Eight days away from the NFL draft, and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has raised his game. In his latest mock draft, he's going three rounds. It's an Insider article, so you'll need a subscription to view the entire piece. But, as always, I can give you the lowdown on the AFC North teams ...
Rd. 1 (32) LB Kevin Minter, LSU
Rd. 2 (62) OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Rd. 3 (94) S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
Hensley's comment: All three picks address needs. Minter is a tackling machine who is more of a long-term solution than Rolando McClain. Armstead is a project who would be a reach in the second round. Thomas is a playmaker and fills a big need at strong safety, where James Ihedigbo is currently starting. My only problem is the lack of a wide receiver. The Ravens haven't replaced Anquan Boldin and need to find a pass-catcher in the first couple of rounds.
Rd. 1 (21) S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Rd. 2 (37) RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (via Oakland)
Rd. 2 (53) LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Rd. 3 (84) WR Denard Robinson, Michigan
Hensley's comment: The Bengals would be very happy if Vaccaro fell into their lap at No. 21. Strong safety is the biggest need on the team. While I agree the Bengals need to add youth to the backfield, Ball is more of an inside runner like BenJarvus Green-Ellis. North Carolina's Giovani Bernard represents a better change of pace. Greene, who led the Big East in tackles for the past two seasons, can step in at weakside linebacker. Robinson could become a Josh Cribbs-type return man for Cincinnati. All of these picks address the top needs for the Bengals.
Rd. 1 (11) G Chance Warmack Alabama (via San Diego)
Rd. 3 (68) QB EJ Manuel, Florida St.
Rd. 3 (76) CB Darius Slay, Mississippi St. (via San Diego)
Hensley's comment: Kiper and I are thinking alike when it comes to the Browns. I believe the Browns will trade out of the No. 6 overall pick (I see them getting a second-round pick from the Chargers and not a third-rounder), but I don't like the choice of Warmack. By all accounts, he's a great guard prospect. I just don't think teams should take a guard in the top half of the draft. Where I agree with Kiper is taking Manuel in the third round. He's drawn comparisons to Cam Newton, the quarterback who ran Rob Chudzinksi's offense in Carolina. This pick has a lot of potential. Slay would address the need for a cornerback, although he may not be ready to start right away. He started just one season at Mississippi State.
Rd. 1 (17) TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Rd. 2 (48) OLB Cornelius Washington, Georgia
Rd. 3 (79) WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Hensley's comment: It's very reasonable that the Steelers take a tight end, outside linebacker and wide receiver in the first three rounds, although it may not be in the order that Kiper has it. Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who is a popular pick for the Steelers in many mock drafts, is going to the Jets at No. 9, according to Kiper. This is why Kiper is sticking with Eifert for Pittsburgh in the first round. The Steelers rarely make moves in the first round, but they could fall back and still get Eifert, who has drawn comparisons to Heath Miller (who was taken 30th overall eight years ago). It's a reach to take Washington in the second round. He's a rush linebacker who has only shown flashes in college. Swope is a fearless receiver who isn't afraid to go over the middle.