ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his third mock draft this week after the first wave of free agency, and those free agent moves have changed his mock draft quite a bit.
Kiper has four quarterbacks being drafted in the top five picks, which Lions fans hoping to add a stud defender to the mix at No. 6 will love to hear. He has C.J. Stroud No. 1 to Carolina, Bryce Young No. 2 to Houston, Will Levis No. 3 to Indianapolis in a trade with Arizona, and Anthony Richardson going No. 5 to Seattle. With Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. off the board to Arizona at No. 4, Kiper has the Lions selecting Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 6.
"Detroit added veteran corners Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, and versatile defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency, which likely signals it's going to pass on the top corners with this pick," Kiper wrote. "But did you watch this defense last season? It ranked bottom of the league in most statistical categories, including yards per play allowed (6.2). The Lions have to keep trying to fix it.
"The easiest way to do that? Take Carter, who has had a troubled few months. Last week, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing for his alleged role in a Jan. 15 car wreck that killed Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy. He also showed up at his pro day nine pounds heavier than he was at the NFL combine, and he was unable to finish the position drills. He's no longer in the mix to be the No. 1 pick."
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In a national conference call Wednesday that coincided with the release of his latest mock draft, Kiper said on tape alone Carter is the No. 1 player in the draft.
"You think about the football player, the pure football player, going into the year where he was No. 1 on the board. Had the ankle injury in September then he comes back and plays really well and ends up still remaining in the No. 1 spot," Kiper said. "Pure football ability he's my No. 1 player in the draft."
Kiper said if Carter falls to No. 6, teaming him up with Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Aidan Hutchinson on the edge should be really enticing as a way for Holmes and the Lions to make this defense instantly better.
Carter's 90.0 pass-rush grade in 2021 led all power five interior defensive linemen, as did his 18.9 percent pass-rush win rate from the interior, per Pro Football Focus statistics. Despite battling injuries in 2022, Carter posted a 92.3 grade that again ranked first among power five interior defensive linemen.
Most draft analysts think Carter is the best defensive tackle prospect since Quinnen Williams.
Carter at No. 6 could potentially fit as the best player on the board, and also fill a position of need for Detroit. Holmes did a terrific job in free agency filling the team's needs in the secondary by signing Gardner-Johnson, Sutton and Moseley.
Detroit also re-signed Isaiah Buggs to pair with third-year defensive lineman Alim McNeill inside. Reserve defensive lineman Benito Jones is also back, but the interior DL spot is still an area the Lions could look to add to.
"I could see a team such as the Lions taking him here, filling a position of need," Kiper wrote.
At pick No. 18, Kiper has the Lions addressing another need after the first wave of free agency, adding a tight end to the room with Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell. Kiper mocks Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer to the Lions at No. 18
"I got the Lions help along the defensive line at No. 6, and I wouldn't be surprised if they double-dipped here with another pick on defense," Kiper wrote. "That unit was that bad last season. Instead, let's pivot to the other side of the ball.
"They traded away T.J. Hockenson last fall and used a committee approach to the tight end position, with Wright, Mitchell and Zylstra each catching at least 11 passes. All three are under contract for 2023, but shouldn't Detroit try to upgrade?
"Mayer is the most complete tight end in this class. He's physical as a run-blocker, and he can run seam routes and get open for quarterback Jared Goff. He caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns last season and had 180 catches in his college career. He could be the lead guy in Detroit."
Kiper also touched on a number of other topics the conference call, as follows:
On Texas running back Bijan Robinson: Kiper said Robinson's balance and ability to run in traffic jumps out watching the tape. Robinson drops his pad level really well, and Kiper considers him a natural runner who is very instinctive. Kiper has Robinson No. 9 on his Big Board but said he's got the same grade as his No. 6 player on that board.
On Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.: Anderson will go down as one of the all-time best character guys coming into the draft, according to Kiper, who thinks Anderson is humble, all about ball and a team guy. Kiper thinks teams are going to love the character aspect of Anderson and thinks he'll be an 8-12 sack player consistently in the league.
On this year's wide receiver class: Hit or miss. That's how Kiper characterized the class as a whole. Two guys that really stood out to him from the receiver class were Boston College's Zay Flowers, who Kiper called electric. He also thinks Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba is deceptively fast on tape.
On Day 2 off-the-ball linebackers Kiper likes in this draft: He named Drew Sanders (Arkansas), Trenton Simpson (Clemson), Jack Campbell (Iowa), Daiyan Henley (Washington State) and Dorian Williams (Tulane).