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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The 4 biggest surprises from Mel Kiper’s latest NFL mock draft

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We’re just over a month away from the 2022 NFL Draft, and nobody has any idea what’s going to happen. That’s true to a degree in any draft, but it feels even more distinct this year. A deep class, paired with uncertainty at quarterback, has left us in a situation where any number of different players could be taken in the Top 10, and they still all make sense.

That’s why on first glance at Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft I was left stunned, because it so widely varied from the traditional perceptions of this class — but the more I look at it, and think about it, the more it seems like a possibility at least some of the picks will play out this way.

You should take a look at the entire mock to see how it plays out, but I want to dive into the few things that stunned me the most from Kiper’s latest projection.

No. 1: Drake London is the first WR off the board, and early

This one really took me aback. I can honestly see a toss-up between Garrett Wilson and London as the top receiver in this draft depending on what teams value.

Wilson is very much in the mold of what teams want in receivers right now. He’s a huge talent after the catch with a natural feel for how to evade defenders and pick up extra yards. There isn’t a perfect comparison, but think of him more in the Cooper Kupp mold. Wilson is going to make a quarterback look better, he’ll catch some downfield passes, but his real skill comes from putting the ball in his hands and have him make plays.

London is the complete opposite. He’s a big-bodied receiver with a mammoth catch radius that plays more like a hybrid tight end. The skill set isn’t dissimilar to that of Kyle Pitts or a Mike Evans, which is extremely attractive to teams. These are players who can take a questionably jump ball and turn it into a big play, purely because they can grab passes smaller defensive backs can’t reach.

This makes a lot of sense for the Jets, who Kiper have taking London at No. 4. This feels ludicrously early, but he is a receiver who can help Zach Wilson immensely, who’s always had a propensity to throw 50/50 balls and ask his receiver to make the play.

No. 2: Carolina screws up … BIG TIME

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Travon Walker. Hell, I had him going at No. 12 in my last mock to the Vikings, where I think he’d be an amazing pick. If the Panthers take him with the sixth pick it would be a colossal mistake.

There’s no doubt this team needs pass rushing help opposite Brian Burns, they need a lot of everything, but this pick needs to be an offensive lineman, or a quarterback if Carolina falls in love. There is absolutely no room for anything else, especially with Mississippi State OT Charles Cross still on the board, which is a hand-meet-glove pick.

Selecting Walker would be disastrous to Carolina’s rebuild, because it would offer no help to their struggling offense, which has to be the focal point here.

No. 3: Where are the corners?

No cornerback in the top 10… huh? I definitely see there being some debate between Derek Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner for the top corner this draft, but there is no scenario in which I could see both sliding out of the top 10.

The position is just too important in the modern NFL to see six linemen go early, but no corners. I think ultimately both Stingley Jr. and Gardner will go top 10.

No. 4: The quarterback slide is massive

This is weird, but I could absolutely see it happening. Kiper doesn’t have a passer go until 18th, when the Saints select Kenny Pickett. Then the Steelers take Malik Willis at 20.

I’ve been trying to articulate how I feel about Willis and Pickett, and I think I’ve kind of settled on the comparison I’m more comfortable with: I feel like Willis is a poor man’s Kyler Murray with his elusiveness and arm strength, but without the resume to back up being taken higher — while Pickett is a plus-level Josh Rosen. Same concerns about cockiness, but some pro-level tools you hope you can build on as a team.

Those really aren’t glowing descriptions, which is why I can see this slide into the middle of the round being very possible. Still, I’m banking on someone willing to roll the dice on Willis and him go very early in this draft.

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