Kiper has crafted a number of mocks throughout the past few months, but none are likely to be as accurate as the most recent one he submitted on Wednesday—a day prior to the first round getting underway.
The 53-year-old draftnik is one of the most respected voices in the industry and doesn’t tend to make any shocking picks unless he truly believes they have a strong chance of happening during the event. However, there are still a number of selections that jump off the page due to their deviation from the consensus and are well worth discussing.
Let’s take a look at his final first-round picks and highlight a few of the most notable.
|1||Houston Texans||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina|
|2||St. Louis Rams||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars||Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo|
|4||Cleveland Browns||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson|
|5||Oakland Raiders||Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M|
|6||Atlanta Falcons||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M|
|8||Minnesota Vikings||Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh|
|9||Buffalo Bills||Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan|
|10||Detroit Lions||Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State|
|11||Tennessee Titans||Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA|
|12||New York Giants||Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame|
|13||St. Louis Rams||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama|
|14||Chicago Bears||Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State|
|16||Dallas Cowboys||Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State|
|17||Baltimore Ravens||Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina|
|18||New York Jets||Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU|
|19||Miami Dolphins||Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee|
|20||Arizona Cardinals||Blake Bortles, QB, UCF|
|21||Green Bay Packers||C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama|
|22||Philadelphia Eagles||Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||Marqise Lee, WR, USC|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State|
|25||San Diego Chargers||Stan Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska|
|26||Cleveland Browns||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville|
|27||New Orleans Saints||Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young|
|28||Carolina Panthers||Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada|
|29||New England Patriots||Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville|
|30||San Francisco 49ers||Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana|
|31||Denver Broncos||Jason Verrett, CB, TCU|
|32||Seattle Seahawks||Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia|
http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft/mock/?season=2014&version=6&source=mel-kiper-mock-draft (subscription required).
Back in Action: Teddy Bridgewater to Cleveland Browns at No. 26
Teddy Bridgewater is back in the first round after taking a long hiatus from Kiper’s mock.
The Louisville signal-caller was coming off the board as high as No. 4 in his second mock draft and went No. 5 overall in the third edition of this piece, but he had been projected to fall into the second round from mid-April up until now.
While he’s no longer considered a top-five prospect, Kiper did cite Bridgewater’s potential to become a starter for the Cleveland Browns and a few other reasons for his sudden re-emergence in the top 32 prior to the actual draft:
The Browns didn't take a QB at No. 4, but with Bridgewater on the board, I don't think they'll wait around and assume they still get a guy they think has the chance to start early further down the draft board. What Bridgewater lacks in arm strength, size, and escapability, he gives you back in anticipation, accuracy, smarts and work ethic. I really don't think there's a more consistently accurate QB available in this draft, and you have to feel better about his chances if you have Watkins, Gordon and Jordan Cameron as the weapons.
Bridgewater would have quite a trio of options if he were throwing passes to Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon and Cameron, making Cleveland an ideal landing spot for this Cardinals product. Factor in that Cleveland’s analytical department is extremely high on this kid’s skills, and you are looking at a perfect match.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the club has conducted research that identified Bridgewater as the quarterback prospect with the highest chance of success in this class:
Fueling the Browns' interest in Bridgewater is an expensive and thorough analytics study the team commissioned evaluating decades of successful NFL quarterbacks and taking all sorts of variables into consideration, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. ...
The quarterback study, at a cost of over $100,000, ultimately pointed to Bridgewater having the best success rate of this year's group of quarterbacks, and the trend to analytics is taken very seriously within the Browns organization.
Don’t be surprised if Cleveland goes as far as trading up to nab this talented star, especially if the front office feels he will not be available at No. 26. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports pointed out one scenario that could occur on Thursday night:
While Kiper didn’t project a trade, he likely hit the nail on the head when it comes to Bridgewater landing with the Browns.
High-Rising: Aaron Donald to Minnesota Vikings at No. 8.
Aaron Donald has been a pre-draft-process darling, and his meteoric rise continued in Kiper’s final mock on Wednesday. The expert slotted Donald up another few pegs and now has him coming off the board when the Minnesota Vikings pick at No. 8.
Is Donald worth a top-10 selection?
To those who watched Donald absolutely dominate at Pittsburgh during his final campaign with the Panthers and subsequently shine at the senior bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, this shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Donald has been looking like a lock for the top 10 for some time now but is finally getting the respect he deserves right before the draft.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network was quick to heap praise on Donald for his blazing 40-yard dash time at the combine:
As impressive as Clowney’s 40 was, Pitt DT Aaron Donald’s 4.65 at 285 may be just as impressive. Lit it up at Senior Bowl too.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2014
While others were quick to write this defensive tackle off for his underwhelming 6’0.75”, 285-pound frame, Kiper pointed out that Donald’s production was off the charts, and that makes him well worth the selection by Minnesota:
No player in the entire draft has put together a better year to get to this point. Donald was the most dominant defensive lineman in college football, destroyed the competition at the Senior Bowl, and then tested remarkably well at the combine. The Vikings added Sharrif Floyd in last year's draft, but could still use another interior defender, and Donald can make an early impact and improve what was an awful defense last season. He'll make those around him better. Justin Gilbert could also be in play here.
There are a few other potential spots that Donald could wind up, but it is becoming immensely clear this talented tackle will not be available for long. His floor is with the Dallas Cowboys at No. 16, but he will likely go well ahead of that in the first round.
Dropping Down: Blake Bortles to Arizona Cardinals at No. 20
Blake Bortles has been one of the most polarizing prospects in a class that is chock-full of them. The UCF signal-caller is now projected to come off the board in the latter half of the first round, a significant drop-off from the No. 8 selection Kiper had him at in late April.
This is the lowest Kiper has been on the Knights star, having kept him at the Vikings for a few mock drafts prior and even putting him as high as No. 4 overall to the Browns at one point.
The draft authority explained his decision behind Bortles to the Cardinals as such:
I've had Derek Carr as a possibility here previously, but Bortles falling to this spot makes him the pick. We hear Bortles compared to Ben Roethlisberger, and he'll have a chance to develop under Big Ben's former coach, Bruce Arians. And make no mistake, Bortles is ideally drafted into a situation where he gets a year to get a feel for the NFL game and improve. He's worked with Carson Palmer's brother, and can continue to learn from a Palmer in Arizona.
Considering Bortles isn’t exactly the most NFL-ready prospect, Arizona is an ideal place for the high-risk, high-reward rookie to start his career. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn the ropes and could have a superstar receiver in Larry Fitzgerald to throw to when he gets on the field full-time.
Brady Denny of AZFamily concurs with Kiper and claims this is the smart pick for the club:
If I'm the Cardinals and Blake Bortles is there at 20, I take him. I'm sure my Cards fans followers do not agree.— Brad Denny (@BDenny29) May 8, 2014
ESPN’s Ron Jaworski also thinks the Cardinals should make a run at Bortles, explaining his thought process to Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (via Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com):
The guy I like is (Blake) Bortles. I would not be shocked if they went for Bortles at number 20. I think he's a guy that projects well for the type of offense that Bruce likes to run, that Tom Moore likes to run. The ball explodes out of this guy's hand. He has every throw. He's tough, he can hang in the pocket.
The upside is undeniable here, so expect the Cards to make a smart value pick if Bortles is still on the board at No. 20.