My pick for the Detroit Lions in Mock 21 3.0 looks a lot like the player I projected them taking with the 21st pick overall in the first round in my first two mock drafts.
Same school. Same side of the ball.
The change – and it's a big one that likely will be met with divided reaction -- has been influenced by a number of factors since my Mock 21 2.0 came out after the Combine workouts last month. Among those factors are the free-agent signings from teams drafting ahead of the Lions, and the buzz about the draft in last week's NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
My final mock draft – Mock 21 Final Edition – comes out before the first round on April 27.
Here is Mock 21 3.0, with any changes noted from Mock 21 2.0.
As always feel free to agree or disagree.
1. Cleveland Browns (1-15): DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M. Elite athlete – no change.
2. San Francisco 49ers (2-14): DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford. Change from DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama.
3. Chicago Bears (3-13): DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama. Change from Thomas.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13): S Jamal Adams, LSU. No change.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams 4-12): CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State. No change.
6. New York Jets (5-11): QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina. No change.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11): S Malik Hooker, Ohio State. No change.
8. Carolina Panthers (6-10): RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. No change.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1): TE O.J. Howard, Alabama. Change from OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin, in Mock 2; and DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford in Mock 1.
10. Buffalo Bills (7-9): WR Mike Williams, Clemson. No change.
11. New Orleans Saints (7-9): LB Reuben Foster, Alabama. No change.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Eagles 7-9): QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. No change from Mock 2 – but do not discount a possible trade with the Patriots to acquire QB Jimmy Garoppolo, despite some reports that the Patriots already are locked into keeping him. There are no absolutes in the draft.
13. Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1): DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee. No change.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings 8-8): CB Quincy Wilson, Florida. No change.
15. Indianapolis Colts (8-8): OT Garett Bolles, Utah. No change.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State. No change.
17. Washington Redskins (8-7-1): WR John Ross, Washington. No change.
18. Tennessee Titans (9-7): WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan. Change from O.J. Howard.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford. No change.
20. Denver Broncos (9-7): OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin. With the top WRs off this board, this is a switch-back pick – from Corey Davis in Mock 2 and Ramczyk in Mock 1. Welcome back, Ryan. Seems like you never left.
21. Detroit Lions (9-7): S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. Change from DE Taco Charlton, Michigan.
No knock on Taco Charlton. He was my pick for the Lions in my first two mock drafts. The Lions need to add to their front seven on defense, and Charlton would be a solid addition up front opposite Ziggy Ansah as a pass rusher, and also with the power to set the edge against the run.
No doubt, Charlton would fill a need.
So why the switch to Jabrill Peppers?
It's rare that a team can draft a player with rare skill this deep in the first round. And Peppers is just that – rare.
In my first mock draft, I had Peppers going to the Ravens at No. 16, but he was not on my board with the first 21 picks in my second mock draft.
Here is a composite of what I heard about Peppers at the recent meeting in Phoenix that prompted the change:
1. There is a divide between teams that love Peppers as a first-round pick and those who don't. For those who don't, there's a question of where he fits best – safety, cornerback, slot defender, return man, small linebacker. Even running back has been mentioned.
Those are a lot of questions to answer when taking a player at No. 21 – especially with defensive talent still on the board.
In other words, you'd better have a plan for him.
2. On the positive side, Peppers has undeniable football ability. Not just athletic ability, but football ability. His skills translate to playing football, not winning the NFL Combine heptathlon.
At the Combine in February he was timed 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and with a 1.53 split in the first 10 yards. Jamal Adams, the top-ranked safety in the draft, was timed in 4.56 seconds.
What adds to Peppers' value is that he doesn't just run fast for the scouts in shorts and a T-shirt. He's fast wearing full gear – pads, helmet, football cleats. That's football ability, not just athletic ability.
3. Peppers is highly regarded for his football acumen. He's a quick learner who can adjust on the run – even as fast as he runs – and transfer to the field the adjustments he's been told to make on the sideline.
4. He's versatile. If Peppers isn't a starting safety on opening day, he'll be in the rotation in packages that use his ability while he develops in the system.
Whether he starts or not, Peppers can be a return man with the potential to be an immediate Pro Bowl caliber threat every time he touches the ball.
The Lions have an opening for a return man with the departure via free agency of Andre Roberts, who gave the Lions impact last year with two punt returns for touchdowns.
Peppers can do the same – and perhaps even more.
Bottom line: The Lions have advanced beyond the stage where they're adding players to fill massive holes to become respectable. They are legitimate contenders in the NFC North. Twice in the last three years – 2014 and 2016 – they've played the Green Bay Packers – and lost -- in the final game in a showdown for the division title.
Adding the right mix of players in free agency and the draft can make the Lions stronger contenders.
There is a risk-reward factor in the draft, and it's folly to take a flyer on a player in any round – especially in the first round.
There is some risk in drafting Peppers, but he checks enough boxes for the reward to outweigh the risk.