You may disagree with his selections, wonder how many pounds of hair product he's used over the years or simply go elsewhere for your NFL draft analysis, but no one can deny ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is the O.G. of the mock-draft game.
Kiper has been mocking so long I assume his first were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. He's been a part of the Worldwide Leader's draft coverage for three decades, and at the ripe young age of 53 should be a regular fixture going into the next decade.
It's Kiper's longevity that keeps him relevant today. He paved the way for the likes of colleague Todd McShay and Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller. Without Kiper I'm sure there would have been someone who had the bright idea of playing the mock guessing game at a certain point, but credit goes as due to the O.G.
And so, even as we live in a culture where everyone can mock draft and feels theirs is impeachable, each Kiper release still has the feeling of an event. #FootballTwitter gets into a huff about what they feel the latest injustice done to society was—as if anyone is going to hit even a 50 percent success rate three weeks removed from the draft. Or fans will send out anonymous, hate-filled screeds. Or maybe like six people go "not bad, bro."
To be very clear: Mock drafting is a thankless task.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Kiper's latest mock—released Thursday, which you can read here if you are an ESPN Insider subscriber—and see what has people talking.
Wait...Where Is Teddy Bridgewater?
Thirty-third. And, no, the NFL did not undergo expansion while we were all sleeping Wednesday night. He's going to the Houston Texans. Not with the No. 1 overall pick the way many were predicting a few short weeks ago—going to them as the first pick in the second round.
This is a shock to the system for myriad reasons. Bridgewater had been the consensus top quarterback in the 2014 draft class for well more than a year before the likes of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr began gathering steam. Even Kiper acknowledges within the text that Bridgewater is the top-rated quarterback on his board.
So how did we get here?
Momentum has been shifting in Bortles' favor since late in college football's regular season, spiking after he led UCF to a Fiesta Bowl upset of Baylor. Bortles is the prototypical quarterback in the most classic sense—a huge, rocket-armed kid with enough athleticism to scramble outside the pocket and buy himself time. You can understand where evaluators begin comparing the two players' physical tools and begin to gravitate toward Bortles.
The ascent of Manziel and Carr is another thing entirely.
Carr and Bridgewater have almost the exact same build. Carr was more productive than Bridgwater from a numbers standpoint last season but played in a system that engenders gaudy passing numbers. Bridgewater did not. Carr is a guy whom you can fall into with in the interview room, and I still like him as a prospect, but it's almost incomprehensible that the Fresno State standout has eclipsed Bridgwater.
And wait. Wait. WAIT. I thought Manziel was supposed to be the controversial prospect here. From his still-developing mechanics to his off-the-field questions (of which I have few, but whatever) to his size (5'11" is not big), Manziel was viewed as the most likely quarterback to take the fall that went to Bridgewater. Was one sensational pro day compared to Bridgewater's shaky one enough to sway coaches and general managers this much?
It appears so.
Kiper doesn't work in trades to his mock drafts—nor should anyone; it's nonsensical—and I'd suspect if Bridgewater lasted into the mid-20s he'd be scooped up there. But the fact that we're discussing Bridgewater as a second-round possibility is crazy.
Marqise Lee Goes Sixth Among WRs
Unlike Bridgewater, you can see the machinations of Lee falling in his position group. He's neither mammoth (he's listed at 6'0" and 192 pounds) nor blazing in the top-end speed department (4.52-second 40 at the combine). A 38-inch vertical is certainly impressive, but when compared to the similarly sized Odell Beckham Jr., it's understandable that trepidation starts to creep in.
Brandin Cooks is a Lilliputian, but one with blazing quickness who makes offensive coordinators swoon with the different ways they could use him. Kelvin Benjamin is a mammoth, athletic, raw project of a player who is something like a wide receiver answer to Bortles. Benjamin has everything you could possibly want in a receiver, though putting it all together is another question entirely.
Just count me among those stumped that a wildly productive and talented receiver like Lee could be sweating out the end of the first round. Injuries marred Lee's junior season, which may have made some forget how unquestionably brilliant he was as a freshman and sophomore. Lee's 117-catch, 1,721-yard, 13-touchdown sophomore campaign is proof positive of what he can do at full health and competency at quarterback.
Remember: USC's offense was a dumpster fire last season. Scouts who are watching tape on Lee see a hobbled guy playing at 50-75 percent attempting to catch balls often thrown in the wrong area of the field.
Lee's backslide reminds me a bit of Keenan Allen's last season. Like Lee, Allen declared early and seemed to be one of the two or three best wide receivers in his class. But Allen's shaky athletic profile—admittedly far more so than Lee's—caused him to drop all the way to the third round, where the Chargers scooped him up. All Allen did during in 2013 was become the 11th rookie receiver since the merger to have 1,000 yards.
The world "reliable" comes up from everyone who was around Lee at USC—including the man himself.
“When you talk about reliable it’s more on and off the field,” Lee told Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website. “No issues coming back to the organization. You’re not hearing anything negative as far as Marqise. On the field, important play, just me being responsible to catch it, knowing how important it is. Just having the team trust in me.”
If the precipitous decline continues, I'm beginning to expect Lee will be an Allen-esque steal toward the end of the first or early second.
Other Noteworthy (Though Less Surprising) Selections
Johnny Manziel (No. 4, Cleveland Browns): Evaluators are still essentially throwing their hands up in the air regarding the quarterback hierarchy. It's still very possible Bortles goes No. 1 overall to Houston, though Jadeveon Clowney looks to have the inside track at this point. No fewer than half of the top-10 teams have glaring long-term needs at quarterback, and Manziel is the riskiest proposition. He may also have the highest ceiling. We've yet to see this new Browns management core in a draft setting, so the No. 4 pick might be a good indicator of their future organizational strategy. If Manziel is the pick, hold onto your seats.
Anthony Barr (No. 25, San Diego Chargers): Viewed as a possible top-10 selection after his senior season, Barr is now settled into the late first round. The former UCLA standout still has a bit of rawness in his game—particularly against the run. The Chargers are nonetheless a strong fit, as they have holes that need filling all over the defense. If Barr lasts to No. 25 and all the top cornerback options are off the board, Barr may have found a home next to Manti Te'o for the next decade.
Cody Latimer (No. 27, New Orleans Saints): As Kiper notes, Latimer is one of the fastest-rising prospects in this draft. Latimer spent his collegiate career rummaging through the waters of anonymity at Indiana but has been impressive everywhere he's gone in the predraft process. The Saints need help at receiver, and Latimer is the type of big-bodied, smart route-runner that Drew Brees loves. With Marques Colston turning 31 in June, adding an eventual replacement isn't the worst idea.
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