ESPN's NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. puts a different spin on his latest pre-draft analysis with his "Grade: A" mock draft on Thursday. Instead of simply projecting the picks like an analyst, he acts as the general manager for every team.
Update: Check out our NFL Draft 2015 preview.
Kiper makes picks based on need and/or value depending on how the draft board unfolds for the team currently on the clock, and the selections are made in the best interest of only the team in that slot. He reiterates that this mock is not a projection, but rather how he values players at each slot in the draft. Similar to his previous mocks, Kiper also doesn't include any trades unless they are already completed.
Because he's taking a team-by-team approach, Kiper expands this mock to include the first three rounds, 99 picks in all. In addition to giving a short explanation for the picks, Kiper also notes the key positional needs for each team. Let's dive in and look at some of the highlights of GM Kiper's three-round mock draft.
No changes at the top, Winston and Mariota still 1-2
Kiper's top five picks are the same as his most recent mock draft last week, with Jameis Winston going first overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, followed by Marcus Mariota, Leonard Williams, Amari Cooper and Dante Fowler. In one of his strongest statements, Kiper says "there's no debate" about the No. 1 pick -- and it has to be Winston because he's not only the most pro-ready prospect, but he also has the talent to start from day one.
Kiper speculates that the Titans could trade the second pick if they are offered a huge return, but he likes Mariota in this slot because the former Duck represents such a big upgrade at the league's most important position and has far greater upside than Zach Mettenberger.
Wide receiver mania
Kiper now has four wide receivers going in the top 10 picks in this mock: Cooper (4th), Kevin White (6th), Breshad Perriman (7th) and DeVante Parker (10th). The big takeaways here are the continued rise of Perriman and the New York Jets adding a wide receiver with their first pick at No. 6 (in Kiper's first four mocks, the Jets never took a receiver).
The former UCF wideout has shot up Kiper's board in the past month, and the analyst thinks that the Chicago Bears simply cannot pass on an elite talent like Perriman, especially since they have a need at wideout. Kiper believes the Jets shouldn't mortgage their future by trying to trade up for Mariota, but instead give their quarterback a dangerous and deep receiving corps with the addition of White.
If this mock draft holds true, it would be an unprecedented number of wide receivers taken this high in the draft. Never before in the history of the NFL Draft have four wideouts gone off the board in the first 10 picks.
Because this is the first time Kiper does a multi-round mock, we get some insight on his draft thoughts for the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, who do not have first-round picks.
Kiper admits that he really struggled with the Bills pick at 50th overall in the second round. Despite the addition of Matt Cassel, the future of the quarterback position remains a huge question mark, so he takes Bryce Petty and hopes that the team can develop him into a starter a few years down the road. Kiper also lists guard, linebacker and safety as other key needs in Buffalo.
As for the Seahawks, Kiper wants to add depth to the Legion of Boom and selects Ronald Darby with the 63rd overall pick. He also considered a receiver there, but notes that the trade for a pass-catching weapon in Jimmy Graham lessens the need and thinks that the team could find a value pick in the later rounds.
The third QB off the board is....
Winston and Mariota are the consensus top two quarterbacks in the draft, but there's little agreement among analysts about the ranking of the other notable quarterback prospects. Kiper has Petty as the next quarterback to come off the board, going to the Bills in the second round. He notes that while Petty is probably not ready to start in the NFL right now, he's a nice developmental piece for Rex Ryan's team.
After Petty, Kiper doesn't have another team drafting a quarterback until the third round, when he sees the Jets grabbing Garrett Grayson at No. 70 and the Cleveland Browns taking Brett Hundley at 77th overall. Given the lack of an established quarterback in New York, there's a chance that Grayson -- who is considered more NFL-ready than Hundley -- could earn a starting job there as a rookie.
Kadar vs. Kiper
SB Nation's Dan Kadar released his most recent mock draft on Monday, and there are some notable differences between him and Kiper in their top 10 picks.
Both guys have Winston and Mariota going 1-2, but then Kadar projects Fowler at No. 3 to the Jaguars. This is a bold pick since most analysts consider Williams to be the best available prospect in the draft. But Kadar is banking on the fact that Fowler told reporters he'd be "stunned" if the Jags didn't take him, and believes he an ideal fit as Jacksonville's Leo because of his versatility.
Kadar is high on Clemson's Vic Beasley, who he thinks is one of the best athletes in the draft and has going fifth overall to Washington. Kiper doesn't take Beasley until middle of the first round with the Texans' No. 16 pick, and has Washington selecting Fowler with the fifth pick. Both obviously see the need for a pass rusher in the nation's capital, but differ on who is the best fit for Washington's defense.