Much like colleague Todd McShay, who released his initial NFL draft projection last month, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has the Detroit Lions taking a linebacker in the first round.
Kiper has Alabama’s Tim Williams pegged to Detroit with the No. 21 selection.
“Williams is a fantastic pass-rushing talent who can be unblockable at times,” Kiper writes. “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.”
The Lions do desperately need a pass rusher. While Ansah figures to bounce back next season, the team has little behind him on the depth chart. Kerry Hyder, who led the team with 8.5 sacks last season, is a restricted free agent and will be back. Devin Taylor and Armonty Bryant, the next best options on the roster, are both unrestricted free agents.
Williams is listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. He tallied 18.5 sacks the past two seasons, part of 27.5 tackles behind the line.
In addition to the Lions’ pick, Kiper has four local products in his initial mock.
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers is first off the board, going to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 16. Peppers’ teammate, Taco Charlton is slotted three spots later to the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Near the end of the first round, Kiper has the Oakland Raiders taking Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell at No. 24 and the Kansas City Chiefs grabbing Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis at No. 27.
At the top of the mock draft, Kiper has Cleveland taking Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett.
Kiper on Peppers: “The Harbaugh connection is interesting here. Who has better intel on Peppers than his college coach, Jim Harbaugh? And Jim's brother, John, is the Ravens' coach. Peppers is a fantastic talent, but he's a tweener and is more of a rover back. He could be an in-the-box safety or linebacker who helps in run support and goes out and covers slot receivers and tight ends. The right team will get creative with him and get a star playmaker.”
Kiper's complete first round with analysis (pay site).