There is perhaps no more recognized name among NFL draft scouts and pundits than Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN. As a result, there's probably no scout/pundit who is more heavily criticized, either.
In the spirit of criticism, as well as educating readers on the various prospects available to their team in the draft, let's take a look at Kiper's first-round picks around the AFC East in his latest mock draft (ESPN Insider content).
8. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
Kiper says: "The Dolphins will be adding a quarterback—Manning is obviously in play—and Reiff puts the finishing touches on an improved offensive line. Reiff was exceptional this past season, and given how complete he is right now, stepping in immediately on the right side shouldn't be a problem."
My slant: If the Dolphins add a quarterback via free agency, whether it be Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, they will probably use the draft to look for help in the trenches, either on offense or defense.
The Dolphins had a hard time protecting the quarterback last year and gave up 52 sacks in 2011 for the third-highest total in the league. With the addition of Reiff, the Dolphins would boast a top-notch duo of tackles along with Jake Long in addition to their frist-round center in Mike Pouncey.
And just imagine if they add center Jeff Saturday via free agency and slide Pouncey over to guard.
10. Buffalo Bills: Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina
Kiper says: "Ingram's stock is on the rise, and the Bills need a pass-rusher. He's billed as a defensive end based on the system at South Carolina, but Buffalo can use him in their personnel groupings and not limit what he does best. He's a pass-rusher, but isn't a guy that becomes a liability against the run. I think there is still growth in Ingram's game, as he learns to better disengage from blocks."
My slant: Judging by his reasoning, I'm not sure Kiper knows the Bills are transitioning to a 4-3 defense. If Ingram is what Kiper implies, though, he could be a fit. His small frame would be a bit of a concern in terms of run defense, but if he's explosive enough to compensate, it shouldn't be a problem.
Kiper points out, though, that he still has to learn to disengage from blocks. His short arms will be a huge disadvantage as he goes up against bigger offensive tackles like Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder in New England, D'Brickashaw Ferguson in New York and others.
What the Bills need most are solid three-down fits at defensive end that can be the building blocks for their new-look front.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, Alabama
Kiper says: "Rex Ryan needs a guy that can get to the quarterback on his own, meaning without a blitz package, and Upshaw is that kind of player. He plays with a high motor, sheds blocks well with quickness and violent hands and makes plenty of sense in Ryan's system. He's also bigger than he was listed at Alabama."
My slant: Kiper isn't the first to project Upshaw to the Jets, and he probably won't be the last. Linebacker Bryan Thomas isn't getting any younger and missed most of 2011 with an injury. Since Ropati Pitoitua likely isn't a long-term answer, they'll need to upgrade.
Upshaw's a quick fix that could also be a long-term fix. He has experience in the 3-4 defense and can get after the quarterback from pretty much anywhere in that front.
27. New England Patriots: Kendall Reyes, Defensive Tackle, Connecticut
Kiper says: "The Patriots know they have to get better along the defensive front, and that could come via free agency (Mario Williams?). Still, I'd be surprised if they don't target it in the draft, even though Bill Belichick never fails to make moves and surprise during the draft. Reyes provides an active run-stuffer up front, a guy that can eat up blocks and free up rushers."
My slant: There are mixed reviews on Reyes' viability as a first-round pick. When it comes to the need, however, it's tough to debate that New England could definitely use a physical body up front, specifically a non-rotational guy who can make an impact on all three downs.
Reyes isn't much of a pass-rusher at nearly 300 pounds, but his effectiveness up front as a run-stuffer will frequently draw double-teams which will ultimately free up the linebackers to make plays.
I just described how a two-gap defense works, and Reyes seems like a fit in that sense.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, Northern Alabama
Kiper says: "There's no question Jenkins comes with baggage, but without it you're talking about a player in the conversation 20 spots higher on the board. If you like your locker room and feel like you can keep him on track, this is the kind of guy you take a risk on at a big need position."
My slant: One problem, Mel: The Patriots don't need a cornerback nearly as bad as you, or anyone else seems to think. At the risk of redundancy, they already have Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling at cornerback. Whether that trio can be a winning unit is yet unknown, but all three have shown promise. Any cornerbacks they search for should be an insurance policy more than an immediate replacement.
What's more, it seems wildly out of the norm for Bill Belichick to spend a high pick on a player with as much baggage as Jenkins.
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