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Kiper: Gabbert is draft's No. 1 pick

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper released his third mock draft of the offseason on WednesdayInsider and Big 12 fans will recognize the name at the top.

Kiper says former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, despite the Panthers spending a second-round pick on former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the 2010 draft.

Clausen started 10 games last season, but finished with just three touchdown passes and nine interceptions, completing just over 52 percent of his passes.

Here's Kiper's take on why Gabbert will be the first name called in next month's draft:

"There's a thought process here that goes beyond need. For one, Gabbert impressed in Indy, and his pro day next week will help determine if he has the potential to land here. Two, I expect any labor deal that gets worked out will create a rookie salary scale that limits the massive bonuses for top picks, making it easier to trade up and down in the draft, which has become increasingly difficult. So it makes sense for Carolina to project that it could take one of the top quarterbacks and open up the trade options, in essence, saying, "To guarantee a shot at the one you prefer, talk to us." Lastly, while I still believe in Jimmy Clausen's chances given his youth, Ron Rivera could not be blamed for targeting his own vision of a franchise quarterback with a pick here or via free agency. It's a leverage position now, but also a potential pick. Part of it is up to Gabbert.

It's an interesting take, and if a new collective bargaining agreement is reached that limits those scales, it could vastly change the way the draft operates. Gabbert going No. 1 as possible trade bait could be the first sign of that. Here's where Kiper had the rest of the Big 12's top prospects going:

No. 5: Arizona Cardinals -- Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

Joey Porter won't be back and Miller would represent an immediate pass-rushing upgrade on the edge of Arizona's 3-4 scheme. Miller, who has come a long way since a junior year in which he was considered mainly a sack artist, could certainly provide a pass-rushing presence for the Cardinals, but also has a great deal of athleticism and should hold up for three downs in this system.

No. 18: Jacksonville Jaguars -- Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri

Smith offers a raw talent package with a lot of upside. He's a player that could easily have been a top ten pick in 2012 had he stuck around Missouri for another year of development. The Jags went for veterans to spackle over the holes at defensive end last year, but it's time to develop some edge talent to go with what is a really promising defensive interior.

No. 31: Pittsburgh Steelers -- Danny Watkins, LT, Baylor

Watkins is a versatile player who can play multiple positions for them. They hit a home run drafting a versatile offensive lineman in Round 1 last year, and Watkins offers more of that.