Mel Kiper, Jr on Cam Newton and The 2011 NFL Draft

ESPN conducted a media conference call Wednesday, March 9, with ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., who discussed a number of 2011 prospects. (A full replay of the call; Kiper photos). Select comments:

On who should be the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft…
In terms of the guys that would be worthy of being No. 1, Blaine Gabbert certainly would, Cam Newton, you can make an argument for – Gabbert because of his size, arm, quick release and mobility…Certainly Newton and what he did at Auburn…the intangibles have to be checked out…Nick Fairley is certainly worthy, but he’s a one-year wonder…Marcell Dareus is certainly worthy and gives you great scheme versatility. I think you can make a case for Von Miller. The great leverage he has coming off that edge, the sack numbers…Patrick Peterson is my No. 1 player…but I have Peterson going No. 7 now to the 49ers. ..You have nine or eight guys that could go No. 1 overall.

On Auburn quarterback Cam Newton…
“I still want to see him in NFL conditions with the bullets flying…There is still some concern, is he going to be the guy that can deal with adversity. I’m not talking about the distractions that came at Auburn and he dealt with that tremendously. I’m talking about adversity being your performance. He’s been the main entity. It’s come easy to Newton. He’s dominated at every level – junior college, National Champion – undefeated. National title at Auburn – undefeated. All those wins at Florida even though he wasn’t the guy – Tebow was. He’s never been around losing. It’s always come easy to him. How effective is he moving forward when he has to deal with negativity about performance?…Other quarterbacks have had to struggle at times. This guy has been lights out.

“He’s the one player in this Draft that presents the biggest upside and he’s the one player in this Draft that presents the biggest risk, and that’s Cam Newton. If you hit with Newton, you’re going to have a sensational NFL quarterback down the road. But if you miss, it sets you back three, four or five years… That’s what it does to any quarterback you miss on that you take in the first round. Not in the second round, but if you miss in the first round and you take a quarterback in the top 10 it will set you back three, four or five years…That is where the big risk and upside is with Newton…Newton is a one-year wonder. Akili Smith was a one-hit wonder out of Oregon and look what happened to him with the Cincinnati Bengals. So that’s the issue.”

On Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and his Combine performance…
“He can be like a Jarret Johnson who was at Alabama then came to the Baltimore Ravens and has done a heck of a job…Now he opens more opportunities for himself…He’s been disruptive, shed, stop the run effectively….If you watch this kid, he was productive week in and week out…I think he solidified a first-round grade once he showed the ability to play on his feet…now that he gives you that scheme versatility that makes him more of an attractive first round pick.”

On the best “every down” running back in the Draft after Alabama’s Mark Ingram…
“Mikel Leshoure certainly would fit that mold out of Illinois. He’s a big back. You like the fact that he has very good vision. Usually makes that first defender miss. He’s not Rashard Mendenhall but certainly a guy deserving of being in that late second, early third round range. He would certainly qualify right after Ingram and you can make the argument that he’s the second best back in this Draft.”

On the New England Patriots’ Draft needs…
“They are going to be an exciting team to watch…They’ve got a chance to get Brady a couple more rings. If this Draft benefits this team the way it could, Brady could end up with two or three more rings before his career is over…I think this Draft could be pivotal.”