NFL Nation: 2014 Mel Kiper mock 3.0 preview

Kiper's Mock 3.0: 49ers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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We interrupt free agency with a draft diversion Thursday as ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s third mock draft for the first round of the May draft is revealed.

Kiper has given the San Francisco 49ers an LSU receiver with the 30th picking each of his first two mock-draft efforts.

He gave Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to the 49ers. There's a good chance neither player is the pick this time around. Beckham had a great combine and he may be a top-25 pick. Landry, however, wasn't as impressive and may be a second-round prospect.

I would expect Kiper to slot the 49ers with a receiver or a cornerback. They are the team's two biggest needs.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Bengals

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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It has been said a lot this offseason, but bears repeating. Compared to most teams, the Cincinnati Bengals have relatively minor draft needs.

As it currently stands, due to Michael Johnson's signing with Tampa Bay and Kyle Cook getting cut, the Bengals will only be without two starters off last year's team. The rest of Cincinnati's starting lineup will return, meaning the Bengals won't be in the market in May to draft too many immediate impact players.

Cornerback remains an area of concern with veterans Terence Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones all now in their 30s. With each of their contracts set to expire in the next two years, and with injuries and age beginning to catch up to them, it would be in the Bengals' best interest to start looking into replacing them. The good news is that this draft is chock-full of secondary talent.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner, TCU's Jason Verrett and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are among the group of elite corners who could be available when the Bengals make their first-round pick at No. 24. Since so many teams have already made moves in free agency to bring in cornerbacks, it's possible that those with defensive back needs who pick before the Bengals will end up bypassing some of these players. If that happens, the odds of Gilbert or Dennard falling to 24th might increase.

Cincinnati's draft mantra in recent years has been to take the best available player. Coaches contend that will continue this year, and that's not a certainty that they will be using their first pick on a cornerback. As they look to start creating depth at multiple spots, the Bengals also have needs at outside linebacker, defensive end, center and safety. They also could draft a quarterback to help back up Andy Dalton, and a running back to aid in their efforts of employing a more physical offense this season.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Cowboys

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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The Dallas Cowboys need defense when it comes to the draft.

That was the case before they decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday. That remains the case whether they re-sign defensive tackle Jason Hatcher.

In his first two mock drafts, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Cowboys selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That would represent a fit because the Cowboys need help at safety as well, according to many folks.

But at the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones expressed optimism in J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year. Wilcox’s season was slowed by the death of his mother, which took him away from training camp for a long spell, and a knee injury, which took him out of three games. When he did return he was unable to unseat Jeff Heath from the starter’s role.

But if you’re looking at what new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has done in his career, it has always been about the defensive line. The Cowboys have added two pieces in free agency in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain, but they are hardly cornerstone pieces.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Cowboys selecting Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in his most recent mock. Pitt’s Aaron Donald has been the player most linked to the Cowboys since the process began, but he might not make it to No. 16 in the first round.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Bills

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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With the free-agent winds swirling around the NFL this week, it's easy to forget about the NFL draft, which is now less than two months away.

If you haven't heard, the Buffalo Bills hold the ninth overall selection. The last time general manager Doug Whaley spoke about the draft -- at February's NFL scouting combine -- he said the Bills could go any direction with the pick ... except quarterback.

Yet, it's quarterbacks who could help decide who the Bills choose with their top pick. If two or more quarterbacks are chosen in the first eight picks, it will give the Bills a better chance to land a player at a position of need.

Who might be on the Bills' radar? Their offensive struggles last season suggest that they'll target that side of the ball. The best bet is an offensive tackle, where there are three players -- Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, and Taylor Lewan -- who could all land in the top 10. The Bills could also try to add a play-making receiver such as Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

Should the Bills go defense, their options are more limited. It's unlikely that either of the top two defensive players -- Buffalo's Khalil Mack and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney -- will fall down to No. 9. The Bills could use help at linebacker or safety, but they'd be better off trading down to do that.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Buccaneers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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After a 4-12 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the seventh overall pick in the draft.

It's hard to predict what the new regime of general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith will do with that pick. But the Bucs definitely have options as they start a new era.

Even after signing veteran quarterback Josh McCown, Smith said it remains possible the Bucs could use their first-round pick on the position. That could come into play if Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr remain on the board when the Bucs pick.

If the Bucs don't go with a quarterback, there are other options on offense. Tampa Bay is overhauling its offensive line and tackles Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson could be options. If the Bucs really want to spice up their offense, wide receiver Sammy Watkins could be a possibility.

But Smith is a defensive coach and he might go with what he knows best. Outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr have been tied to the Bucs in some mock drafts.

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft to see which players he thinks Buccaneers should target with their first pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Packers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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With a defense that slipped to No. 25 in the overall rankings last season, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will no doubt go into the draft thinking defense.

He did that in 2012, and he used his first six picks on that side of the ball.

Those picks were supposed to be the core of the defense, but last year only one of them -- fourth-round defensive tackle Mike Daniels -- made a major impact.

So where does that leave the Packers when it comes to the 21st pick in the draft?

They could conceivably address any level of their defense. They could use some run-stopping muscle on the interior of the defensive line, another pass-rusher off the edge to complement outside linebacker Clay Matthews, a playmaking inside linebacker and a ball-hawking safety.

There's a chance the top-two safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville, will be off the board before the Packers pick. But if either one was available, Thompson might have a hard time ignoring that spot.

On the defensive line, Louis Nix III of Notre Dame would be an option at nose tackle, while Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman could be a viable pick as a 3-4 end. There's a good chance both could be there at 21.

The top outside linebackers almost certainly will be gone by the time the Packers pick, but inside linebacker C.J. Mosley of Alabama could be available.

And if Thompson decides to go with an offensive player, he might strongly consider North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, if he's still there.

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 Insider to see which players he thinks the Packers should target with their first pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Broncos

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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With plenty of question marks on the defensive depth chart, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has had a decidedly defensive look for the Denver Broncos as he went through his first two mock drafts this year.

In the first, done in mid-January, Kiper had the Broncos using the No. 31 pick on Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, a high-effort, 4-3 edge player. The 6-foot-2, 273-pound Crichton came out as a junior after a 7.5-sack season in 2013 with 19 tackles for loss.

Crichton did have shoulder surgery following the 2012 season.

In his February mock, Kiper kept the Broncos on the defensive side of the ball with Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. Roby, at 5-11, 194 pounds, ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and is one of the best pure athletes at the position on the board.

Roby, despite some concerns about his effort at times, is gaining momentum, especially after the athleticism he showed at the Buckeyes’ pro day last week.

As for his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider, Kiper has again pointed the Broncos toward a position of need on defense. Take a look for yourself and see what you think.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Seahawks

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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In his first two mock drafts of 2014, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had the Seattle Seahawks selecting Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson with their first-round pick, knowing Seattle might lose Golden Tate in free agency.

Kiper was right. Tate signed with the Detroit Lions on Wednesday, so adding a receiver becomes a bigger priority. The Seahawks also now may look for a receiver who can return punts because Tate was one of the best punt returners in the league last season.

Even if Tate had stayed, the Seahawks still want a big, physical receiver to add to the mix. Robinson (6-foot-3, 210) fits the mold.

But Seattle also needs help on the offensive line at guard and tackle, and a few linemen from the combine got their attention. And with the team releasing defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, they might want help in that area, even with Michael Bennett coming back.

Here's what Kiper sees for the Seahawks in his mock draft 3.0. Insider

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Cardinals

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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Until free agency, everyone knew what the Arizona Cardinals needed first and foremost in May’s NFL draft, so it made sense that ESPN NFL draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. predicted them drafting offensive tackles in his first two mock drafts.

In his first draft, Kiper slotted Notre Dame’s Zack Martin for Arizona, and in 2.0, it was Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio. Kiper was right -- the Cardinals' primary need this offseason was a left tackle.

But all that changed Tuesday, when Arizona signed free-agent left tackle Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals will now most likely go with the best-player-available philosophy, but it’s likely they chase a safety, defensive lineman, linebacker or tight end with the 20th pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Saints

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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Free agency hasn't helped much when it comes to narrowing down the New Orleans Saints' draft-day targets. It's probably a safe bet now that they won't draft a safety in Round 1, since they're set with last year's first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro and blockbuster free-agent signing Jairus Byrd. But a number of positions could still be in play at No. 27 for a New Orleans team that always likes to select the highest-rated player on its board, regardless of position.

The Saints will still likely address one or two of their most pressing needs in free agency so they can think more long-term with their draft picks.

For now, though, I still see cornerback as the Saints' biggest need overall, so TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby could make a lot of sense. And the Saints definitely need some new, young dynamic playmakers on offense after parting ways with running back Darren Sproles and receiver Lance Moore. So speedy receivers such as LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks could be very attractive.

But the Saints won't reach for those spots if they have a higher grade on someone such as Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford or Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses (especially if they don't re-sign veteran free agent Zach Strief).

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 Insider to see where he thinks the Saints might go with that No. 27 pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Eagles

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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Perhaps it was an expected need a while back, when there was a chance Jeremy Maclin wouldn’t return. Or Riley Cooper wouldn’t come back. There’s also an energetic, offensive-minded head coach in place.

So, naturally, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. figured the Eagles would be in the market for a receiver when it came time for the draft.

That, of course, bypassed other more pressing needs (most of which still exist). The Eagles solved part of their problem at safety (they hope) by signing Malcolm Jenkins. But they still need Earl Wolff to develop. They also still need more pass-rushing help and a cornerback. Their pressing needs all involve defense.

But Kiper’s 1.0 mock draft made some sense because it would have given the Eagles another weapon in 6-foot-4 receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the raw but talented receiver from Florida State. He would have been a perfect red-zone target, assuming he had polished up his route running.

Then, in his 2.0 mock, Kiper stayed away from Benjamin but stuck at receiver. This time, he projected Louisiana State’s Odell Beckham, writing about him, “Beckham could be a good fit in Philly not just because he's a good receiver for a team that could use help in that department, but because he's versatile, and can work in the slot or on the edge.”

However, with Cooper and Maclin back in Philadelphia, taking a receiver just might have to wait until after the first round. The Eagles still need depth here, so anything’s possible when Kiper releases his Mock 3.0Insider.

Kiper’s Mock 3.0: Falcons

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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The Atlanta Falcons added some key pieces through free agency by addressing needs along the offensive and defensive lines. Now, they might have to plug their other holes through the draft.

Securing a pass-rusher, offensive tackle and free safety will be vital as the Falcons continue the retooling process. The tackle position would appear to be the priority based on the need to keep quarterback Matt Ryan protected. The Falcons, with the sixth overall pick, are sure to check into three tackles in particular: Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Expect them to conduct private workouts with all three players.

In terms of a pass-rusher, the first name that comes to mind is Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, with the Falcons expected to use more of a base 3-4 defensive scheme. UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr also would be in that mix. But it would be interesting to see what type of choice the Falcons would have to make if South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney fell to No. 6 because he's not ideal for a 3-4 scheme.

It's highly doubtful the Falcons would target a safety in the first round unless they traded down and picked up an extra selection.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Texans

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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The lack of Houston Texans free-agency action has frustrated some fans who see it as a sign the team isn't getting better. I'd say the concern is a little dramatic at this point, and it certainly doesn't mean the Texans think their roster needs no tweaks.

The draft, though, is where Houston figures to make a bigger impact on its roster.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s first two mock drafts had the Texans addressing an obvious position of need: quarterback. In both his first and second mock drafts, Kiper had Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going first overall and staying in his home state.

And while quarterback is a major need for the Texans, even with all three of last year's quarterbacks still on the roster, they'll have plenty of other holes to fill. They could use a pass-rusher. They need a nose tackle, having none on the roster right now, and also an offensive tackle. And the Texans could need a tight end, depending on what happens during the next few days in free agency.

Of course, not all of these positions are ones you fill with the first overall pick in the draft. These days that spot is for the most valuable positions -- the guy throwing the ball, the guy protecting the guy throwing the ball and the guy getting after the guy throwing the ball. All of those are positions Houston could upgrade.

With about two months to go before the draft, Kiper offers his latest thoughts, with a new player for the Texans at the topInsider.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Bears

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
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The Chicago Bears missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, and their 8-8 record in 2013 under first-year head coach Marc Trestman earned the club the No. 14 overall pick in this year’s draft.

The Bears added five starters on offense last year and, as a result, the club experienced somewhat of a resurgence on that side of the ball with the unit gaining a franchise-record 6,109 net yards, in addition to the passing game setting single-season records in gross passing yards (4,450), net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9). The 2013 offense also finished second in team history in scoring (445 points).

Defensively, the Bears yielded drastically different results, as they allowed the most total yards in franchise history, in addition to giving up 10 100-yard rushing performances.

So now, it’s time to upgrade the defense. The Bears made that abundantly clear in free agency, as every acquisition the club made plays on that side of the ball. But given all the holes on defense, the club’s efforts in free agency up to this point haven’t been sufficient. More needs to be done. That’s why the draft is important.

Although it’s still up in the air as to whether cornerback Charles Tillman will return for 2014, the club still needs to find his heir apparent. But after cutting defensive end Julius Peppers, and adding Lamarr Houston from Oakland, the Bears are still in danger of losing defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Corey Wootton via free agency. So reinforcements need to be added first along the defensive line, which was the main source of the club’s problems in 2013.

So expect the Bears to look at some of the top-tier defensive linemen, such as Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald or Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, with the 14th pick in the draft, but the club could also help itself by acquiring help on the back end with players such as Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Mock Draft 3.0 Insider to see which players he thinks the Bears should target with the No. 14 overall pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Dolphins

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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The Miami Dolphins enter an important year for many within the organization. Coach Joe Philbin is 15-17 in his first two seasons and must prove he can get the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2014.

That is why it is so important for Miami to nail the NFL draft. The Dolphins hold the No. 19 overall pick and should be able to get some quality talent in what is considered one of the deepest draft pools in years.

It’s no secret the Dolphins must address their offensive line. Miami made a huge splash this week by signing left tackle Branden Albert to a five-year, $47 million contract. That is a move in the right direction. But major holes at right tackle and guard remain. The Dolphins won’t be able to fill all those positions on the offensive line by signing expensive free agents. Therefore, expect Miami also to use resources in the draft -- perhaps in the first round.

With Albert now firmly entrenched at left tackle, that relieves some pressure to fill the hardest position on the offensive line. Key targets such as Zack Martin of Notre Dame and Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama could be possibilities at No. 19 to play the easier position of right tackle.

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has said on several occasions that he’s looking for the best available player regardless of position. If that’s the case, the Dolphins could be a wild card. Ignoring a glaring need on the offensive line doesn’t seem like the best move. But there will be quality players on the board at other positions such as cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and defensive tackle.

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