Mel Kiper Jr. called Tua Tagovailoa the most intriguing player in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Kiper, the NFL Draft analyst from ESPN, released his NFL Mock Draft 3.0 on Tuesday and fielded questions from media during a teleconference today. Easily, the player about whom the most questions swirl is the Heisman Trophy runner-up whose season was cut short by a dislocated hip, his third lower-body injury of his career in Tuscaloosa.
That history of injury – which includes procedures on each ankle – has some scratching their heads about making a trade to move up in the draft to get him. Tagovailoa’s injury kept him from participating on the field at the NFL Combine although he met with team executives.
Tuesday, the Tide signal-caller released a 10-second video that showed him going through a fast-paced, drop-back passing drill. And while Kiper acknowledged that Tagovailoa looked good, questions would persist.
“Tua would be the most intriguing because of … the limited ability to see and the limited knowledge with the medical and what’s going on in the world right now and in our country,” Kiper said. “If everything would have been perfect and everything was done the way it’s always been done, you still have the durability concerns.
“Even if he’s medically cleared and everything looks OK with the hip and progress has been made and all that, you still have three separate injuries that all occurred,” he continued. “Can he take hits? Can he sustain hits, come back and then be healthy from those hits? Durability for Tua would still be a question regardless if this was a perfect draft scenario or draft process scenario.”
While not factoring trades into his mock draft, Kiper acknowledged that “it would be a great opportunity” for Detroit to move down from No. 3 to No. 5.
“If you’re Detroit, it would be a great opportunity to go from three to five and still get Jeff Okudah, the cornerback from Ohio State or Isaiah Simmons, the linebacker from Clemson,” he said. “You don’t lose anything if you’re the Lions.”
He mentioned Miami and the Los Angeles Chargers among teams that might consider moving to get Tagovailoa.
Kiper was asked who among the potential draft selections is the most NFL ready. After Simmons, he cited Auburn’s Derrick Brown, who could have bolted for the pros in 2019.
Brown “got another year of experience and did a great job at Auburn,” Kiper said. “I think with Derrick Brown you know what you’re getting out of the defensive tackle.”
Another NFL-ready player, he said, is Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
“He’s a solid player, he’s technically sound (and) he was consistent,” Kiper said. “He didn’t have any hiccups at right tackle this year. He’s the kind of guy who’s a plug-and-play right tackle.”
Kiper repeated that the deepest position in this draft is wide receiver. He compared this draft to other years in which three wideouts distanced themselves from the rest. Among those, he has Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy set to go 13th to the San Francisco 49ers and Henry Ruggs III 15th to the Denver Broncos.
“I think Henry Ruggs III is right there for some teams as the top receiver,” he said, noting that the New York Jets might make a move for him. “Michael Irvin and all those different receivers in (that) draft, they were very hard to separate and that’s the thing with Jeudy, (Oklahoma’s CeeDee) Lamb and Ruggs. I would still go Jeudy, Lamb, Ruggs, (Clemson’s Tee) Higgins, in that order.”
Speaking of Oklahoma, Kiper was asked if former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts could follow in the successful footsteps of 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
“In terms of where he is right now, I think he’s a late second, early to mid-third (round selection),” Kiper said, calling claims that Hurts would drop into the sixth round “way, way low.”
“He threw the ball well at the combine,” the analyst said. “He had a heck of a year at two different big-time programs. He won a ton of games, he rushed for a lot of yards, he scored a ton of touchdowns.”
Hurts’ value is enhanced, Kiper said, because of the many things he can do. Even a team with a great starter in hand can put packages in place for Hurts, Kiper said.
“That’s going to help him to be a late second, early third round pick.”
Kiper said Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson is close to being a first-rounder in his mock draft. He’s got him pegged in the late first round or early to mid-second round.
“You’ve got versatility and you talk about production in Senior Bowl week. All that adds up,” he said. “There’s really not much else there (below him at that position), so if you need one, you better take him early — late first, early second.”
Kiper has Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene penciled in at No. 31, going to the San Francisco 49ers. He said he likes his versatility.
“He’s helped out on special teams and the return game,” the analyst said. “He keeps getting better and better. His tackling improved and his instincts in coverage made progress this year.
“He still has some work to do in terms of his coverage technique, but he’s got awesome talent,” Kiper continued. “He’s just touched the surface of what kind of player he can be at corner.”