Mel Kiper NFL mock draft: Detroit Lions get heralded defender, and TE(?!?), in first round

Ah yes, the real signs of spring.

Melted snow gives way to matted, yellow grass. The scores from the Grapefruit League leak across our timelines. The NCAA tournament is the talk of the town.

But there's one other sign that we're hurdling toward spring, and we're not talking about Masters commercials (or Charles Barkley commercials, for that matter).

NFL mock drafts.

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That's right, they're everywhere. Nearly unavoidable. And the Grand Poohbah of Mockery, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., has unveiled his latest mock draft for all the world to see.

Included in this mock is a big trade, in which the Indianapolis Colts swap with the Arizona Cardinals at Nos. 3 and 4 overall. Because of that, Kiper has a quarterback drafted with the first three picks: Ohio State's C.J. Stroud to the Panthers (who traded with the Bears to get the No. 1 pick); Alabama's Bryce Young No. 2 to the Texans and then Kentucky's Will Levis to the Colts.

Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) against the TCU Horned Frogs during the CFP national championship game at SoFi Stadium.
Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) against the TCU Horned Frogs during the CFP national championship game at SoFi Stadium.

From there, the Cardinals take Alabama linebacker Will Anderson, considered the best defender in the draft. Kiper then has the Seahawks taking Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson fifth overall, setting the stage for the Detroit Lions.

With the sixth pick, Kiper believes the Lions will take Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter, whose draft stock has been all over the place lately. Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless driving for his role in a Jan. 15 car accident that killed a teammate and a football staffer just days after winning the national title. After having to leave the NFL combine in Indianapolis a few weeks ago to attend to that arrest warrant, he was obviously heavier and slower than normal at the Georgia pro day last week.

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But his talent, and production in the toughest college football conference in the country, is undeniable. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior had 16 solo tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles last season, and another three sacks the season before on a defense when practically every rotational player found him way into the NFL.

"Everything I've heard from people in the league, however, is he won't drop too far — he likely still will be a top-10 selection. Carter's talent is undeniable, and I could see a team such as the Lions taking him here, filling a position of need," Kiper wrote.

But the Lions have two first-rounders this year. Their own pick, No. 18, should help with this rebuild, too. With it, Kiper has Detroit taking Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.

The 6-4, 265-pound junior was an elite pass-catching threat for the Irish, hauling in 138 passes for 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of USC Trojans defensive back Max Williams (4) during the first half of a college football game played on November 26, 2022 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

As you may remember, the Lions traded T.J. Hockenson, the last tight end they picked in the first round, during last season to the Vikings.

"Mayer is the most complete tight end in this class," Kiper said. "He's physical as a run-blocker, and he can run seam routes and get open for quarterback Jared Goff. He caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns last season and had 180 catches in his college career. He could be the lead guy in Detroit."

So, a defensive lineman and a tight end. If the Lions pulled this off in the first round of the draft, how would you feel?

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Mel Kiper NFL mock draft: Detroit Lions get top defender in Round 1