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ESPN's Kiper Mocks McCarthy & DeJean to Vikings, Assesses Quarterbacks in Draft

ESPN Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., unveiled his third mock draft of the 2024 NFL Draft on Tuesday, making it one of the first since Minnesota's trade last Friday to acquire the 23rd overall pick from Houston.

Kiper referred to that deal as a "fascinating trade" in his intro.

While plenty have speculated that the pick acquired could be packaged with Minnesota's 11th overall pick or any other combination of assets, Kiper did not project any trades.

At No. 11, Kiper has the Vikings taking former Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, writing the following:

The Vikings are now the most interesting team in this draft. They just acquired another first-round pick in a deal with the Texans (No. 23), giving them the capital to move up and take a quarterback if they got the opportunity. But how far could they move up? Remember, it takes two sides to make a trade. Would the Giants [at No. 6] want to risk missing out on one of the top receivers? Would the Titans [at No. 7] want to risk missing out on their preferred tackle? Would the Falcons [at No. 8] or Bears [at No. 9] want to risk not getting the edge rusher they like? There's not an easy match, unless Minnesota is willing to give up a lot of future picks, which is certainly possible.

In this scenario, the Vikings could land their quarterback of the future anyway. With Kirk Cousins gone and Sam Darnold added on a one-year deal, it's clear they have to add competition. All sides point to that competition coming from a rookie. McCarthy is the No. 21 prospect on my Big Board, but I can see why some teams would covet him much higher. He has intriguing physical traits and can make every throw. Either way, if Minnesota really wants to try to move up in Round 1 for a quarterback, I could see it waiting until draft day to see how the board shakes out.

Kiper participated in a video conference call Wednesday morning to follow up on his third mock draft and said McCarthy is "kind of a wild card."

"He was the toughest player, really, at any position to evaluate because they didn't ask him to carry the team," Kiper said of the Wolverines, who finished 2023 at 15-0 and with the CFP National Champions. "Most college quarterbacks are asked to be the guy, to make plays running, throwing, just get the ball out like Bo Nix [at Oregon], throwing it to everybody, running the football like Jayden Daniels doing everything at LSU, right? He wasn't asked to do that.

"[Michigan] had [running back] Blake Corum, they had [running back] Donovan Edwards, they had 8-men, 9-men deep on the o-line, they had multiple tight ends, they had receivers. Roman Wilson was a nice receiver, Cornelius Johnson. They had decent — no great — receivers, but they had a good group, but he wasn't asked at Michigan to carry that team."

Kiper pointed out McCarthy attempted just one pass in the second half at Penn State last November (and the play didn't count because of a penalty). Thus, McCarthy finished the game 7-for-8 passing for 60 yards, a stat line uncommon in today's world of college and pro football.

"That doesn't happen, so … J.J. McCarthy is going to be, you've got to have a leap of faith there. He's a great competitor, a Josh Allen-type of competitor," Kiper said. "He's super smart. He's just turned 21. He had two really good years. He didn't throw picks, but the picks he did throw were kind of memorable, the two pick-sixes against TCU [in 2022], the pick before the half against Maryland. You remember those picks. The three against Bowling Green early this past year. He didn't throw many, but they were memorable.

"Then, in the national title game, he did make a couple of plays in that game that were game-changing," Kiper added. "Remember when he ran and got them out of the hole and flipped field position? He had a couple of great throws that were dropped, one to [Colston] Loveland, one to Cornelius Johnson, so he really played well in that game. He was unfazed in that national title game. They were challenged, and he got it done when he had to, and there wasn't much margin for error there."

Kiper also pointed out that having fewer passing opportunities can be viewed as making each attempt more significant.

"When he threw it, it had to mean something, it had to happen, so there was a little more pressure there," Kiper said. "It was more NFL like. I think for J.J., he's a tough evaluation."

3 QB, 3 WR in Kiper's first 6

Kiper pondered if the Giants would draft a quarterback at No. 6 even with Daniel Jones already under contract or opt to provide Jones with a weapon at receiver. As of right now, he's got the Giants going with former Washington receiver Rome Odunze, a pick after the Chargers take former LSU receiver Malik Nabers and two spots after the Cardinals make Marvin Harrison, Jr., the first receiver selected off the board.

Kiper has the Bears drafting former USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the Commanders selecting former LSU QB Jayden Daniels and the Patriots going with former UNC signal caller Drake Maye with the first three selections.

He was asked why he is rating Daniels above Maye.

"I gave Jayden the edge, just based on performance. He played great, lights-out all year, had a good year in 2022 but kind of did what Joe Burrow did," Kiper said. "He went from being good, solid, to being spectacular, and that's what Joe did at LSU in his second year. That's what Jayden did in his second year at LSU after transferring from Arizona State. He put on some weight. He can make any throw, his deep ball accuracy to Brian Thomas, Jr., and Nabers.

"His ability to keep his eyes up when he's rolling. He did that as a player in 2023, where in 2022 that was a little bit of an issue," Kiper added. "He saw the field a lot better, he let it rip. He trusted what he saw, his receivers when they were open. When they were covered, he let it go and trusted the receivers to make plays and what he was seeing more. He's a kid the players really gravitated to at LSU, which is important. He became a really good leader. His performance was Lamar Jackson-like."

Kiper said he views Daniels as "a solid 2" and "right there" with Williams as "the No. 1 quarterback in this draft."

"I disagree with some people that think Drake is ahead of Jayden or right there. I think there's a separation there," Kiper said. "I think J.J. McCarthy is pressuring Drake Maye more than Drake Maye is pressuring Jayden Daniels."

Versatility for Vikings at No. 23?

At No. 23, Kiper has the Vikings taking former Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, who some project as an NFL safety instead of a corner. Kiper's projection was posted before the Vikings announced they have agreed to terms with veteran CB Shaq Griffin. On DeJean, Kiper wrote the following:

We're back around to the Vikings, who acquired this pick in a deal with the Texans last week. I gave them a Kirk Cousins replacement at No. 11, and if they're keeping this selection, they have to address a secondary that ranked 28th in passing yards allowed to receivers (3,019) last season. I like the front-seven additions of Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel, but Minnesota hasn't made moves at cornerback.

I'm a huge fan of DeJean, who's still recovering from a broken leg suffered in November. He's a ball hawk — he had seven interceptions over his final 23 college games — with excellent technique. He also isn't afraid of sticking his head in and making a tackle.

DeJean is the fourth cornerback off the board in Kiper's third mock, behind Toledo's Quinyon Mitchell to the Colts at 15, Alabama's Terrion Arnold to the Jaguars at 17 and Clemson's Nate Wiggins to the Eagles at 22.

Kiper highlighted DeJean's versatility when asked about him on Wednesday's call.

"He can play in any defensive structure, which is what I like about him at corner. I think he can move inside. He's a guy that's very athletic, very tough, a good tackler. He's got punt return ability," Kiper said. "Cooper would have been a top-15 guy had he finished the process healthy. I think the dual versatility helps, being able to play in any defensive structure helps him.

"Not being able to work out, obviously that's something people like to see during this process," Kiper continued. "That's why I think when you see a Quinyon Mitchell from Toledo at the Senior Bowl, the combine, the years he had the last couple of years at Toledo, how good he was, the field keeps him at No. 1. Terrion Arnold at Alabama, probably 2 at corner. DeJean, in my opinion, even though Wiggins ran that 4.28 [in the 40-yard dash], I would still put him at 3, maybe put him at the fourth corner.

"You put [DeJean] at safety, he's the No. 1 safety, so to me, he's a first rounder," he added. "Where in the first round? I had him at the Rams in 2.0 and put him down a little bit in 3.0. I think he could go anywhere between the middle of the first and in that Rams area at 19. I think the latest would be Green Bay at 25."