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Highlights from Mel Kiper Jr.'s conference call

ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his first mock draft of the season, which kicks off the four months of draft prep leading into April's NFL Draft in Philadelphia.

Players will rise and fall, opinions will vary on which direction teams should go in the first round, but it is a popular time for a league that has no real offseason.

Kiper's first mock of the season has the Lions selecting Alabama outside linebacker Tim Williams with the 21st pick.

"Williams (6-4, 250) is a fantastic pass-rushing talent who can be unblockable at times," Kiper wrote. "He had 19.5 sacks the past two seasons. Williams would have to put on some weight to play end in a 4-3, but his talent is undeniable.

"The Lions were second to last in sacks in 2016 (26), and Ezekiel Ansah had only two after a breakout 2015 season in which he had 14.5. This is a clear need, especially with few pass-rushers available in free agency."

As he always does when he releases a mock draft, Kiper spent time speaking with reporters via a conference call Thursday afternoon.

Here are some highlights from that call pertaining to the Lions:

On the Lions' pick at No. 21 and what pass rushers could be available:

"I don't think (Michigan's Taco Charleton) will be there (at No. 21)," Kiper said. "The best one I saw on the board when I did the projections, with Charlton gone, the best pass rusher was Tim Williams, the outside linebacker at Alabama, who you can move around and get a lot of use out of coming off that edge.

"It was a good season (for Williams), not spectacular. He looked like maybe even a top 10 pick going in based off what he did last year.

"There's some pass rushers if they want to reach a little bit and stretch it a little bit for a Charles Harris (Missouri) or a Derek Barnett (Tennessee). I'm not saying it's a stretch for Barnett. Barnett's going to have to test well to go back up where he was, which looked like a top 10 to 15 pick."

On RB help if the Lions decide they need it:

"I think right now it would certainly be something to consider if the back that you wanted was there," Kiper said. "If Dalvin Cook (Florida State) were there, yeah, I think you almost have to. Christian McCaffrey would make sense. I have him 15 on the board, you're picking at 21. D'onta Foreman out of Texas would be another one.

"If you're looking even farther down the line, there's some great depth at running back pretty much every year. It proved out last year. I liked Jordan Howard, look what he did (for the Bears). Paul Perkins (New York Giants). Both fifth-round picks. Kenneth Dixon (Baltimore) in the fourth round. A lot of these teams did really well picking running backs down the line.

"None of the final four teams in the NFL right now have a running back on the field who went in the first round that's making a key contribution. Of the 12 playoff teams, 11 of them had running backs that didn't go in the first round. The only one that did was Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas.

"You can find these guys and I'll give you a couple other names of guys in Day 3: Kareem Hunt at Toledo on a Day 3 pick, I think would make an awful lot of sense for somebody. I mentioned De'Angelo Henderson from Coastal Carolina, tremendously productive player, a player who has an awful lot of ability. This is another year where you can get running backs on Day 3 that can really come in and help your football team."

On this year's defensive class:

"This is a great defensive line draft and a great defensive draft in general," Kiper said.

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