NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the NFL Combine fast approaching, ESPN senior draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. hosted another conference call Wednesday regarding his latest projections in his mock draft.
Kiper said players will reap benefits from their participation in last month’s Senior Bowl and other all-star games, their participation in the Combine and on other pro days across the country as they try to impress general managers, coaches and scouts to cut their path into the NFL.
“They’re all important (events),” Kiper said. “It’s like one leads to the other. Senior Bowl leads to the Combine, and the Combine leads to the pro days. Obviously, the Combine is optional, in terms of working out. You don’t have to. You don’t have to do all the different workouts that they ask you to do. You can run, there’s lifting, you have all the different testing that goes on. Obviously, the medical (exam) and the interviews are mandatory, but the other stuff is optional. Some do, some don’t, some benefit tremendously from the Combine, some wait for their pro days.”
The NFL Draft will begin 10 weeks from Thursday, and players who received invitations to participate in the Combine will convene in Indianapolis next week.
Kiper is on his second version of projections and has the Titans selecting LSU defensive end/linebacker Barkevious Mingo with the 10th pick, one spot after he has the New York Jets selecting Oregon defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan. This Mock Draft 2.0 is a switch from his first version, which had Mingo going to the Jets and Jordan slotted for Tennessee. Kiper weighed in on both prospects.
“(Jordan) could be a combo guy. You can use him up and down,” Kiper said. “He had a great finish two years ago to the season. He had six sacks late in the year. He wasn’t as dominant this year, but teams knew he was a guy you had to identify and handle. He’s got enormous upside potential. Barkevious Mingo of LSU is in that similar category, didn’t play as dominant this year as he did last year, but he’s got an awful lot of ability.”
Kiper’s ESPN counterpart Todd McShay is currently projecting the Titans will take Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who is projected by Kiper as the 18th overall pick by Dallas.
Kiper said he has good grades for Warmack, who along with North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper (projected at 11th by San Diego), are the top two guards in Kiper’s current forecast.
“With Warmack it’s, ‘Who is going to be the first guard taken? Is it going to be Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina or will it be Warmack?’ ” Kiper said. “I still have Warmack slightly ahead of Cooper. (They are) different styles of players. Chance is a power guy, dominant player. Cooper is the athlete who can, like I say, go down the field making the block, can pull, can trap, do a lot of things from that standpoint. I think when you look at needs of the teams, it’s hard to put one in the top 10 or 12. I did that with San Diego with Cooper. You could go left tackle there with (Oklahoma’s) Lane Johnson.”
Kiper said Johnson had one of the best weeks of anyone who attended the Senior Bowl, which was limited to seniors and fourth-year juniors who have graduated early. Kiper is currently projecting 18 underclassmen in the first round and said their performances at the Combine will have tremendous significance.
“It’s all important because we don’t have accurate measurables on these underclassmen until the Combine,” Kiper said. “I’ve heard a lot of kids say, ‘I run a 4.4,’ and run a 4.6 (in the 40-yard dash) at the Combine, so you go from being a first-round corner to a fourth-round corner. It happened years ago with players. The Combine is critical, Senior Bowl week is critical, they’re all pretty much one in the same.”
Other items of note:
Kiper said he’s been told that the time that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o clocks in the 40-yard dash will be of utmost importance. Te’o was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy this past season, but has endured much speculation about his draft stock after a bizarre internet hoax in which Te’o said he was the victim of a horrible prank that spiraled out of control.
“(NFL personnel members) have said to me on numerous occasions, it’s what he runs. Even though he had seven interceptions and lost weight and increased his agility and his coverage skills this year, what he runs is going to determine whether he’s an every-down linebacker,” Kiper said. “That’s going to be the most important thing for Manti, whether he goes 13 to Tampa, whether he drops into the 20s. Keep in mind, Baltimore, they have Ray Lewis retiring. They want Dannelle Ellerbe back. They have a hole at inside linebacker. That’s obviously something they would think about. There’s plenty of other teams in the middle of the first who would look at Te’o.”
Kiper said he’d be surprised if former LSU player Tyrann Mathieu is selected before the third and final day of the draft. Mathieau showed explosive abilities as a return man two years ago but was released for violation of team rules.
“Day 3 is when you take a chance and roll the dice on a Tyrann Mathieu,” Kiper said. “If he stays focused and keeps everything together away from football, then you’re looking at a guy that can help your football team. He’s going to help your defense, your special teams.”
Kiper’s current first-round projections include 16 players from the SEC and 16 players from seven other conferences combined, including receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (12, Miami Dolphins), who entered the draft after one season at Tennessee.