It's here, folks—ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. has released his second mock draft, which you can find here (Insider subscription required).
Kiper has become something of a draft celebrity over the years, so his mocks are met with plenty of fanfare and debate. Below, I'll analyze all 32 first-round selections he's made.
A few notes: Kiper can't project trades in these mocks, though he does point out certain areas he thinks they could occur. He's generally based his mock on the needs of teams rather than the "best player available" model, since it is still early in the offseason scouting process for this year's draft.
And he acknowledges a few players he thinks are first-round talents but dropped out of his mock, such as Ryan Shazier, Aaron Donald and Derek Carr. The lack of Carr in this mock is perhaps the biggest surprise from Kiper.
That's the background info. Now, let's sink our teeth into Kiper's second mock draft this year.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Since this selection at No. 1 informs the rest of Kiper's draft, let's give his full justification for the pick:
My internal debate here was Mr. Football or Mr. Clowney. Thing is, I don't think that's too much different than the scenario going on with Houston right now—just add a few players to the mix. In Manziel, you get a quarterback who in my opinion is ready to play NFL football and make plays, and is preparing with the goal of helping a team right away. In Jadeveon Clowney, you get the most talented player in the draft, a defensive force to pair somewhere along the line with J.J. Watt and create major problems for opposing offenses. Right now I'll stick with the early bet on Manziel, and the idea that coach Bill O'Brien becomes convinced this is his QB of the future.
The Texans really are a quarterback away from potentially competing for a playoff spot again—and Manziel looks like a plug-and-play pick—so in that regard, this selection will make sense. And, like Kiper, I believe the team will go with a quarterback over Jadeveon Clowney.
But is Manziel the best fit for a Bill O'Brien offense? Will O'Brien want to go with the free-wheeling, improvisational player like Johnny Football, a more traditional pocket passer like the cerebral Teddy Bridgewater or a player that checks off every box in the "physical tools template" like Blake Bortles?
All three offer different skill sets and, without sitting in on any Houston draft meetings, it's hard to know what the team will value most highly. So in that regard, mocking Manziel is far from a stretch.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
This pick seems ripe to be dealt, as Kiper acknowledges, but, if they do stay put, he expects they'll go with an offensive tackle. And by the time the combine closes, he feels Robinson will be the most highly regarded player at the position.
There has been a ton of buzz surrounding Robinson in the past month, so it's hard to argue with Kiper's logic in that regard. The team could also go with offensive tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M here—or really shake things up and add receiver Sammy Watkins—but the consensus seems to be that the team will target a tackle and, more than likely, will trade the pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This pick will surprise some folks—the Jags desperately need to add a quarterback of the future—but I tend to agree with Kiper here. If quarterback is need 1A, adding a pass-rushing presence off the edge is 1B, and Clowney is one of the top defensive ends to hit the draft in years.
Could the Jags really pass up on such a dynamic talent, especially with a guy like Manziel already off the board? Could they really pass up on making a big splash with Clowney, especially for a far less sexy pick like Bridgewater or Bortles?
Kiper doesn't think they would, and I tend to agree.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Ultimately, I think the Browns will use their two first-rounders to trade up to the No. 2 spot, or even to get to No. 1. But if they stay put, they'll likely take the top quarterback on the board, and Kiper believes Bridgewater to be that player.
It's hard to imagine Cleveland failing to draft a quarterback with their top pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This is the first surprising pick on Kiper's board, as the Raiders desperately need to improve at quarterback, and Bortles is sitting on the board, ripe for the taking.
Of course, if the Raiders are going to spurn the quarterback position, they can't go wrong with a playmaker like Watkins, arguably the most dynamic offensive player in this draft (depending on how you feel about Johnny Football).
But if the Raiders are making this pick, it's either because they've added a quarterback like Michael Vick in free agency or they've fallen in love with a player they feel they can snag later in the draft. It's hard to see this team going into next season with either Matt McGloin or Terrelle Pryor as the incumbent.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Kiper acknowledged that it's unknown what system Barr will fit into before mocking him to Atlanta, which runs enough of a hybrid 4-3 to utilize Barr's talents as a pass rusher. Personally, I see him as either a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker or an outside backer in a 4-3 Under scheme, since his athleticism makes him versatile beyond being a pure pass rusher.
It remains to be seen whether he or Khalil Mack will be the guy Atlanta looks to, but the position is a definite need.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
As you can see, Kiper doesn't have Mack lasting long. Much like Atlanta, the Bucs really need to improve their pass rush, and Mack is an intriguing prospect that many folks have perhaps not heard of. The Bucs could also go with an offensive tackle, middle linebacker or even tight end here, though Mack would fit a need and be a great value pick.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
You have to think the Vikings would be ecstatic if Bortles fell to them here. Yes, he's a bit raw at the position, but other than his lack of a cannon for an arm, he has every physical tool you would want in a quarterback. If he drops to No. 8, the Vikings probably wouldn't need much time to turn their pick in.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Kiper thinks Matthews would come to Buffalo and start at right tackle, and I tend to agree. While I had him going earlier to the Rams in my latest mock, by the time the draft rolls around, he and Robinson should be pretty equal on many teams' boards.
This isn't a sexy pick for Buffalo, but with talented running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and a young quarterback in E.J. Manuel to protect, it's a smart decision.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Without question, Detroit's biggest need is improving at cornerback. I think the team will be extremely tempted to pair Calvin Johnson with a rookie wide receiver like Mike Evans from Texas A&M here—especially if they feel taking a corner at this slot would be a reach—but it's hard to argue with Kiper's logic on this selection.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Some folks, like Kiper, are high on Lewan and project him to go off the board pretty early. Other folks seem really low on the Michigan offensive tackle and have dropped him toward the end of the first round.
One thing is for certain—offensive tackle is a big need, and if the elite pass rushers are off the board when the Titans draft, look for them to bolster the offensive line.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Kiper acknowledges that the Giants generally don't draft linebackers in the first round, which makes this pick even more surprising. Offensive line seems like the bigger need, but with Lewan going off the board a pick earlier, addressing the position would probably be a stretch. Mosley is certainly a day one starter, so his impact would be felt quickly.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Rams fans and Sam Bradford would love this pick. Evans would give the team the perfect physical, down-the-field threat to pair with playmaker Tavon Austin in the passing game. With the emergence of Zac Stacy at tailback and Bradford playing well before going down for the season with an injury, the Rams offense would suddenly look formidable with Evans on board.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears were atrocious against the run last year, in large part because defensive tackle was such a mess. Jernigan is the top defensive tackle on the board and a very obvious fit for the Bears. As Kiper puts it, this selection has "the hand-to-glove fit of talent and need."
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
It's hard to believe, but the Steelers were very vulnerable against opposing rushing attacks last season, so adding a big, physical defensive lineman like Nix makes plenty of sense. The team could also look to bolster an old secondary with this pick, but adding the top nose tackle in this draft is a logical move.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's not surprising that Kiper projects the Ravens to upgrade the passing attack, but I am a little surprised he has them taking a tight end like Ebron over a wide receiver like Marqise Lee of USC. Ebron is versatile and athletic enough to play split out in certain sets, but the team seems certain to re-sign Dennis Pitta at tight end, a player that has a lot of chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco.
Thus, Lee seems like the better fit, but, in any case, drafting another weapon for Flacco in the passing game should be a priority.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Dallas Cowboys
This has to be a dream scenario for the Cowboys. I don't think Clinton-Dix will drop quite this far, but if he does, you have to think Dallas will jump at the chance to improve a huge area of need. As Kiper notes, the team could also focus on the defensive line here.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Few teams in the league have less offensive playmakers on offense than the Jets, so adding a player like Lee makes perfect sense. New York should absolutely add the top receiver or tight end on their board at this slot.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It's no secret that the Dolphins offensive line is in a state of flux after the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin situation. There is pretty good depth at tackle in this year's draft (at least in the first round), so the Dolphins should be able to upgrade the position if they choose. Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio is another possibility.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Speaking of Kouandjio, he's a logical fit for the Cardinals, as Kiper notes. Keeping Carson Palmer upright has to be a priority for the Cardinals. Of course, finding his long-term replacement should also be a priority, and I'm a bit surprised Kiper doesn't project them to select Carr here. As I mentioned before, dropping Carr out of the first round altogether is pretty surprising.
Especially when you consider that Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller has him going No. 3 overall in his latest mock draft. It just shows you how unpredictable the annual event really is.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
A logical pick for a team that needs help all over the defense. They could also focus on the defensive line here, depending on whom is available.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
I have a feeling this projection will change in the future, especially if the Eagles re-sign Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. In fact, much of free agency will inform this team's draft, since the Birds have cap room to play with. I think many Eagles fans would tell you the biggest need is at safety, but the team could scratch that itch with a player like Jairus Byrd.
If they go that route, they may let either Maclin or Cooper walk (or both), an understandable decision given this draft's depth at wide receiver. One thing is for certain—if they don't address the safety position in free agency, watching Clinton-Dix and Pryor go off the board before they pick will cause some frayed nerves.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs won with an opportunistic defense, the league's best running game and a quarterback in Alex Smith who didn't make dumb mistakes. But the one thing they didn't have was playmakers in the passing game, especially since Dwayne Bowe went missing in action in certain weeks.
As Kiper notes, Benjamin is a bit raw, but his upside is huge and he has the size and playmaking ability to really help this offense. In general, don't be surprised if Kansas City's Round 1 strategy is to simply take the best wide receiver on the board.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
I had the Bengals making this same pick, so of course I completely agree with Kiper's argument that Dennard's style of play fits the team, and he is also a need. The Bengals have veteran depth available, but adding some young blood is necessary. Dennard could start for this team from day one.
25. San Diego Chargers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The Chargers had the league's 29th-ranked pass defense this year. It's not hard to see why Kiper would project them to select a corner. This could also be a player like Jason Verrett or Bradley Roby.
26. Cleveland Browns: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
I'll admit, I'm still familiarizing myself with Adams, but Miller has him as his No. 9 receiver in this draft class, so some folks might think this is a reach from Kiper. We'll see. Kiper describes him as "a strong receiver who will make plays in traffic and beat defenders for the ball on contested throws," which is something any team would want.
Certainly, adding another playmaker in the passing game for whichever young quarterback the Browns select makes sense. Well, if the Browns actually keep this pick come the draft, that is.
27. New Orleans Saints: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
This is another pick that might seem like a stretch, but Kiper does note he feels Richardson will really impress people and move up boards at the combine, so it's hard to fault him for the projection at the moment.
At this point in the draft, the Saints may simply opt to go for the top player available. If they do go tackle, however, Richardson is a player worth monitoring.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Steve Smith isn't getting younger. Brandon LaFell is a mediocre No. 2. There's no question the Panthers need to upgrade at wide receiver, and Kiper feels Cooks is the top value pick at the position at this point in the draft. You may not agree with the player, but it's hard to dispute the need.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
This is a really obvious fit, and a solid value as well. Selecting Amaro would help in two ways—he'd provide a replacement for the role in the offense vacated by Aaron Hernandez, and he'd also be a nice backup plan to have in place for the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski. This selection would make a ton of sense.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
The Niners need more weapons for Colin Kaepernick on the outside, especially if Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham depart in free agency. This pick could just as easily be Allen Robinson from Penn State, but it should be a wide receiver.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Personally, I think the Broncos will look to draft an edge rusher like Shazier here, but adding a corner would also make sense for this defense. Champ Bailey's best days are behind him, and adding depth at the position is a must in this draft. Why not start in the first round?
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
I think tight end is the much bigger need—and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the natural fit—but the Seahawks are in a position to draft the best player available. Adding a taller threat capable of making plays down the field like Robinson would give the Seahawks one of the NFL's most well-rounded receiving corps.
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