ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s has mixed views on the decisions made by Auburn’s underclassman.
Kiper held a conference call Thursday afternoon to discuss his projections for this year’s draft.
He applauded Carl Lawson’s decision to return to Auburn for his junior season in a draft that is very deep across the defensive line.
“He’s a special kid from a leadership standpoint with great pass rushing instincts,” Kiper said.
Lawson can be a first day pick in the 2017 draft if the lineman can stay healthy from day one in the fall.
According to Kiper, another year of experience would have similarly benefited Auburn offensive tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young, who he grades as second to third round picks.
“Their potential is more impressive than their week-to-week performance,” Kiper said.
The ESPN draft guru also touched on former Auburn wide receiver D'haquille Williams. Williams was dismissed from the team during the Tigers' bye week in October.
“It’s a shame he wasn’t able to life up to his potential,” Kiper said.
A strong senior season and combine performance would have put Williams in the first round discussion, but now the receiver is “maybe” a day three pick.
The other Auburn talent Kiper sees in the draft mix is linebacker Cassanova McKinzy. The senior’s versatility and pass-rushing ability puts him in the third round mix.
SEC Quick Hits
* Kiper released his NFL Mock Draft 1.0 Thursday with three SEC players going in his top 10. He had San Diego taking Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil at No. 3, wide receiver Laquan Treadwell going to San Francisco at No. 7 and Tampa Bay selecting Florida defensive back Vernon Hargreaves at No. 9.
* On Tunsil, Kiper said the tackle is “in the discussion at number one” as someone who has the potential to be complete left tackle. Kiper praised Tunsil’s great balance and tremendous feet.
* Treadwell’s top 10 status isn’t guaranteed if he stumbles at the combine.
While Treadwell has huge hands and great size, Kiper stressed the importance of running well enough to stay at the top of the first round in a draft with an average group of wide receivers.
* Kiper has Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche going No. 13 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nkemdiche came into the season as a potential top five pick, but well-publicized off the field issues aren't the only thing negatively impacting his draft stock
“He wasn’t productive as he should have been,” Kiper said.
* Alabama has a number of talented draft prospects, but Kiper is highest on A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland.
Kiper called Robinson, who he has going to New Orleans at No. 12, the “ideal player for the NFL" while he sees Ragland as the perfect fit for Chicago at No. 11.
“He’s a guy that can really, really handle the run responsibilities,” Kiper said.
* Kiper doesn’t expect Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to go on the first day of the draft.
“He doesn’t have enough wiggle or change of direction for NFL teams,” Kiper said.
Henry could possibly break into the second round, but Kiper grades him as a third round prospect.