Mel Kiper Jr. today ranked the Top 10 draft-eligible prospects at each position — and included four Notre Dame Fighting Irish players in his assessment.
In his pre-Combine evaluation, ESPN’s senior draft analyst considers:
- Jerry Tillery to be the seventh best defensive lineman
- Te’von Coney to be the fifth best inside linebacker
- Julian Love to be the fourth best cornerback
- Tyler Newsome to be the second best punter
Kiper is a force of nature in the draft industry, although his mock drafts aren’t typically very accurate. His rankings are based on game tape from this past season, and will likely change considerably after the NFL Combine evaluation in March.
TILLERY IS LIKELY SECOND ROUND IN KIPER’S BOOK
Kiper has the six defensive tackles ahead of Tillery all going in the first round of his mock draft. They are Quinnen Williams (Alabama Crimson Tide); Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State Bulldogs); Ed Oliver (Houston Cougars); Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence (Clemson Tigers); and Dre’Mont Jones (Ohio State Buckeyes).
A second-round designation for Tillery jibes, for now, with the conventional wisdom. In the 70 mock drafts I’ve tracked, about three out of every four say Tillery won’t be among the first 32 picks. (Tillery is typically linked with the Los Angeles Chargers, who hold pick #28, among those who believe the Shreveport native will go in the first round.)
LOVE BEHIND FIRST ROUND TALENTS
Love, an underclassman, is slotted behind Greedy Williams (LSU Tigers), Deandre Baker (Georgia Bulldogs) and Byron Murphy (Washington Huskies) on Kiper’s cornerbacks board.
In his first mock, Kiper had Williams at #4 to the Oakland Raiders, Baker at #10 to the Denver Broncos and Murphy at #23 to the Texans.
Love can certainly improve his standing among teams with an eye-popping Combine effort, but he’s a second or third round pick in most mock drafts so far.
If the Texans don’t pick a cornerback in the first round, some analysts think they’ll take Love with the 54th overall pick.
CONEY’S PROJECTION IS ALL OVER THE MAP
Kiper has just two inside linebackers in his first round mock draft: His top ILB, LSU’s Devin White, and his No. 2, Devin Bush of the Michigan Wolverines. The analyst also has Alabama’s Mack Wilson and Vosean Joseph (Florida Gators) ahead of Coney on his big board.
Of the 14 mock drafts that have suggested picks across multiple rounds, two have Coney in the first round, six have the Palm Beach Gardens native as a second round selection and four have the linebacker in the third round. One has him all the way in the seventh round and another says he won’t be picked for at least four rounds.
ALL THE REST
Kiper ranks Newsome as the second-best punter behind Jake Bailey (Stanford Cardinal), but that doesn’t mean he’ll get drafted when teams convene in Nashville in April.
There isn’t a mock draft I’ve found so far that has slotted Newsome in the draft, although four punters were selected by teams in the fifth round (or later) during last year’s draft. A punter hasn’t been picked before the third day since 2012, so Newsome will be waiting until Saturday to hear his name called.
Kiper doesn’t have guard/tackle Alex Bars, wide receiver Miles Boykin, center Sam Mustipher, tight end Alize Mack, linebacker Drue Tranquill, running back Dexter Williams or kicker Justin Yoon on his big boards.
Bars may be a late round pick or undrafted free agent after tearing his ACL and MCL in the Irish’s win over Stanford in early October.
Mack could be a second day pick — NFL.com’s Chad Reuter has him as the 56th overall selection, but he’s looking more like a third day pick at this point.
Mustipher, who was not invited to the Combine, will be a third day selection if picked at all. Ditto for Tranquill and Williams, who were reportedly offered a Combine spot. Boykin hasn’t shown up on a mock draft yet.