Love him or hate him, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has established himself as the face of NFL Draft analysis for decades. Since his first appearance in 1984, Kiper has been a mainstay in ESPN’s draft coverage.
Kiper recently released his fourth NFL Mock Draft for the 2023 class. He goes through the first two rounds predicting the first 63 selections.
The accuracy of mock drafts is rarely ever the actual point. They are exercises to discuss different team needs and which players could fit in that system. Mock drafts are often wrong, especially in the later rounds. Over the year’s Kiper has pieced together some intriguing mock drafts. He has a knack for making head-scratching predictions. His fourth mock of the 2023 draft is no different.
The Worst Predictions in Mel Kiper’s NFL Mock Draft
Pick No. 17: Pittsburgh Steelers
Kiper’s Prediction: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Kiper did not make it through the first 16 picks without making some predictions outside the general consensus. He predicted Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith to the Atlanta Falcons at pick No. eight. Smith is a talented player, but the likes of Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson and Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness are viewed as better prospects.
At ninth he predicts the Chicago Bears to take Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright, making him the first tackle off the board. Wright fits the need at right tackle, but Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. are more highly regarded options.
While Kiper is reaching a bit on those picks, he is still filling urgent needs for those respective teams. With the Steelers, Kiper throws team need out the window. Pittsburgh has two positions high on its list of needs: tackle and cornerback. Kiper opts for a wide receiver and not even former Pitt Panther Jordan Addison.
Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Georgia tackle Broderick Jones are off the board already in Kiper’s mock, but he still Ohio State tackle Johnson Jr. and Maryland corner Deonte Banks available. Wide receiver is certainly on the table for the Steelers in the draft, but the team has significantly more pressing needs for its first-round pick.
Pick No. 27: Buffalo Bills
Kiper’s Prediction: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Kiper cites drafting for need in his prediction of Clemson’s Trenton Simpson to the Bills. The linebacker certainly fills a hole left behind by the departing Tremaine Edmunds. However, there is a world where Simpson is available to the Bills at pick No. 59. Yes, linebacker is a need, but a reach is a reach.
Most draft analysts view Simpson as a second or third-round pick, not a first-rounder. He is the fourth-rated linebacker on Pro Football Focus’ big board. Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley is less of a reach than Simpson and even he is viewed as a second-round selection.
It would make more sense for the Bills to take the best player available. The team could use an edge rusher to supplement and eventually replace an aging Von Miller. A defensive back or interior defensive line could make sense as well. The value of any linebacker in the first round in this class is simply not there.
Pick No. 30: Projected Philadelphia Eagles trade pick to Seattle Seahawks
Kiper’s prediction: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
The Seahawks just re-signed quarterback Geno Smith to a three-year contract. That does not exclude the team from selecting a quarterback of the future in this year’s draft, but Hendon Hooker is hardly the developmental player the team should target, especially in the first round.
Tennessee did not run a complex playbook during Hooker’s tenure. The team ran simple reads and a limited number of plays. That does not mean Hooker is incapable of running a full NFL playbook, but he is behind the eight ball in that regard. He possesses good traits. He is accurate and has an NFL-quality arm. However, he is already 25. If Smith is the plan for the next few seasons, Hooker will already be in his late 20s by the time he is able to take over.
Unless the Seahawks are taking a swing on Florida’s Anthony Richardson, it does not make much sense for them to take a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft. Hooker’s upside does not project to be much more than what Smith provided for them last year. He is viewed by many as a third-round pick. It is hard to see the Seahawks moving the draft capital to get Hooker.
Those are just Kiper’s strangest picks from the first round. The analyst made plenty more in the second. However, for the Detroit Lions, Kiper’s mock draft is actually quite good.
Mel Kiper’s predictions for the Detroit Lions draft
Pick No. 6: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
After predicting four quarterbacks in the NFL draft’s first four selections and Seattle to take Georgia’s Jalen Carter, Kiper predicts the Lions to take Alabama star Will Anderson Jr. The edge rusher is possibly the best non-quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class.
Anderson Jr. possesses tremendous burst and bend around the edge. He dominated in three collegiate seasons racking up a total of 37 sacks and 207 pressures.
Paired with Aiden Hutchinson, the Lions would have a dominant outside pass rush. Selecting Anderson Jr. allows Detroit to move James Houston into a rotational edge rusher role where he may be better suited long-term.
Kiper has the Lions taking the best player available with this pick, and it coincides with a major upgrade to their front seven.
Pick No. 18: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Of all the Lions picks in Kiper’s mock draft, the selection of Texas runningback Bijan Robinson might be the least necessary. Robinson is an incredible running back talent, and he is certainly worth a first-round selection, but he plays a position the Lions do not really need right now. The team just signed former Bears running back David Montgomery to a three-year $18 million contract.
This predictive pick could have been better suited to an upgrade along the interior defensive line. Pitt’s Calijah Kancey and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee were both available at 18th in Kiper’s mock draft. Both players have good upside and fill Detroit’s most pressing need.
While this mock was released before the Lions dealt Jeff Okudah to the Atlanta Falcons, a cornerback would also make sense here.
Still, with Robinson’s talent, it is hard to fault Kiper for making this selection. If Robinson stays healthy, the Lions rank near the top of the league in rushing for the next five to eight years. Kiper calls it a luxury pick for a Lions team that does not have many needs, but the interior defensive line still needs to be addressed somewhere.
Pick No. 48: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
After re-signing linebacker Alex Anzalone this offseason, linebacker became less of a pressing need for the Lions. However, the team needs to find a long-term guy to pair next to standout Malcolm Rodriguez. Kiper has Detroit finding that guy in Iowa’s Jack Campbell.
He tested really well at the combine and has good size at 6-5. Campbell projects as an early down run stuffer with limited ability in pass coverage at the NFL level. The only top-four linebacker left on the board here is Washington State’s Henley. As talented as the converted wide receiver is, he needs time to become more comfortable in the new position.
Campbell makes sense for the Lions, especially with the top interior lineman off the board. Linebacker is not a desperate need for Detroit right now, but this selection plans for the future.
Pick No. 55: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
The 6-0 Jalin Hyatt is a speedy receiver. He finished 2022 with 1,276 receiving yards off 67 receptions. He finished the season tallying 15 total touchdowns.
Hyatt is a verticle threat. He has difficulty beating press coverage but can fly past defensive backs if he gets to full speed. Kiper cites Hyatt’s flexibility to play in the slot as part of his fit in Detroit, but Amon-Ra St. Brown fills that role already. The addition of Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency should not deter the Lions from selecting a receiver in the draft, but the team can find a speedy wideout in a later round.
Hyatt is a good selection here, but it would have been nice to see Kiper consider tight end. Detroit currently heads into next season with an experienced tight end group, none with tremendous upside. Iowa’s Sam LaPorta and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft are both on the board here.
While Kiper’s selections for the Lions do not necessarily fill the team’s more glaring needs, it is a good overall haul. Kiper projects the team to receive early contributors with their first four picks. If this is how Detroit’s draft plays out in the early rounds, it is hard to complain. However, the team will still need to find an answer along the interior of its defensive line.
Kiper’s NFL Mock Draft for the Lions does not receive an A grade, but it is at least a B+ overall. It is definitely not his most ridiculous draft prediction.
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