Usually giving us five mock drafts for the given season, Kiper has released mock draft 4.0 on ESPN ("insider" access required to view in full), fresh with some surprises in the first 10 picks and a few more down on into the second round.
While no one's mock is ever perfect, there's a good chance Kiper has an inside track on what teams are thinking when it comes to their first-round selections. Kiper does not account for trades in his latest mock, but does assign value to each of his picks and has been fairly consistent in that department over the years.
Before the 2012 draft, Kiper's final mock nailed nine of the prospects that would go in the Top 10, his only miscue being safety Mark Barron to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7 (Kiper had DT Fletcher Cox in that spot).
With likely one more mock to go before draft night in New York City, we'll take a look inside Kiper's mind for his latest team-by-team selections, breaking down what each prospect would mean to his new team based on needs, free-agent signings and talent evaluation—arguably the most important part of the draft process.
Kiper's First-Round Mock
1. Kansas City Chiefs—OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel has been a popular spot for this pick since mock drafting began at the end of the college football season, but he has the unfortunate situation of not being a lock at the top of the first round.
Kansas City addressed its QB need by adding Alex Smith this offseason, and an offensive tackle prospect that could play on either side (Branden Albert was franchised earlier this offseason) is exactly the kind of move Andy Reid and his coaching staff would make to revamp a struggling 2012 offense. Kiper sides with the masses with pick one, even though it might not be the flashiest of selections.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Jacksonville has so many team needs on defense that this pick could go any number of ways. Kiper likes Ansah, the raw but talented defensive end from BYU, to fill the pass-rushing void that the Jags so desperately lack (dead-last in sacks in 2012 with 20.0).
While noted as a fierce edge-setter with a quick burst, there are also some that see Ansah as a project. Jacksonville certainly has a choice to make here with other quality defensive line prospects on the board, but Ansah will be in the mix after putting up good numbers at the combine and blowing most scouts away with his athleticism.
3. Oakland Raiders—DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
While Star Lotulelei was out at the NFL combine, Sharrif Floyd stole his spotlight.
The 6’3”, 297-pound defensive tackle has experience both inside and outside along the line, and is considered one of the most complete players in the draft after extensive testing over the course of this process. As Kiper notes in his piece, Floyd doesn’t exactly fit the scheme, but is still the kind of player that allows defensive coordinators flexibility in play-calling.
Given that the Raiders' 2013 base defense is not exactly set, adding versatile defensive line talent also adds scheme flexibility. Floyd is young, and while very good already, provides a high-ceiling building block for a team in need of those types of players.
Head coach Dennis Allen is a defense-first guy, and there’s little doubt he’s out to improve upon an 18th-place finish in last year’s team defense rankings. Floyd fills an area of need after the departures of Desmond Bryant and Richard Seymour, and is a big-time talent to boot.
4. Philadelphia Eagles—QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
The first big shake-up of Kiper’s draft comes at No. 4, where he sees new head coach Chip Kelly starting his new run-and-gun offense with the best quarterback of the 2013 bunch.
The Eagles have restructured Michael Vick’s contract, avoided a trade for Nick Foles and signed old Oregon ace Dennis Dixon, making this pick a bit strange in terms of need. However, Kelly is an offense-first guy, and if he doesn’t have the QB he wants then the hole thing could fall apart.
With Eric Fisher still around at No. 4 and the Eagles out to improve their defense, it’s hard to see Kelly reaching for a spread QB here. That being said, Smith is a hard-working, special talent that coaches and scouts have raved about. He would certainly create an interesting dynamic at the QB position in Eagles training camp.
5. Detroit Lions—CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
It’s clear that Detroit needs an upgrade at pass-rusher and cornerback, although the team has taken steps in free agency to plug those leaky holes. CB Chris Houston re-signed with the team, as did safety Louis Delmas. Safety Glover Quin is also aboard, giving Detroit three likely starters heading into the preseason.
Still, Detroit would benefit from taking the best cornerback on the board here. Milliner might not be the best candidate to play man-to-man coverage in the draft, but overall his skill set tops an otherwise shaky position in the Top 10.
It’s worth noting that the Lions could be in play for either one of the top two tackles still on the board (Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson), in part because Gosder Cherilus headed to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. Either way, Milliner is the best player at his position and fills an obvious need.
6. Cleveland Browns—DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
A proponent of all things defense these days, the Cleveland Browns are in a favorable position at No. 6. Just like the St. Louis Rams did last year, the Browns can play host to an online auction of sorts for the rights to a number of teams (Tampa Bay, San Diego, New York Jets) that might want to move up the ranks.
If they stay, the best player on defense from a pass-rushing standpoint is Dion Jordan. The Oregon prospect, as Kiper notes, is a classic 3-4 fit at OLB, and he should help add to the pass-rushing help (Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves) that management has already brought on board for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton to work with.
7. Arizona Cardinals—OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
With the QB search in Arizona likely over (Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton are set to battle it out) and Geno Smith off the board, protecting said QBs is a great fit for the Cardinals here. Local radio host Mike Jurecki agrees with this pick, too, noting that Levi Brown could move to right tackle in the event of Fisher’s arrival:
Mike Jurecki @mikejurecki
Mel Kiper latest Mock has Az selecting #7 OT Eric Fisher, IF Fisher is on the board I believe they wld draft him, could move Levi Brown 2 RT4/4/2013, 5:34:03 PM
Some have been proponents of adding local southwest kid Matt Barkley right here, but I think Kiper got it right with this one. Fisher is a four-year left tackle at a Division-I program, and his testing period at the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and pro day has done nothing to dissuade being a potential Top 10 pick.
8. Buffalo Bills—OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Another team slated to be in on QBs is the Buffalo Bills, fresh off the release of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Currently, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Corp are set to duel it out to be the starter, and a regional guy like Geno Smith would be a great choice for Buffalo.
With Smith off the board and the other QB choices slightly underwhelming, Kiper feels that guard Jonathan Cooper is the best interior lineman on the board, and pencils him in to replace departing starter Andy Levitre. While Chance Warmack got early press, Cooper has roared back to overtake Warmack and land in the top 10 picks, a steady move for a team that might not want to leverage its franchise's future on reaching for a QB in Round 1.
9. New York Jets—DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
If the Jets cannot move up in Round 1, taking a pass-rusher or defensive tackle seems to be the best option. Major money is committed to Mark Sanchez, and the idea of adding another disappointing QB doesn’t seem to be an option at all right now, so look for defense to be the pick at No. 9.
In Mingo, the Jets get an unpolished physical specimen who can get to the QB with the best of them. The scary Jets defense of a few seasons ago looked anything but last year, earning only 30.0 sacks and 11 interceptions. As we’ve seen with cross-town rival New York (Giants), pass-rushing help can help mask deficiencies in the secondary. Look for Rex Ryan and new management to employ that strategy early and often in this draft.
10. Tennessee Titans—OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
After signing Levitre away from the Buffalo Bills this offseason and adding a flurry of other moves to stay current in the AFC South (TE Delanie Walker, WR Kevin Walter, S Bernard Pollard and RB Shonn Greene, to name a few), Tennessee is in a favorable position in the draft.
Taking the best player available is never a bad thing if you can afford to do so, and Tennessee can after bolstering a number of needs by getting out its checkbook. By pairing Levitre and Alabama’s Chance Warmack, RB Chris Johnson would have no more complaints of O-line struggles—a move that could help him get back to being CJ2K. Nice pick choice by Kiper.
11. San Diego Chargers—OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
Already suffering through the loss of OG Louis Vasquez to division-rival Denver, the San Diego Chargers are dying to add offensive line help to protect sudden 10-year NFL veteran Philip Rivers (as strange as it sounds).
To do so, looking at the remaining pool of offensive line talent makes things very simple. Lane Johnson is the best tackle on the board both athletically and size-wise, and could develop into a marquee left tackle with a few years of NFL experience. Offensive line is really the only option here, unless San Diego is dead-set on moving up and making sure it can nab one of the better guards (Warmack or Cooper) before another team can do so.
12. Miami Dolphins—OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
With the passing game (Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and Brian Hartline), pass-rushing unit (Randy Starks and Dannell Ellerbe) and secondary (Brent Grimes and Chris Clemons) all upgraded in free agency, offensive line is suddenly the marquee choice in most mocks.
However, Fluker could be a bit of a stretch at No. 12, and feels like a bit of an overreaction to the loss of OT Jake Long in free agency. Fluker would likely start at right tackle right away with the team set on moving Jonathan Martin to the left side, but I’m not sure Fluker has the footwork to ever be a top-tier left tackle in this league. That being said, if offensive tackle is the pick, there is none better than Fluker on the board, and the Dolphins would get their Week 1 starting RT in the process.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
As the news starts to spread that Lotulelei’s heart falls in the normal range (via Lya Wodraska of The Salt Lake Tribune), the word is also starting to spread that Lotulelei is no longer a first-round risk.
With that in mind, Kiper likes the Utah DT to eclipse a muddied group of CBs and become one of the starting DTs along the defensive line, a group that has been largely underwhelming and injury-prone since drafting Gerald McCoy. If Tampa Bay can either get secondary help in the second round or move into the late first to get better value, Lotulelei might be the steal of the draft at No. 13 for a dark-horse Tampa Bay team.
14. Carolina Panthers—DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
The most loaded position in the draft loses another player at No. 14 in Kiper’s draft, as do-it-all DT Sheldon Richardson of both the Big 12 and SEC heads to the Carolina Panthers.
Richardson has extensive experience in two different power conferences, and has seen just about as many offensive looks as you could imagine. Luke Kuechly is firmly entrenched as the team’s starting linebacker in the middle, and adding someone to hold blocks up front might turn a bad 2012 run defense into a solid one in 2013.
15. New Orleans Saints—OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
If you are going to switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 base look, you have to start stockpiling draft picks.
The Saints are in a bad spot because of the Bounty Gate scandal taking away their second-round pick, meaning No. 15 will be their only pick until the third round unless they decide to pull off a trade to move back into the second.
Adding the SEC sack leader and conference Defensive Player of the Year is a good start, especially with a number of players adjusting their normal roles to fit in the new 3-4 scheme. Jones is one of the biggest question marks in terms of first-round placement, but a quality fit on a defense that is both trying to bounce back from a poor 2012 and is changing its defensive strategy, as well.
16. St. Louis Rams—WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
If there’s a first-round marriage that makes more sense than Tavon Austin and the St. Louis Rams, you’d be hard-pressed to prove it to me. Or Kiper, for that matter, who places Austin here as a replacement for Danny Amendola—adding a new element to Sam Bradford’s offense in the process. Not much else to analyze here—great pick for both sides.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers—TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
One of Kiper’s most curious picks comes at No. 17, where he has the Steelers taking the best TE on the board—Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert.
Warranted because of the devastating injury to current TE and Ben Roethlisberger favorite Heath Miller (via Chris Adamski of CBS Sports), Eifert has the athletic ability and receiver skills to take over the position full-time in a few seasons.
However, the Steelers are getting extremely thin on defense after a flurry of offseason casualties, and adding a new pass-rusher to replace the production of James Harrison shouldn’t be overlooked. While I understand Kiper’s decision to place Eifert as high as I’ve seen him in any mock, there are other positions that need filling.
18. Dallas Cowboys—DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Kiper makes a brilliant case for giving Sylvester Williams to the Cowboys at No. 18.
Jay Ratliff is 31 and played just six games for the team in 2012, while the other expected starter at DT under Monte Kiffin’s new 4-3 base defense is converted 3-4 DE Jason Hatcher. Dallas’ need for a DT increased after offseason DUI cases involving both Josh Brent and Ratliff, and the obvious need for more depth at DT is also now there.
Williams is a big, physical DT that can command the middle as well as any of the remaining prospects on the board. Of the remaining players that could provide Dallas depth along the defensive line, Williams appears to be a leading candidate to do so.
19. New York Giants—CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
Kiper and B/R’s own Matt Miller agree—Desmond Trufant is the No. 2 cornerback in the 2013 class:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Trufant. Smoother, better in man coverage. RT @T_Brookey: Desmond Trufant or Xavier Rhodes?4/4/2013, 7:00:28 PM
After Trufant, things get murky, but the Washington prospect and Senior Bowl standout has done enough to be considered as a first-round pick in most formats.
New York, like Dallas at No. 18 and Chicago at No. 20, could upgrade the offensive line here, but Menelik Watson is a stretch and Trufant is fluid in and out of his coverage breaks and has great ball skills.
20. Chicago Bears—LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
You can put it in stone, according to Kiper—Te’o will not be Ray Lewis’ replacement in Baltimore.
The ESPN guru thinks that the drama, national championship performance and pro day/combine disappointments are null and void compared to the senior’s talent on the field.
Instead of replacing Lewis, Te’o would replace another local legend in Chicago—Brian Urlacher.
He’s clearly up to the task as a football prospect, but we haven’t seen Te’o in pads since the personal red flags and subsequent low combine numbers have affected his draft stock. Still, Kiper likes the Irish star to wind up in the top 20 picks.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—OLB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense was quietly one of the best in the NFL over the final few games of the season, and a big reason why they were able to make the playoffs after a somewhat slow start.
It’s clear that Marvin Williams is building his linebacking corp from the ground up, and that starts with the draft. Enter Ogletree, the somewhat undersized (needs to add a few pounds) OLB from Georgia that helped anchor the Bulldog’s front seven. He can cover TEs and is also good in zone coverage—two areas that Cincinnati needs help with going forward. Great pick for both sides.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
While Austin remains a lock for many fans at No. 16, Vaccaro is also inching toward that status at No. 22. The Texas safety has established himself as the head honcho in an otherwise weak draft for first-round starters at the position, and has a resume that includes plenty of sideline-to-sideline plays and hard hits.
Somewhat of a coverage liability in zone looks, I think Jeff Fisher would love to add another guy like Vaccaro to his improving secondary.
23. Minnesota Vikings—WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
If there’s one position that Kiper truly avoids in his first-round mocks this year, it’s wide receiver. Cordarrelle Patterson and Austin run neck and neck in many pre-draft ranking sites, but Patterson has more upside as a go-to guy on the outside.
Minnesota will gladly pluck the rising star up at No. 23, pairing him with an interesting-looking set of receivers that includes veterans Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Percy Harvin's replacement Jarius Wright. The Vikings could take major strides on offense by adding Patterson and allowing Christian Ponder to let it rip more often in 2013.
24. Indianapolis Colts—CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
The Colts added Greg Toler and LaRon Landry to their secondary in 2013 to go along with Vontae Davis and an improving group of young players. However, Toler probably isn’t the best option to start and Xavier Rhodes is still on the board, making for a quality match for the two sides.
It will be interesting to see how Indianapolis attacks its pass-rushing needs after the decision to let Dwight Freeney walk, but Rhodes is better than any of the current defensive end/outside linebacker prospects on the board at this point (the lone exception maybe being Damontre Moore).
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks)—LB Kevin Minter, LSU
The Vikings have an extra first-round pick after sending Harvin to the Seahawks this offseason, and after addressing offense with Patterson, defense is the way to go with pick No. 2 of the opening round.
Kiper justifies this somewhat surprising pick with a quality explanation of Minnesota’s situation at middle linebacker:
If the season started tomorrow, the Vikings might have journeyman Tyrone McKenzie at middle linebacker, so Minter gives them a player they can feel good about penciling into that spot in Week 1. He makes good reads, is a steady tackler and should be provided effective cover based on what the Vikings have up front.
Minter, Erin Henderson and others would be a quality group of linebackers to work with on the defensive side of the ball, and the youngster from LSU brings both coverage ability and tackling consistency to a defense that will have its hands full stopping the different NFC North offenses in 2013.
26. Green Bay Packers—RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Kiper has been hot on this marriage since the draft process began, and he’s sticking with Lacy at pick No. 26 in mock draft 4.0.
The young Alabama running back is leaving school a year early to declare for the draft, but he does not run like a guy that still has college eligibility left. His bruising style and one-cut mentality are perfect for what Green Bay wants to do when it runs the ball, and experience in the pro-style backfield should help Lacy stay on the field down the stretch when Green Bay is trying to take time off the clock late in games—a struggle in 2012.
27. Houston Texans—WR Robert Woods, USC
A peculiar selection by some standards, Kiper likes USC’s second-best receiver in 2012 to be the third receiver off the board in the 2013 draft. DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen and Terrance Williams (among others) all had similar success in college and have good NFL measurables, but the speedy Woods does give Houston an outside threat that helps complement Andre Johnson in a way Walter never really could.
WR is the pick here, but the choice is not limited to Woods. Others could and will be in play before Houston is on the clock.
28. Denver Broncos—CB D.J. Hayden, Houston
D.J. Hayden’s story is one that should be well documented in the days leading up to the draft, and there’s a good chance the former JUCO product could wind up in the first round after a terrific showing at the NFL combine.
While not the biggest, fastest or most electric corner of the remaining bunch, he has prototypical NFL size and played receivers well during his time in Houston. Denver could use an upgrade at the corner position (Champ Bailey won’t be around forever) and secondary is one of the few places that Denver will be considered weak at heading into a Super Bowl-or-bust season.
29. New England Patriots—WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Depending on what kind of receiver the Patriots are looking for, Justin Hunter could turn out to be the next great Tom Brady target.
With long arms, a huge vertical leap and good speed to boot, Hunter could turn into Randy Moss lite for New England in 2013, giving the Patriots a vertical threat that can go up in the air and take the ball away from defenders for the first time since the marriage between Brady and Moss went south.
Like the selection of Woods, there are many receivers in this range that will be considered as late first-round picks. However, Hunter fills a need and has some of the most impressive physical gifts of any receiver in this class.
30. Atlanta Falcons—OT Kyle Long, Oregon
Kyle Long has gone from baseball player to first-round NFL draft material in a matter of four years. Howie’s son and Chris’ brother made huge leaps at Oregon last year after spending time at JUCO for a season to get his football legs under him, and Kiper has the Falcons shoring up their offensive line with a high-rising prospect.
While defensive end and secondary are also positions of need, Atlanta could leverage those options at the bottom of the second round and feel confident that the player it wants will still be available. While Long might be considered a project by some, he has two family members with NFL history and will have plenty of help in becoming a left tackle of the future.
31. San Francisco 49ers—DE Margus Hunt, SMU
Like he does with the Atlanta pick, Kiper ignores San Francisco’s most obvious need (secondary, despite Nnamdi Asomugha's arrival) and fills the No. 2 spot (defensive line) with the selection of Margus Hunt. Another high-riser with impressive physical size and gifts, Hunt could eventually replace Justin Smith along the defensive line and would add depth to the Niners’ defensive line.
32. Baltimore Ravens—S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
He’s no Ed Reed, but Jonathan Cyprien is a name you should familiarize yourself with. The Florida International star safety has emerged as a true candidate to take over the safety position in Baltimore, where both Reed and Bernard Pollard are no longer with the world champs.
Kiper justifies ignoring the linebacker position with the loss of both Minter and Te’o off the board, and the Ravens could certainly choose to go in another direction (trade down, best value overall) with the last pick of the first round. However, an effective tackler with football smarts, Cyprien would be an under-the-radar pick who helps Baltimore avoid a major letdown in 2013.
Kiper's Second-Round Mock
|33||Jacksonville||QB Matt Barkley||USC|
|34||San Francisco (via KC)||S Matt Elam||Florida|
|35||Philadelphia||OT Menelik Watson||Florida State|
|36||Detroit||DE Bjoern Werner||Florida State|
|37||Cincinnati (via OAK)||S Shamarko Thomas||Syracuse|
|38||Arizona||DE Datone Jones||UCLA|
|39||New York Jets||TE Zach Ertz||Stanford|
|40||Tennessee||WR Keenan Allen||Cal-Berkeley|
|41||Buffalo||QB Ryan Nassib||Syracuse|
|42||Miami||DE Tank Carradine||Florida State|
|43||Tampa Bay||CB Jamar Taylor ||Boise State|
|44||Carolina||S D.J. Swearinger ||South Carolina |
|45||San Diego||LB Arthur Brown ||Kansas State |
|46||St. Louis||RB Montee Ball ||Wisconsin |
|47||Dallas||OL Justin Pugh||Syracuse |
|48||Pittsburgh||OLB Cornelius Washington||Georgia |
|49||New York Giants||LB Sio Moore||Connecticut |
|50||Chicago||DT Jesse Williams||Alabama |
|51||Washington||CB Bildi Wreh-Wilson||Connecticut |
|52||Minnesota||DT Kawann Short ||Purdue |
|53||Cincinnati||CB Johnthan Banks ||Mississippi State |
|54||Miami (from IND)||CB Robert Alford ||S.E. Louisiana|
|55||Green Bay||S J.J. Wilcox ||Georgia Southern|
|56||Seattle||DT Johnathan Hankins||Ohio State |
|57||Houston||DT John Jenkins ||Georgia |
|58||Denver||DE Damontre Moore ||Texas A&M |
|59||New England||CB Tyrann Mathieu ||LSU |
|60||Atlanta||LB Khaseem Greene ||Rutgers|
|61||San Francisco||TE Gavin Escobar||San Diego State |
|62||Baltimore||OT Terron Armstead||Arkansas-Pine Bluff |
Note: Cleveland forfeits its second-round pick after selecting WR Josh Gordon in 2012 Supplemental draft (via NFL.com). New Orleans forfeits its second-round pick due to Bounty Gate scandal (via USA Today).