Mel Kiper Jr. Mock Draft Season Has Arrived with a Quarterback Surprise

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Mel Kiper Jr. spent many hours pouring over his first mock draft, stopping only to eat pumpkin pie. But finally, after much anticipation, it is here for consumption behind ESPN's paywall. Predictably, Kiper has Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux going to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions respectively. There are a few surprises to the extent anything that's months away and not-at-all binding can be surprising. Especially regarding the quarterback position, which we all understand to be weak relative to other years.

Kiper ticks through the first 10 picks without mentioning a signal-caller. And the first one he has coming off the board is not a household name: Liberty's Malik Willis to the Washington Football Team.

Time for the first quarterback off the board. You might be surprised that it’s Willis, but you really shouldn’t be. He was in the QB1 mix all fall before he faded a little bit in the last stretch of the regular season. The more tape I watch of his past two seasons and the more I talk to evaluators in the league, the more I like him. Put simply, Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class. He didn’t always get to show that at Liberty, which didn’t have much NFL talent around him. (He was sacked an astounding 51 times in 2021.) This is a dual-threat signal-caller — he rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons — with a powerful arm. I’m really excited to see him compete against the other top QBs in the Senior Bowl in a couple weeks.

Like Denver, Washington could be in the veteran QB market, but I like the fit with Willis. Washington can’t go into the season with Taylor Heinicke as the starter.

Not to go all John Locke from Lost here, but don't tell me what I can and cannot can be surprised by. Willis is not a prospect casual to semi-serious fans of college football are all too familiar with compared to the Matt Corrals and Kenny Picketts of the world. Kiper has Corral going 18th to the New Orleans Saints and Pickett to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20. A fourth quarterback, Sam Howell, is projected to the Lions at No. 28.

We should all use this as a guidepost, a marker in time proving that after all this time, a Top-10 talent has not emerged. Because if past is prologue, one or two of these players will ride a wave of momentum into that territory as teams tend to reach when rubber meets the road.