Mel Kiper moves Khalil Mack to No. 1, and more NFL Draft observations

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's lead draft analyst has a new No. 1 and had several noteworthy opinions on a conference call this week.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper has a new No. 1 pick in the draft, and it's a unique one. Kiper released a new mock draft on Thursday, moving Buffalo outside linebacker to the top spot.

This makes two top analysts who are hinting at Mack being the top choice in the draft. In February, Mike Mayock of NFL Network said he would take Mack with the No. 1 pick. Other than Kiper and Mayock, not many have floated the idea of Mack as the top pick. In theory, though, the pick makes sense. He would fit as an outside linebacker better than someone like Jadeveon Clowney would.

That wasn't Kiper's only noteworthy choice in his latest mock draft (which is ESPN Insider content). He worked Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland into the first round to the Denver Broncos. With the signing of Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos are in win-now mode. As discussed in this week's podcast, the Broncos may look to add a player who can come in and make a contribution immediately. Borland fits that ideal more than most linebackers in the draft this year.

Free agency moves had little impact on Kiper's mock. For instance, despite signing Golden Tate, Kiper has the Detroit Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with the 10th pick. During a conference call Thursday, Kiper touted the idea of having those two in addition to Calvin Johnson in Detroit.

"Is Justin Gilbert the cornerback from Oklahoma State or Darqueze Dennard the cornerback from Michigan State highly rated enough to override a receiver?'' Kiper said. "If you have Calvin Johnson, Mike Evans and Golden Tate, you can attack and you're going to score a lot of points with Matthew Stafford.

"If Evans is there, you have Calvin Johnson, Mike Evans and Golden Tate. You have a big-time wide receiving corps that's going to scare the daylights out of people.''

In his mock, Kiper has the Cleveland Browns taking the first quarterback in the draft at No. 4. He gives them Central Florida's Blake Bortles, but said he could see the Browns taking Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. If Cleveland waits on a quarterback, Kiper said, they could look at Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo later in the first round or even (shudder) AJ McCarron in the second round.

"I just think they have to draft a quarterback," Kiper said. "It doesn’t have to be at four if they don’t like the guy that’s there or they don’t like any of (top quarterbacks) enough. I get that. If they don’t have a high enough grade on any of those three, fine. But you’ve got to come out with a quarterback. Brian Hoyer’s coming off an injury. You don’t know what you’ll have with him. They’ve got to get better at quarterback, significantly better at quarterback than they were last year, or they’ve got no chance of getting out of the cellar."

Kiper held a conference call on Thursday and said some interesting things. Here are some other notes:

- He thinks Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson could grade out as the top player on some teams' draft boards.

- In his mock, Kiper has Jadeveon Clowney going third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. His thought's on where Clowney could land in the draft:

"He's in that one-to-three range. You can see him to Houston. You can see him to two, but not to St. Louis. Jacksonville at 3 would be a nice spot for him."

- Kiper thinks the Rams will be an active team, whether it's moving down from the second pick or moving up from the 13th pick. He also thought the Browns and Atlanta Falcons will be aggressive on draft weekend as well.

- On tight end Eric Ebron:

"He's a threat a great, great receiving entity. They certainly could use an Eric Ebron. If he doesn't go 12, he could fall to 17."

- Depending on where the quarterbacks fall, Kiper thinks Watkins will be the choice at either Nos. 4, 5 or 7.

- Kiper said that despite a down season at Ole Miss, wide receiver Donte Moncrief could still slip into the back half of the first round.

"Donte Moncrief is an enigma for this reason: He’s an incredible talent; big, athletic, fast, you would have thought he would have been able to dominate some of those college corners. I watched him and I kept waiting for it because I had a high grade on him at the beginning of the year. I anticipated when I came out with that top-25 board in August, he would be a top-10 to top-15 pick, possible. He didn’t materialize into that."

- Interesting note: Kiper's eighth rated cornerback is Maine's Kendall James, whom he referred to as the biggest sleeper cornerback in the draft.

- Like every draft analyst, Kiper was required to have an opinion about Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas. Kiper said he grades Thomas as a fourth or fifth round pick, but it's possible he could get drafted in the second round. But Kiper also said he could envision Thomas being a tight end in the NFL.

"I would not be surprised if 2016 if we're talking about him as a tight end."

- On Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy:

"He’s a borderline first. I’ve spoken to a lot of teams and that’s basically the consensus on him. I thought about Denver and of course Denver signed Ware, and Ware moved Ealy out of there. If you think he can play on his feet, and I don’t necessarily see the movement skills to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, but some do feel he could be that. Then you would think he could be in play as high as Philadelphia at 22."

- On Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix:

"Louis Nix III, a true nose tackle, his stock has dropped a little bit from a mid-first to maybe an early to mid-second. It’s not a run game anymore. It’s a pass game. So everything now is about getting after the quarterback. And the guys that can do it the best, led by Aaron Donald, are the ones that are going to go the highest."

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