Mocking with Mel Kiper Jr.

We ran through the NFC South portion of Todd McShay’s latest mock draft earlier. Now, let’s turn to ESPN’s other draft guru.

Check out this Insider post in which Mel Kiper Jr. unveils his latest mock draftInsider. Kiper differs significantly from McShay when it comes to the only two NFC South teams with first-round picks.

In Kiper’s draft, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson are gone before the Bucs pick at No. 5. As recently as a week ago, the consensus was at least one of those two players would be available for the Bucs. But the consensus seems to be changing and I’m sure the Bucs have been preparing themselves for all scenarios.

Kiper gave the USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil to the Bucs and I don’t think that’s at all out of the realm of possibility. Yeah, Tampa Bay could take Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and fill a big need. Or the Bucs could take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to give quarterback Josh Freeman another play-maker to go with Vincent Jackson.

But Kalil makes some sense. He’s viewed as pretty much a can’t-miss prospect. The Bucs already have Donald Penn at left tackle, but right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a bit of a question mark and he’s heading into the final year of his contract. Kalil could step in and play the left side immediately and Penn could switch to the right side. Or Penn could stay on the left side for now and let Kalil begin his career on the right side.

At No. 9, Kiper, who had been giving the Panthers a steady diet of defensive tackles in the past, made a significant change. He has the Panthers taking Kuechly. Makes total sense. Kuechly might be the best player on the board at that point and the Panthers have linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason returning from major injuries.

But I also could see Carolina going with South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore or North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples if Kiper’s first eight picks come true.