5 Takeaways from Mel Kiper’s Pre-Combine Conference Call

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A day after releasing his updated 2019 NFL mock draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., spoke with media members from across the country via conference call.

Kiper’s annual call took place one week ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine, which kicks off in Indianapolis on Feb. 26, although the first on-field drills this year will be March 1. He fielded various questions in advance of the combine and upcoming NFL Draft.

One of the questions revolved around three Alabama players Kiper projects to be drafted in the first round this spring, including Jonah Williams, whom he slated the Vikings to pick at No. 18. Kiper opined that Williams, who started 43 straight games at tackle for the Crimson Tide, could move inside.

“He’s not going to be a left tackle, [but he could be] a right tackle, guard [or] center,” Kiper said. “That’s why I put him at 18 and not in the top 10, because I think he’s an interior guy now.”

Kiper also spoke highly of Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, a defensive tackle he predicted to the Jets with the third overall pick, and running back Josh Jacobs.

“He’s got a lot of tread left on the tire, he hasn’t been beaten up, he waited his turn,” Kiper said of Jacobs, whom he predicted to the Ravens at No. 22.

Here are four other takeaways from Kiper’s conference call with media:

1. Names associated with NFC North rivals

Kiper did not take questions specifically directed toward the Vikings or Packers but did respond to inquiries about the NFC North-rival Lions and Bears.

Detroit has the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, and Kiper’s mock draft has the Lions selecting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. Kiper said that Hockenson’s biggest upside is his blocking ability.

“He’s a complete tight end. He’s not a guy [who is] just a great athlete, who will catch the ball,” Kiper said. “He’ll do that, because he is a gifted athlete, but he’ll also block. He’s consistent, he’s a quarterback’s best friend. That’s what he was at Iowa this year, and he’s kind of a throwback. But he has the skills to fit in very well with today’s NFL.”

Kiper called Hockenson a “multidimensional tight end” who could benefit Matthew Stafford in the Lions offense.

As for the Bears, Kiper specifically was asked about mid-draft running back options for the Bears. He pointed first to Penn State’s Miles Sanders, saying he’s curious to see where the 21-year-old gets picked.

“I was really impressed with how he played in some games, and in other games he didn’t get a lot of help from the line, and that was a factor for him,” Kiper said of Sanders. “But to me, he’s a talented football player.”

Kiper also highlighted Kentucky’s Benny Snell, Jr., and Stanford’s Bryce Love as options for the Bears at running back.

2. Looking at local ties

Kiper fielded a number of questions about players from Midwest schools, including Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin.

Hockenson was the main Hawkeye discussed Tuesday by Kiper. From Iowa State, he gave a rundown of three Cyclones names to pay attention to at the combine and in the draft, starting with wide receiver Hakeem Butler.

Kiper said Butler’s 40-yard-dash time at the combine is “what people are waiting for” and that there are varying opinions about when the Maryland native will go off the board.

Some that I’ve spoken to think he could be a late-first [round] possibility. I’ve thought about putting him in there, but I’m going to wait until after the combine to see how he runs,” Kiper explained. “He’s one of the key guys that I think the 40 time is going to be important. We’ll see if he’s a first, or [if] he drops, maybe, into the third round; so there’s a wide disparity there.”

Kiper also evaluated David Montgomery, whom he’s rated fifth-highest among running backs and expects to be a second-round grab. Lastly for Iowa State, Kiper spoke highly of cornerback Brian Peavy as a late-round option.

“He’s a spunky, tough kid. He had a great career at Iowa State,” Kiper said. “He’s going to be more of a late-round pick because of his size, but Brian Peebe, a really good football player.”

Out of Wisconsin, Kiper called T.J. Edwards a “smart, instinctive linebacker” and predicted him to be a third- or fourth-round pick. He also praised the Badgers offensive linemen in this year’s draft: Beau Benzschawel, Michael Deiter and David Edwards.

He emphasized Deiter’s versatility and called Benzschawel a “solid, pure guard,” expecting all three to be drafted in the second or third rounds.

“I think all those kids are going to go high – Wisconsin’s offensive line history speaks for itself,” Kiper said.

3. Corners, pass rushers hold most defensive weight in draft

In a question related to his prediction of cornerback Trayvon Mullen to the Eagles at No. 25, Kiper emphasized that “you never have enough cover guys.”

“In this league, you need four or five [corners] to survive – it’s a corner-driven league now,” Kiper said. “The cornerback spot could provide some value [in the late first round for Philadelphia].”

He later again emphasized the importance of cornerbacks as well as pass rushers in the draft, naming them the two defensive players to prioritize. He explained what he believes are the top four positions in today’s NFL:

“The pressure and coverage. We say ‘pass-rush league,’ ‘cover league’ on the back end, and obviously your quarterback and the offensive tackle, giving him the proper protection.”

4. ‘Most fascinating team in the draft’

Typically around this time of year, Kiper’s call takes place near that of his fellow NFL analyst, Mike Mayock.

Mayock, however, left the media circuit at the end of December to become the Raiders general manager. Oakland is currently slated to have three first-round picks, and what Mayock and his team opt to do in the draft could have a significant ripple effect.

“It’s [Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden] and Mike working together. They have the three first-round picks. They have a chance next year, they have an opportunity to fill a lot of holes,” Kiper said. “They have decisions to make – the Antonio Brown situation in Pittsburgh, [and the Raiders] needing a receiver; they have the draft picks, do they try to make a move there?

“Do they take Kyler Murray? Do they move Derek Carr; do they stick with Derek Carr?” Kiper added of Oakland’s quarterback situation. “You talk about a fascinating player, it’s Kyler Murray. And probably the most fascinating team in this draft, for obvious reasons, is the Oakland Raiders.”

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