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ESPN Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Talks Robert Griffin, The Redskins And More

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ESPN’s lead draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr., conducted a conference call with reporters this afternoon and discussed a variety of topics. Most importantly for Washington Redskins fans, he went in depth with his breakdowns of the top quarterbacks, which, after Stanford’s Andrew Luck, include Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and Arizona’s Nick Foles.

Kiper said it will be difficult to project, at this moment, what happens in the draft with regards to Griffin, who is highly coveted by many teams and may go as early as No. 2 depending on a trade. But trades, he said, are hard to forecast. The Redskins currently own the No.6 pick; Cleveland, which is also potentially in need of a quarterback, has both the No. 4 and No. 22 selections.

Kiper also mentioned speculation of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning ending up in Washington, his evaluation of current Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn and a variety of other topics.

A partial transcript is as follows:

Who do you think would be some of those quarterbacks chosen after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin?

“This year, to try to find a spot between, say, picks 23 to 32 for a quarterback, right now, if you look at the teams picking, it’s impossible. You can’t project one. Now, could somebody trade in there and get a quarterback back into the first round? Sure they could. It’s happened numerous times in drafts. The guys you’d be looking at would be Brock Osweiler from Arizona State, who I think would be a little high for. Same thing with Nick Foles from Arizona or Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M. So those would be your next three quarterbacks in no specific order right now, because we’re still very early in the process. Tannehill’s dealing with an injury. Osweiler is a junior coming out early, and of course Foles was out of Arizona, showed a big arm but a little inconsistency. So I think those are your three. Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State’s interesting, because he’s going to be a 29-year-old rookie. He’ll turn 29 in October of 2012. That age factor is something that teams are going to have to evaluate. As I said, he’s going to be older when he’s in the NFL than a lot of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL as a rookie. They’ll have to assess that. But those are the guys. Those are some of the late-round possibilities as well at the quarterback position, as there are every year. But I think after Luck and Griffin, it would be between Osweiler, Foles and Tannehill.”

Your current mock draft has the Redskins selecting LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Why him, and also, what did you think about Matt Flynn coming out of college?

“I liked him coming out. I thought he was a guy that could be a starting quarterback in this league. He was a guy that waited until he was a fifth-year senior to finally be the guy and was a kid coming out of the prep ranks in Texas [who] had a nice grade. He sat behind [former LSU and Oakland quarterback] JaMarcus Russell and waited his turn and he led them to a national championship and he did a good job. He’s gutty, tough. Great intangibles. He had a little mechanical issue coming out of LSU throwing the football, which he’s worked on, as Green Bay tends to do. They do a great job with Tom Clemens [the quarterbacks coach] and [head coach Mike] McCarthy coaching up those quarterbacks. They’ve changed the mechanics of [starting quarterback] Aaron Rodgers and they changed the mechanics of Matt Flynn. So he’s had a chance to sit, watch and learn, as Rodgers did. Rodgers sat four years. Matt Flynn’s 26 now, and he’s obviously not going to be the starting quarterback in Green Bay any point down the road or now. The opportunity now is to sign and trade him. Cleveland has two first-round picks – one at four, one at 22 – would have an interest. Maybe they could. Washington, I had heard through the grapevine, did not have a high opinion of Flynn, so I don’t think they would go that route. I keep hearing Peyton Manning for Washington. I had heard that though the process as well. RG3 I don’t think will be there at six, so I think at quarterback, you keep hearing Peyton Manning. I don’t think it’s Matt Flynn. I think it’s more Manning. I don’t think there’s any other quarterback after RG3 that’s even considered, as I said, in the mid-first round area, let alone in the late first, as well, I don’t see a quarterback figuring at that point. You asked about Claiborne – I think for me, it’s a need area. It’s a kid who’s got a high grade. Blackmon I think will be gone by then. That’s my opinion. RG3 is going to be gone. If he was there, obviously, that’s going to be intriguing to a number of teams at that point if he slides into that six spot. I put Claiborne there because the other guys I was considering I had off the board.”

Do you think the Browns will trade up to try to get Griffin?

“Well, when you’re doing this in January, you can’t project a trade. That’s for everybody on the line – you cannot project a trade in January, let alone project one in April. To me, when you do this, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to figure, OK, team need, player – where will he go? What’s the range he’s going to go in at this point in time? That will change. That’s why we do mock drafts, the first of five between now and late April. You will see that tweaked when the juniors work out, when the Senior Bowl comes along next week. You’ll see changes to this. But I think in terms of RG3, he’s going to go four to two. Two being a trade. Now, the question’s going to be, ‘How many teams are competing for him? How many teams want him to be their quarterback?’ Every team’s not going to want the top quarterback in their system. Every team is not going to love every quarterback. Also, with Flynn, does Cleveland have an interest in Flynn? He would fit more what they do offensively. Certainly he would fit some of the other teams. Would Flynn be a guy that they might say, ‘OK, let’s part with that 22nd pick that we got from Atlanta, get Matt Flynn and then use that fourth pick to allow [Alabama running back] Trent Richardson to come in the fold and help the running game, depending on what happens with [Cleveland running back] Peyton Hillis. Get [Oklahoma State wide receiver] Justin Blackmon to help out. They desperately need a wide receiver like Blackmon. So that’s an opportunity that Cleveland could have as we move forward. I don’t know. You can’t assume that. You can’t say, ‘Well, they’re going to get Matt Flynn, so I’m not going to give them a quarterback.’ Right now, we know RG3 is going to go somewhere four to two. If he’s at four and he’s there, he’s going to be in the discussion, certainly moving up to two, whether it’s Washington, whether it’s Miami, whether it’s Seattle. Somebody would have to jump up to two if they felt like there’s other competition for him. If Manning goes to Washington and Flynn goes to Cleveland, then there’s a limited pool of teams now. There’s not necessarily that competition where it’s like they have to go up and get him. Then it would be interesting to feel like, if they had to – would Miami feel like it at nine? Would St. Louis want to drop down to nine? They’d definitely lose out on Justin Blackmon. They’d certainly lose out on [Southern California’s] Matt Kalil, the left tackle, so would they be comfortable with that? That’s something – St. Louis just hired a new coach. They’re getting their organization together. We’ll have to see. They have some tough decisions to make.”

Can Griffin take snaps under center with no problem?

“Well, I wouldn’t say with no problem. That’s something all these quarterbacks have to develop and learn and then basically fall into. That’s just the way it is in the NFL. You can’t take a quarterback in college and say he’s going to be perfect right away to come in and play. Some of these guys are doing a phenomenal job right now coming in, and it’s pretty remarkable what they’re asked to do – and they’re doing it. These rookies are doing a commendable job. [Carolina quarterback] Cam Newton, did you expect him to play as well as he did? I don’t think anybody did, but he’s had a heck of a year for a rookie. These kids come in and I don’t think you have to pigeon-hole them, say they have to be in a system where they’re not going to be successful. RG3 can throw the football. People are projecting him at wide receiver. I never understood that last year. I heard that and never understood that. The question is going to be, is he 6-2? Is he 6-1? Is he 6-2 and a half? That height factor is going to be important when you see our people still raving about him come late April. We don’t know the exact height and weight of any of these underclassmen until the combine. To say that he’s an athlete, he’s not a great [quarterback] – he’s a heck of a passer. That’s his strength, is throwing it accurately on the deep ball. Throwing it down the field was remarkable this year. His numbers, I think, across the board, were better than Andrew Luck. Now, he’s not as good as Andrew Luck as a prospect, but I think the passing ability of RG3 is very understated and underrated going into this year, and finally everybody’s jumped on the bandwagon.”

What do you think the Browns will do with the No. 22 pick?

“I think one will dictate the other. They have to get a quarterback. I think they’ve pretty much resolved themselves of the fact that they’re going to go that route. They’re going to probably kick Colt McCoy to the curb, as what happens with a lot of young quarterbacks who don’t have great physical qualifications. He struggled and didn’t have a lot of talent around him, particularly at wide receiver. You saw it. They have to get a wide receiver. I think if you decide, ‘OK, who’s going to be the quarterback?’ – that’s the first question you have to answer – if it’s not RG3 at four, if they go out and get Matt Flynn, they could lose that 22nd pick. But assuming – say they took a quarterback at four, then at 22, I’m taking [Baylor wide receiver] Kendall Wright. Then you have that pass-catch tandem that was so effective at Baylor. Kendall Wright’s going to be one of the faster players in this draft. He’s a pure, polished receiver. He’s not just a track guy, a speed option. And he’s got the return ability. So for what they need, they need a speed guy. They’ve drafted enough possession types. They need a speed guy, and I think Kendall Wright from Baylor would be heavily in that discussion at 22 if they still have that choice come late April.”

What’s your opinion on Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore?

“Well, there’s got to be a point in time where looking back over the last 30, 40 years, how many have made it who are under six feet tall? Not only how many have made it, but how many have started? That’s what impacted Chase Daniel. Chase Daniel came out of Missouri, had a great career. Nobody looks at him in the draft, they pass him over, now he’s in New Orleans and he’s got – people are looking at him to see what his future is going to be because he’s behind Drew Brees and it seems like he’s got starting ability. Drew Brees has helped him. Drew Brees has helped those quarterbacks that are right around six feet tall. But for every Drew Brees, there’s – you can go on and on with a laundry list of names that didn’t make it. I think with Kellen, only 5-11 and a half, he’s only 190, 195 pounds – that’s going to impact where he goes. Russell Wilson at N.C. State and in Wisconsin. He was a great player in the ACC and was a great player in the Big Ten. He’s 5-11, so that’s going to impact Russell Wilson maybe being a fourth-round pick instead of a first- or second-round pick. We’re waiting to see RG3. Is he 6-2? Is he 6-1 and three quarters? Is he 6-2 and a half? That won’t impact him much at all, but we’re waiting to see on that. Certainly, for Kellen Moore, that’s going to be important.”

How certain are the Browns to go with a quarterback?

“There’s no other option, really, in terms of the early part of the draft. There’s no other way to go if you want a quarterback. [Southern California's] Matt Barkley’s not in this draft. If he was, then you’d have another option. Then you’d have two quarterbacks that have super-high grades and you know one of them is going to be there. You might trade up for one, but one of them is going to be there at four, more than likely, but that’s not the case right now. I would say, if RG3 is gone, then Justin Blackmon would be the pick if he’s still there, and Trent Richardson, as I said, is going to have to be in the mix.”

What do you think about Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden?

“Well, I think he could be the fifth or sixth highest-rated quarterback in this draft, depending on how people view Brock Osweiler from Arizona State. To look at where he is now, he could go fifth round. He will be 29 years old in October coming up, and you think about the rookie quarterbacks that come into the NFL who are 22, 21, and he’s going to be a 29-year-old rookie. He turns 29 in October of this year. How much teams are going to look at that. If he was 22, 23, he’d probably be solidly in the late first, or mid-second round based on the way he throws the football. Obviously the maturity level helps him. The leadership, all of that. But I’d say third to fourth-round area for Weeden overall.”

What’s your evaluation of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones?

“I think that was a smart decision for him to stay. I had talked a little about him before the decision was made and I thought his stock had dropped with the way he ended the season. Not having [injured receiver Ryan] Broyles impacted him. Even in the Florida State game, when he kind of looked down the gun barrel and the great catch made by Kenny Stills that allowed them to win that game, just the interceptions and some of the bad decisions, the bad reads, the bad throws – those are some of the things that I think he needed to go back. I think there was a mixed opinion on him, but I think his stock had dropped to the point where he was probably in the late-first, early-second round area, and to go back is something that I think he had to do and improve and put together the kind of year where Sam Bradford-like accuracy was evident on a game-to-game basis. That was what he was viewed as going in, when he was the heir apparent, and he showed glimpses of that, but then he fell back.”

Griffin said when he declared he would leave Baylor that he would work hard to be the No. 1 pick. Is that possible?

“No. No chance. That book is closed. There’s no opportunity there. Like I said, Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the 35 years, 34 years I’ve been doing this. RG3 – that’s not, doesn’t mean you can’t have another really good, or another great quarterback coming out in this class. You have to rate him as such. But no, I don’t see any way that Indianapolis takes him. Andrew Luck is viewed as a more athletic Peyton Manning. You’ve got to take him. You have to take him. You’re fortunate enough to get that first pick, you take Andrew Luck. The other teams have to decide about RG3. That would Cleveland. That would be Washington. That would be Miami. Any of those teams have to think about, are we just going to sit and wait, or are we going to be aggressive to make a move with St. Louis to try to get him at two? The evaluation of RG3 is not about dealing with Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck is a given. What you’re trying to do with RG3 over the next several months is you know, gain momentum to ensure that you go two, that you almost force the hand of these teams and say, ‘We’ve got to go up and get this guy. He’s special. He’s got a chance to be great.’ Yeah, Luck is going to be No. 1, but the second pick to St. Louis, they will probably be looking to move down if they get an offer. If you’re Cleveland, if you’re Washington, if you’re Miami, wherever you may be, if you feel that good about this quarterback, you may be inclined to go up and get him. That’s what he’s trying to do right now – keep that buzz going. He’s special. You can be No. 2 to Luck and still be special. Luck is through the roof. He’s in the stratosphere in terms of his grade. I haven’t given a grade to a quarterback since 1983 as high as I’ll give Luck, and that was [former Denver quarterback] John Elway. Nobody’s debating you on that. There’s no debate here. I heard a debate about how some other analysts make the point about Luck, how his grade’s dropped – his grade hasn’t dropped. It’s exactly where it was.”

Can you nitpick things you don’t like about Griffin?

“Well, if you want to nitpick, you say, OK, going into this year, there was talk about him, and I know I’ve debated that with different people, about him being a wide receiver. I never saw that. I thought he was a quarterback all along. I didn’t think that about [Denver quarterback Tim] Tebow. I still think Tebow’s an H-back and I said that about Pat White. I thought he should have been a receiver and a return man. He wanted to be a quarterback and now he’s out of the league. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t on these guys. But I always thought Griffin was a quarterback and not a projection. I think [Michigan quarterback] Denard Robinson’s a projection, a wide receiver coming out of Michigan. I didn’t think that about RG3. The fact that he can throw that deep ball so accurately – people say, ‘Well, he’s tremendously mobile.’ He’s a straight-line guy. He’s a hurdler. He’s not as mobile as some of these other quarterbacks that we’ve seen. He’s not [Philadelphia quarterback] Michael Vick. He doesn’t change direction. He’s not as explosive out of his cuts as Michael Vick is. Michael Vick is the best running quarterback I’ve ever seen and I think you may ever see. I think RG3 is a better passer, obviously, and that’s why he has such a high grade. His mobility is excellent. He can make people miss and he can do just enough there, but he’s not as dynamic a runner as Vick. His intelligence, his character – all those things. His game management is excellent. His height, if you want to nitpick – he’s not 6-3, 6-4. I asked him, when we interviewed him, even when he won the Heisman, he said he’s a little over 6-2. Hopefully he is, because if he’s 6-1, then there won’t be that buzz. That’s just the way it is. I’ve been covering this thing for 34 years and that’s just the way it is. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s what it’s about. You’re projecting from college to pro. It’s not apples to apples. It is what it is. It’s a different level entirely and all these things factor in to where you go. It doesn’t mean you won’t be a good player. It does factor in to where you go in the draft and whether you are the guy that’s created the ultimate buzz to be the second pick in the draft.”

How much does Tannehill’s broken foot hurt him? “I think a lot, especially as you said, a kid it happened to so late. When something like this happens in late January, and it keeps you out of those things – the Senior Bowl is critical. It’s what helped [San Diego quarterback] Phillip Rivers his senior year. He was a guy that was up there with [New York Giants quarterback] Eli Manning and [Pittsburgh quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger in that elite status. He went down to Mobile and he had a strong week, had a strong game. He was the MVP of the Senior Bowl, if I remember correctly. I think he was the MVP of that game. And you look at Tannehill not having that chance – and if you remember, he was a receiver most of his career – and being in a battle with Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler to see who is the third quarterback taken in this draft, I don’t think it’s a major – it’s not a dramatic shift, or will eliminate any chance he has of being the third quarterback, but it’s not going to help.”

Can you break down Osweiler, Tannehill and Foles?

“With Osweiler, the big thing is the bad decisions. He forced a lot of balls into coverage this year. He had several games where he had multiple interceptions. It was five games, six games and five of them were losses. I think it was six games total with five losses in games he had multiple interceptions. The delivery is going to bother some. It’s a little unorthodox delivery, but I don’t worry about that because he’s 6-7 and it didn’t bother Philip Rivers or hamper him. But I think the decision-making, the tendency to force the ball. He made a terrible throw when they were in that game against Boise State that was returned 100-plus yards. But it wasn’t just that play. It was multiple games where he threw a couple picks. But he did look real good against USC. He outdueled Matt Barkley in that game and did a great job, and he put 40-plus points on the board. Those are the thigns with him. As far as Tannehill is concerned, I think the Texas game was kind of a red-flag game. He had a lot of trouble in that Texas game. He didn’t look like the quarterback he was in other games against lesser defenses. He doesn’t have a ton of starts at quarterback, which is something you look at. Now, of course, he’s injured, but he has skills that indicate he could be an effective starting quarterback. Those are the concerns there. For Foles, I think you look at accuracy. At times he’s a little off target. He’s not as precise as you need to be throwing into those tighter windows in the NFL that he’ll see. That’s an issue there. A little bit more time to transition. He may be more of a developmental quarterback, and a lot of teams are looking for those quick fixes now with the way these young quarterbacks have played. But you can’t argue with the arm strength and the size. He can throw on the move very effectively, so there’s a lot of things to like, but there are some concerns. I think those are the concerns with those three. Even though they have skills that show they could be first, it’s why they won’t be.”

Aside from Weeden’s age, why do you think he’ll be a mid-round pick?

“Well, he also has some struggles with some turnovers. He had three interceptions against Louisiana-Lafayette and really helped Dwight Bentley really get the attention of the people in that game. He had a couple picks, Bentley did. [Weeden’s] a senior quarterback, had a couple picks against Tulsa, a couple picks against Kansas State and had three in their loss to Iowa State. But we know he can definitely throw the ball. He’s got the size. We know he’s got the leadership and the maturity. Remember, he was right in the Heisman race until that Iowa State game. I think you look at the age factor and you can see there were some games he was making some bad throws, some bad decisions, and I think that’s why he’s a third- or fourth-round pick as opposed to a first-rounder.”

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