensive line with Weeden.  He’s not mobile.  And when he’s pressured in the pocket, he has a little bit of trouble, he has to move out and get outside the pocket, it’s a little bit different in terms of his accuracy.          

I think if you look at protection, it is going to be critical for Brandon Weeden if that’s the direction you go, so a Bobby Massie at that particular point.  Kelechi Osemele cannot play left tackle, which showed up in the season at times and certainly at the Senior Bowl practices.  He’s going to have to play a right tackle or a guard.  But Zebrie Sanders, he’s struggling in pass protection, as well.  He could be a right tackle.  You think about maybe third round.
But I think the best scenario would be Massie at 37, the right tackle out of Ole Miss. 

Q: Looking at this draft, what do you think of the prospects of a small school guy like a Cecil Shorts coming up in the later rounds and making an impact?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, I think there’s a lot of small college guys in this draft that could have an impact.  Some of them may even go early.  They’re not just going to be fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round picks that you’re going to see are going to be fourth, third, second.  Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State who played left tackle will be a guard.  He’s probably going to end up being second-round draft choice.           

You know, a couple guys that I think are good is Chris Greenwood out of Albion in Michigan, a cornerback.  He’s going to end up being probably a third- to fifth-round pick.  There’s a lot of guys like that.  We talked about Ryan Steed from Furman.  How about the kid from Presbyterian, Justin Bethel, a corner?  He could be in the third- or fourth-round discussion very easily.  Jerron McMillian, a safety out of Maine, late round possibility.         

There’s a lot of the small college guys in this draft.  I didn’t mention Brian Quick yet, the wide receiver from Appalachian State.  He could be in the second round mix.  Tom Compton, offensive tackle out of South Dakota, he could be in the fourth round discussion.           

I mean, there’s a lot of kids that are — Trumaine Johnson, the quarterback from Montana, he could be in the second-round discussion.  Josh Norman, the cornerback from Coastal Carolina, he should be no worse than a third-round pick.  Asa Jackson from Cal Poly, a corner, he could be a late round pick.  There’s going to be a ton of guys from the non 1A programs that are going to go in this draft, and as I said, some of them are going to go pretty early. 

Q: I had a question about Kirk Cousins of Michigan State and where you see him falling in the group that’s after the big two there, where you think he’s at right now.      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, you could make an argument.  Again, there’s eight if you throw Russell Wilson into this mix, and he probably should be in this discussion.  I think after locking RG3 you’re talking about Ryan Tannehill and then Brandon Weeden, and Weeden is going to be a 29-year-old rookie.  He turns 29 in October.  Really Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins have kind of been vying for those spots behind that top group.           

There are some who think Cousins is going to go in the second round.  Philadelphia Eagles reportedly had somewhat of an interest.  We’ll see.  They have two picks in the second round.  Denver, there’s talk about them in the second round maybe looking at quarterback, we’ll see on that.  But I think a Kirk Cousins, the fact he’s solid in just about all areas, size-wise, arm strength wise, adequate enough mobility, and that’s not a strength but adequate enough in terms of his awareness in the pocket to get out of trouble and bide some time.  I thought he made some bad decisions.  The red zone wasn’t his friend in terms some of the things that went on there; 49.2 percent was his completion percentage in the red zone.  Even against ranked teams, he had five interceptions, less than 60 percent there.          

But he’s a great kid, great leader, loves the game, passionate worker, studies hard.  I think he could go in the second or third round very easily, no worse than the third and possibly the second. 

Q: I’ve got a question about NC State tight end George Bryan.  He had a pretty good pro day, he lost some weight between that time and the East West game, but how much is he hurt by the workouts that he had at the East West game, and where do you see him going?      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Well, he’s 6’4″ and a half, 265 pounds is what he was.  Now, he loses some weight and what have you, but the bottom line is he can be a guy that can make it as a third tight end.  He’s not going to wow you over athletically.  He presents that nice target.  He did some good things catching the football there in the hook zones.  He’s not going to give you a lot down the field.       

I think blocking, that’s going to have to be something where it’s got to be a strength at the pro level, and that’s something you need to continue to work on.  When you’re that size, you’ve got to get more consistent as a blocker, more dominant as a blocker.  That should be his forte, it shouldn’t be just average.          

That’s an area that if you’re going to make it as a second or third tight end, that’s something you’ve got to do because you’re not going to be a threat down the field.  You’re not going to be the multidimensional receiving option.  You’ve got to block, and you’ve got to be the guy that can excite a team with your ability in that area.  I didn’t think he did at NC State to the level that he should have.  I thought he was adequate, not great, and I think that’s something if he’s going to make it, it’s going to have to be something he improves on and obviously continues to obviously figure out what weight you’re going to be maximizing your ability at as a pass receiver.  But the blocking is critical, and if he sets his mind to that, maybe he can push his way onto a roster.         

Is he drafted?  You know, late or undrafted.  If he was a priority free agent, you’ve got to come in and try to make a football team.  He’s one of those borderline late rounder free agent types.

Q: You gave us a great breakdown on Mike Martin.  David Molk is a guy with a lot of injuries, yet he still was the Rimington Award winner.  Is that a tough thing for teams to kind of weigh the two things against each other, his talent versus the injury history, and obviously this spring he’s been a little banged up, too?      

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He’s a good football player, and I just know that when you’re a veteran and you play as much as he did    I said this all year, you talk about defining what an overachiever is, David Molk does.  He got bigger as his career went along, but he’s right now at about 6’1″, 298, is strong in the upper body.  Short arms, though.  I think that’s the thing.  The centers can overcome that at times.  We’ve seen it.  I remember Jeff Saturday came out of North Carolina after a heck of a career and didn’t get drafted, had an outstanding career with the Indianapolis Colts.  Now he’s moved on to the Green Bay Packers to replace Scott Wells.  There’s a guy that wasn’t even drafted after a heck of a career in the ACC at North Carolina.           

David Molk, if he doesn’t get drafted, I think he can make a team.  I think he could go late, but he’s a guy — he battled Mike Martin in practice.  That’s got to help both of those kids.  He’s got a great football IQ, smart, intelligent football player.  If I was looking for a center, knowing that there aren’t many in this draft, there’s probably five that are draftable, that’s it.  Maybe four only.  You have Peter Konz from Wisconsin, you’ve got Ben Jones from Georgia, he’s probably a third, Philip Blake from Baylor could be in the fourth, fifth round discussion.  Molk is a late rounder.  I think he’ll be a nice pick for somebody, and if not, if you can sign him as a priority free agent, I would do that. 

Q: I was wondering if you could maybe hit on a couple of the mid-round Boise State George Iloka or Billy Winn and maybe identify a couple of teams that might be interested in those two guys.        

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Yeah, I think for Iloka, maybe the Detroit Lions would be a team that certainly could use some help at that particular position.  What Iloka has is range and coverage ability, and I think when you’re as big as he is, you’re 6’3″, almost 225 pounds, he did some nice things in terms of his coverage ability.  He can run.  Very athletic, strong in the upper body.  His computer numbers are that of a first-round draft pick.  You don’t see many safeties coming into the league with the wingspan that he has and the range he has and the cover ability.  

What he needs to do a better job at doing is tackling, be a little more aggressive, be more of that rugged, strong safety rather than the guy who struggles in that area and isn’t impressive area.  Breaking down in space, making those open field tackles, that’s the question.  Consistency and ability to tackle at the safety spot is critical.            

But I think you look at where he could go in the draft, I’d say third round right now.  I think for Billy Winn, Billy Winn has got an awful lot of talent at the defensive tackle spot.  I’d like to see him level off his performances a little bit more, but he could be in the third round discussion very easily.           

I mentioned McClellin earlier.  Boise has got guys that are front and center in this draft that are being evaluated.  Iloka is certainly one of the top five safeties in this draft.  It’s a terrible safety crop.  Like I said, his computer numbers are that of a high draft pick.  I think he goes on day two.  I think McClellin goes in the first round.  Wynn is a borderline day two, day three guy.  Boise State is going to be well represented on the first and second day. 

Q: I was just curious about Kevin Koger, the tight end from Michigan and your projections of him and how you think he stacks up in this tight end class.  I know he’s battling an injury right now, if that impacts his stock at all?         

MEL KIPER, JR.:  He didn’t have the big numbers.  Keep in mind, Denard Robinson is not going to be a quarterback in the NFL; he’s going to be probably a receiver or return man.  So a lot of passes, that’s what hurts Junior Hemingway.  Junior Hemingway is a very underrated receiver out of Michigan, going to be a good fourth- or fifth-round pick for somebody.  Probably would have gone higher if he had a little bit more productivity.  And the quarterback situation throwing the ball at Michigan, Denard Robinson is a great college quarterback, but his throwing ability is very questionable.          

But I think when you look at Koger, didn’t have the production, but here’s a guy, good size, I thought you saw a number of games, a guy that was a good leader, works hard in practice, solid, decent blocker.  I think he can make a team.  A little under the radar because, obviously, the production and the fact that he had a quarterback situation there where it was more run than pass.           

But I think when you look at in terms of success in the passing game, I think he could be a late-round pick.  I wouldn’t say any more than that, but I think a late round, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kevin Koger show up on an NFL roster next year.  

Q: If you’d just very quickly give a rundown what you expect the Lions to do in the early rounds.            

MEL KIPER, JR.:  I think the big thing is going to be where they’re picking.  Do they look at the corner like a Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama, if a Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama slid down that far, they could.  They could look an offensive tackle.  They’ve got to think about running back at some point.  Doug Martin from Boise State is a kid that we discussed.  He’s another one of those Boise State Broncos that’s going to go no later than the second round.  They need to fix that running back situation.  (Jahvid) Best has had the injuries, LeShoure has had issues, injury wise and others, so I think you look at running back as a need area.  Offensive line, they could get a little younger there.          

Defensively, I think the big thing is going to be corner.  At some point in time early in this draft they’ve got to get a corner.  I’ll be interested to see if they take a chance with Janoris Jenkins or if Kirkpatrick is still there at that point. 

Q: I was just wondering about Cleveland, you’ve talked about them.  I’m just talking about looking for some other, I guess, pivotal picks that could go either way in the top ten maybe what Jacksonville is going to do, and also, Tannehill, I really want to focus on him.  Where do you think he’ll fall and other teams that might be interested in him besides Miami at No. 8?        

MEL KIPER, JR.:  The teams you keep hearing, maybe Kansas City, Seattle.  I don’t necessarily look at that.  I would think more viable would be Miami.  That’s his old coach, Mike Sherman.  That’s Joe Philbin, who developed Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn at Green Bay.  So I think they would be the viable team, the team that makes the most sense would be Miami for Tannehill.           

I think in terms of the early portion of the draft, the interesting teams are going to be what Minnesota does at 3, can they trade out, and if they audibilize away from Kalil, who do they go with?  Is Claiborne in fact their pick, and I think they need him.  And then where does Kalil fall after that?  Does Jacksonville get out of there?  Who goes up?  Is it Mark Barron they go up to get?  Who do they go up to get?  Is Cleveland looking to move back ahead of Miami?  They had that 22nd pick as ammunition to get a guy like Tannehill at that point, so you get Richardson at 4, then come back and get Tannehill?  That’ll be interesting to see.           

But I think Jacksonville is a team at 7, there’s not a real great fit for them the way the board is constructed right now.  Melvin Ingram is probably going to be best suited as a 3 4 outside linebacker, a little early for Stephon Gilmore.  They added a couple receivers, Robinson and Evans in free agency, so they may go away from say a Floyd.  Blackmon should go at 6.       

Buffalo will be interesting to see if they take the left tackle Riley Reiff from Iowa or they take Michael Floyd, the wide receiver from Notre Dame.          

And Carolina could take the big defensive tackle Dontari Poe, they could take a defensive tackle like Fletcher Cox, or they could take a cornerback like Stephon Gilmore.  So those are some interesting scenarios in the early part of the first round. 

Q: How do you rate Mike Adams from Ohio State, the defensive tackle, and where do you see him in the future?          

MEL KIPER, JR.:  Hard call on Mike Adams.  Mike Adams is a guy with enormous athletic ability and talent.  He looks like a top 10 pick, top 15 pick.  You look at him when he played and the inconsistencies at left tackle.  He’s got to get stronger, as well.  I think you look at Mike Adams as a guy that, hey, somebody could roll the dice in the late first round or he could fall into the second very easily.  He’s one of those guys, he’s got kind of that boom or bust tag because he’s over 6’7″, 325 pounds, but he’s got to get stronger.  He’s got to get more of an attitude to move people off that line and be more aggressive as a run blocker and be more consistent in pass protection.  You can’t have lapses of concentration in the NFL because the quarterback is the key.           

I think he should be a first based on talent, but his performance with the pads on and not getting to the point strength quotient wise where he should be could push him into the early to mid-second round.         

FastScripts by ASAP Sports (please excuse typos)








Allie Stoneberg

I advance ESPN’s communications and publicity efforts for NFL studio programming, Monday Night Football, the NFL Draft and our coverage of the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. I enjoy meeting journalists in person at games and events and delight in showing them around our Bristol, Conn., campus.
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