The dean of NFL draft gurus, Mel Kiper Jr., now in his 32nd year of evaluating draft prospects, hosted a two-hour conference call with media members this morning.
Kiper has the Seahawks taking Washington quarterback Jake Locker at No. 25 overall in his latest mock draft. He previously had Seattle selecting Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey at 25, but now has Pouncey going to the N.Y. Giants at No. 19. Kiper had Seattle taking Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet in his first mock draft.
I asked Kiper about the Seahawks draft prospects in the first round, and this is what he had to say.
“Certainly when you look at Seattle, at some point you’ve got to get a quarterback,” Kiper said. “I know Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent. He wants decent money. He’s had the durability issues. The offensive line is an issue. You’ve got to solidify that position, particularly the right tackle spot.
“They could add another receiver, there’s no question about that. Mike Williams was spectacular coming back as a comeback player of the year in the NFL, but certainly another entity there wouldn’t hurt. And on the defensive line they could add a little bit there. So I think when you look at quarterback, it doesn’t have to be the first round. It could be in round two. There’s probably going to be three or four quarterbacks come off the board in the second round, if in fact they pass on Jake Locker at 25.”
Kiper likes TCU’s Andy Dalton, Mallet, Christian Ponder of Florida State and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick as possible second round options for teams looking for a quarterback in that round, although he’s not as high on Kaepernick and considers him more of a third round prospect.
Kiper also talked at length about Locker and the issues teams will have to reconcile with if they take the University of Washington product in the first round.
“The issue with Jake is the accuracy,” Kiper said. “And the completion percentage is reflected in that. And also you have to defend it in saying the receivers there were not up to the top standards. The offensive line struggled. He took a lot of hits, he played through the injuries. I thought (UW head football coach) Steve Sarkisian limited in certain instances what he could have done because he was a little handcuffed.
“I thought particularly the game against BYU. Late in the game he makes a great throw to get them down to the 30 (yard line). They need a touchdown to win that game. And first down it’s a run, second down run. Third down he runs a quarterback draw. And on fourth down he has a pass batted down and it’s his fault, but you wait until fourth down to throw the ball. He took the ball out of his hands.”
Kiper went on to talk about the fact that Locker completed 50.6 percent of his passes against ranked teams, and 51.6 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter. Locker finished his college career with a 55.4 completion percentage his senior season, after completing 58.2 percent of his passes during his junior year.
“Is it going to get up around 63 percent in the NFL when it’s only around 55 percent in college?” asked Kiper. “Jake was the No. 1 player on the board up until early September. You can’t drop him too far. I have him right as No. 26 (on Kiper’s big board). He might end up being as high as 23 or 24.
“He’s a late first-round possibility, maybe to Seattle. Any earlier than that you just don’t know what you’re going to get, because when that ball leaves his hands, sometimes it’s on target, sometimes it’s not. He has everything else you want – intangibles, toughness, athletic ability, size, arm strength – he’s got it all. Instincts and that feel for the position sometimes makes you wonder. And certainly the accuracy issue.”
In terms of the draft overall, Kiper talked about that fact that there is no consensus No. 1 overall pick, with as many as eight players who could go number one overall
“Everybody’s kind of all over the place with who the No. 1 player should be, or who the No. 1 player is,” he said. “And what I have to try and always balance out, which makes it very difficult and sometimes confusing is – and I think we all have to do this – rate players based on your own opinions. Don’t be swayed by where the may go, and then also you have to project the first round, which is team to player, which is completely different than ratings. It’s what the league thinks, or that particular team thinks.”
Guys that are worthy of being No. 1 according to Kiper include quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, defensive tackles Nick Fairly of Auburn and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green.
Right now Kiper has Gabbert going No. 1 to Carolina, Fairley at No. 2 to Denver, Dareus No. 3 to Buffalo, Newton No. 4 to Cincinnati and Miller No. 5 to Arizona.
“Somebody’s going to drop down a little bit,” Kiper said. “If the two quarterbacks, Gabbert and Newton go in the top five, then somebody’s going to drop, whether it’s a Daquan Bowers, whether it’s a Nick Fairley, somebody’s going to get pushed down to that eighth pick to Tennessee.”
Kiper said he thought it was mistake for Newton throw at the combine, but that he improved his stock with a better performance at his pro day on Tuesday.
“If I was advising Cam Newton, I would have advised him not to throw (at the combine),” Kiper said. “I wouldn’t have had that media day either. I would have just saved it for a pro day. That’s the best opportunity to show accuracy, and to show the NFL, ‘Hey, I’m going to wow you with my physical ability.’”
Kiper also believes that Newton has to show that he can overcome adversity. But he’s not talking about off-the-field issues. Kiper believes the game has come too easy for Newton because of his overwhelming athletic ability, so he wants to see how the Auburn product will react when he struggles against elite competition in the pros.
“It’s come easy to Newton. He’s dominated at every level,” Kiper said. “At junior college he was a national champion and undefeated. At Auburn he was a national champion and undefeated. He has all those wins at Florida, even though he wasn’t the guy, Tim Tebow was. But he’s never been around losing. It’s always come easy to him. So how effective is he moving forward when he’s going to have to deal with negativity about his performance, not negativity about any off-the-field stuff.”