Opinions of the man vary, but there's little denying that Mel Kiper's name has become synonymous with the NFL Draft over the years. Kiper has been studying college prospects for a long time and is always outspoken with his views, leaving him open to criticism when, as an example, he downgrades a future Rookie of the Year candidate on air.
Kiper is also well informed, and on Wednesday, he held an open conference call with reporters to give his takes on what teams may do and where players may go in the 2013 NFL Draft. Here are some of the highlights:
- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has bounced up and down draft boards since the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama for a host of dubious reasons. Kiper still sees Te'o as a relatively high draft pick, however. The Chicago Bears could use a middle linebacker now that Brian Urlacher is gone, and Kiper went out on a limb to predict that Te'o will be snatched up by Chicago at No. 20 overall.
- Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree is expected to fall just a little later. The Baltimore Ravens have been connected to Te'o in the past, and could just as quickly jump on Ogletree should he fall to No. 32 overall. According to Kiper, the Ravens have been evaluating Ogletree.
- Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is one of the more intriguing names available at any position in this year's draft. The former Heisman Trophy candidate once seemed like a sure-fire first-round prospect, but then he was dismissed by the Tigers last year for testing positive for marijuana. Kiper currently projects Mathieu to the third round of the draft, making him a potential sleeper if all goes right.
- The San Diego Chargers are apparently high on Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson. Unfortunately for them, he may not be available at the No. 11 spot. Kiper said that there is only a "50/50" chance that Johnson falls that far. As a result, San Diego may look to trade up early in the draft. If so, the Cleveland Browns at No. 6 overall may be a willing trade partner.
- Kiper gushed about West Viriginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, calling him a "touchdown maker." Unsurprisingly, he connected Austin to the St. Louis Rams in the first round. The Rams are still looking for a replacement for Danny Amendola, and Austin's skillset would translate nicely to slot receiver in the NFL.
- Good news for Carolina Panthers fans: Kiper believes defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri and Sylvester Williams out of UNC will be available at No. 14 overall. Utah's Star Lotulelei likely won't be, however, after falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 13 in Kiper's projections.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers could use a tight end, and Kiper likes Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert to potentially land at No. 17 overall. Kiper also believes that Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Georgia defensive end/linebacker Cornelius Washington could be later round targets for Pittsburgh.
- Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack is projected to go No. 10 overall to the Tennessee Titans in SB Nation's latest mock draft, and Kiper apparently agrees with that assessment. Even after signing Andy Levitre in the offseason, the Titans are still looking for more beef on the interior. Warmack could give Tennessee a potentially fearsome offensive line next season.
- Plenty of fans will be interested to see where former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will land. Robinson is entering the draft as a wide receiver, with the potential to moonlight as a running back, kick returner or cornerback if asked. Kiper admitted that he is having a hard time projecting the multi-dimensional threat, but could see Robinson falling in the late second, or early third round.
- Kiper briefly touched on Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. He confirmed that the Buffalo Bills could be a landing spot for Nassib, as has been rumored since Buffalo hired former Orange head coach Doug Marrone.
- Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner was talked about as a potential top-5 pick immediately after the college football season ended. According to Kiper, however, he has since fallen to the late first/early second in projections. A deep defensive line class could mean plenty of potential sleepers late in this year's draft.
- Tight end Travis Kelce is an interesting name. He appears to be the total package -- nice frame, good hands, solid blocker -- but Kelce has just one year of solid experience thanks to a season-long suspension at Cincinnati due to a violation of team rules. Combined with that fact that this year's tight end class is particularly deep, Kiper projects Kelce to go no higher than the fourth round.
- Like many others, Kiper is predicting that running backs will be ignored entirely in the first round. There is a lot of depth in this year's class, and no has forgotten what Alfred Morris was able to do with the Washington Redskins as a sixth-round pick last season.