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ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. held a conference call Wednesday afternoon after his dueling two-round mock draft with co-worker Todd McShay was unveiled earlier in the day.
In the mock, the two talking heads who rarely agree on anything had a consensus — they predicted former Wolverines would be selected at No. 28 by the Dallas Cowboys and No. 31 by the Atlanta Falcons. However, they had different Wolverines in the two spots — Kiper projected former safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers would come off the board first to the Cowboys, while McShay thought defensive end Taco Charlton would be the choice. In the second-to-last pick of the first round, the analysts flip-flopped with Kiper giving the Falcons Charlton, while McShay guessed the name called would be Peppers.
The analysts also listed former Michigan standouts Jourdan Lewis (No. 43 to Philadelphia according to McShay and No. 45 to Arizona according to Kiper) and Chris Wormley (No. 62 to Pittsburgh according to Kiper and No. 63 to Atlanta according to McShay) as second-round picks.
Kiper's latest big board of the top 25 draft prospects was also revealed this morning, but Peppers was nowhere to be found on it. He listed only Charlton among his top 25, checking in at No. 23 — a pretty significant fall from his last update, when the edge rusher was listed at No. 8 overall.
Still, Kiper said on his conference call he views Peppers — who he wrote was the best punt returner in the draft on his latest mock draft — as a first-round selection when the event rolls around April 27-29.
"He's a wildcard," Kiper said. "He hasn't defined that safety position yet, but he's going to be a great return man right away. I think he'd be a splash pick for the Dallas Cowboys, who could certainly use a safety and an impact player like what he could be down the road — maybe not right away at safety, but once he learns and settles in. He's a super explosive athlete … I believe he's a first-round pick, but maybe more the latter half of round one and certainly maybe the end of round one. It's conceivable he could still be there for Dallas [at No. 28]."
He also expanded on his prediction of Charlton to the Falcons at N0. 31, which doesn't seem like a pressing need for the NFC Champions — until putting on the game tape of the biggest game of the year, when U-M alum Tom Brady led the Patriots on the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, scoring a 34-28 victory after being down by 25 points midway through the third quarter.
"You can never have enough good pass rushers," Kiper explained of the Falcons possibly zeroing in on Charlton. "You saw that in the championship game, guys wear down and Brady took advantage of that. Interior-wise and outside, another pass rusher like Taco Charlton, [Tennessee defensive end] Derek Barnett, if there’s a pass rusher there late in the first, like I said, just look at the Super Bowl … it’s a pass-happy league, you’ve got to have more than just one or two, and he would certainly help the Atlanta Falcons.”
The other Michigan player specifically mentioned on the call by Kiper was record-setting tight end Jake Butt, whose stock has taken a dip after suffering a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State and not being able to work out in the pre-draft process. The expert noted that opens the door to a team stealing Butt in a later round than he should be selected. The questioner covered the New England Patriots and noted Washington cornerback Sidney Jones or Butt could fall to the club's first pick, No. 72 overall in the third round.
"I think that’s the way to go, if you can afford it — Atlanta, New England, the Steelers, any team that you think is in that elite group can afford to do that," Kiper explained. "I think Jake Butt is the fifth-best tight end, even with coming off the knee injury in the bowl game. I’d take Jake Butt. Some think he can go second round, but I’m thinking more third round. … The end of round three, at the end of night two, I think both Butt and Sidney Jones are selected.”
Kiper also commented on the impressive depth available at the cornerback position, which will impact Lewis, as well as former Wolverines Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark.
"You can go 30-35 deep in terms of corners that can play in this league this year," he said. "I have, right now, 18-19 in the first two rounds in terms of defensive backs overall. This is an extraordinary year because of the depth. You would have had six corners in the first round if Sidney Jones didn't get hurt. You're pretty much, I think, going to see five in the first, and there are a ton of second-round corners and third-round corners."
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