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Lunchbreak: Kiper's 15 Prospects Rising After Combine

ESPN Sr. Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. built a list of 15 players whose stock he believes on the rise after the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.

Kiper excluded players who arrived in Indianapolis with high expectations like Myles Garrett and John Ross from the list and focused on a less-publicized tier of players at multiple positions.

Two things to keep in mind about my risers from the combine:

We don't have access to the medical reports, so I'm basing these on drills and on-field workouts.

Pro days are still an important part of the process, which is why you won't find any draft "fallers" — yet.

Florida cornerback Teez Tabor ran a 4.62 40, which is concerning. But maybe he had a bad workout, and maybe he'll run faster at his pro day. His tape shows first-round talent, so I'm not dropping him.

The first player that Kiper noted was Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whose father pitched for the Twins.

Kiper wrote Mahomes "put on an impressive display in the on-field workouts, showing that he can make all of the throws."

He also put up the best 20-yard shuttle (4.08 seconds) time and third-best three-cone drill (6.88) time and had a solid 40-yard dash (4.8). The former Red Raider signal-caller is more of a thrower than a pitcher who can pick his spots at this point, but his arm talent is undeniable.

The other players that Kiper noted were:

North Carolina RB T.J. Logan, Utah RB Joe Williams, East Carolina WR Zay Jones, Louisiana Tech WR Carlos Henderson, Mississippi TE Evan Engram, Virginia Tech TE Bucky Hodges, Ashland TE Adam Shaheen, TCU OT Aviante Collins, Western Michigan OT Taylor Moton, Florida Atlantic DE Trey Hendrickson, Kansas State DE Jordan Willis, Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore, Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie, Connecticut S Obu Melifonwu. 

Click here for the full recap (an ESPN 'Insider' membership is required).

PFF: Kendricks Elevates in Year 2

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was effective as the man in the middle in 2016, improving his stats in interceptions, passes defensed, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. 

He also led the Vikings in total tackles for the second straight season, increasing his tally from 105 in 2015 to 126 in 2016 (according to coaches' tally).

The strong season by Kendricks was recognized by Pro Football Focus, as the site has him as one of the 10 most improved second-year players.

PFF wrote:

[Kendricks'] strong sophomore season was centered on his much-improved pass-coverage skills, which was his strength as a prospect coming out of UCLA. He allowed an average of 8.9 yards per catch and a passer rating of 85.3, compared to figures of 11.6 yards and a 110.8 rating in his rookie year. Vikings fans should be encouraged by his year-on-year grade improvement from 48.3 to 80.3, and will hope for another step forward in year three.

Kendricks scored the Vikings first touchdown of the 2016 season by intercepting Tennessee's Marcus Mariota and racing 77 yards for a score.

Smart free agent signings have boosted Vikings defense

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman prefers to draft and develop his own players, bringing them in as rookies and watching them grow and improve over time.

Sometimes, however, the Vikings will add a piece of two via free agency to help boost their roster.

Ben Goessling of noted that the Vikings have been smart with free agent signings, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Goessling wrote that Minnesota's best move over the past three years was signing defensive tackle Linval Joseph away from the Giants.

Joseph has turned into a linchpin for one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. He made his first Pro Bowl in 2016, after matching his career high with 4.0 sacks and providing his typical stout run defense in the middle of the line. He has two years left on his original deal, and he's certainly given the Vikings their money's worth.

Goessling said a more under-the-radar deal with acquiring defensive tackle Tom Johnson.

There wasn't much attention paid to the signing of Johnson in 2014. But Johnson's slippery pass-rushing skills helped him post 6.5 sacks in 2014 to earn a new three-year deal from the Vikings. He had 5.5 sacks in 2015, when he started eight games, and played a larger role in 2016 when knee injuries limited Sharrif Floyd to one game.

Minnesota's defense ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed per game (314.9) and sixth in points allowed per game (19.2) in 2016.

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