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Carl Lawson outside Mel Kiper Jr.’s group of top tier pass rushers

Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson, No. 55, runs drills at the Saints' practice facility outside of New Orleans Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016.
Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson, No. 55, runs drills at the Saints' practice facility outside of New Orleans Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. reiterated his concerns about Carl Lawson’s durability on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Kiper has four defensive ends going in the first round of his initial mock draft.

The ESPN draft expert has Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett going No. 1 (Browns), Stanford’s Solomon Thomas at No. 9 (Cincinnati), Michigan’s Taco Charlton at No. 19 (Tampa Bay) and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett at No. 31 (Atlanta).

Lawson is outside of Kiper’s top tier of pass rushers — a group that also includes outside linebackers like Alabama’s Tim Williams and Missouri’s Charles Harris — due to the defensive end’s lengthy injury history (torn ACL, hip injury).

“That’s it, that’s the only thing,” Kiper said of Lawson’s injury. “I thought about giving him to several teams picking in the last first that certainly could use a pass rusher. When Carl Lawson is healthy and is out there playing at a high level he looks like a top 15 pick, but the durability concerns are there.”

Lawson finished the season with 30 tackles (15 solo) with a team-leading nine sacks and 24 quarterback hurries.

"He's the eighth-highest rated defensive end," Kiper said. "He's rated over Jordan Willis from Kansas State, right behind Charles Harris, who can play with his hand on the ground or play on his feet as a 3-4 outside linebacker.”

Lawson will get a chance to improve his draft stock at the NFL Combine in March, but that won’t be an easy task according to Kiper.

The draft expert praised the talent level in this year’s draft on the defensive side of the ball multiple times during the hour-long call.

“This defensive draft is spectacular,” Kiper said. “Fantasy people won’t like this draft because it’s really going to help defenses get better.”

Kiper also said it was a “great defensive line draft” with strong pass rushers available to fit a variety of needs.

The draft expert lists Garrett as the best down pass-rusher for a typical 4-3 defense, UCLA’s Pat McKinley as the top stand-up edge rusher and Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen as the most talented three-technique inside rusher.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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