NFL fans seem to be split fairly equally between love, hate, and tolerate when it comes to ESPN analyst -slash- “draft guru” Mel Kiper Jr.
I, myself, can run the full spectrum within a matter of minutes.
With one exception.
Every year, around this time, MKJ releases a list of his “favorite” prospects.
This is an article that I always enjoy reading, but this year I found it more enjoyable than past years and I think the reason for that is that I can see several of Kiper’s favorite players being good fits for the Seahawks.
As with a lot of “nice” things nowadays, this year’s ‘Kiper’s Favorite Prospects’ list is behind a paywall. Fear not though, for we have highlights.
Before we get to those highlights, let’s look at the provisos:
What follows below is not a list of the best overall prospects in the 2023 class, nor is it a list of the guys I consider the best at each position. These are the prospects I’ve:
• Often rated higher than other evaluators within the draft media or higher than team evaluators with whom I discuss prospects or ...
• Ranked higher in close debates within position groups or ...
• Watched and rewatched on tape, just because I like the way they play.
Kiper’s Favorites list has 14 prospects on it.
We’re going to look at six.
Starting with . . .
Fullback Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State
Sure, Seattle already has a fullback named Nick Bellore.
And, sure, Bellore has only taken a total of 100 offensive snaps over his four full seasons in Seattle.
But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone compare Nick Bellore to Kyle Juszczyk. Kiper does just that with Luepke, and he’s been doing it for months.
I wrote about Luepke last September after the Bison lost at Arizona by three points. He had 21 touches for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He almost single-handedly won them a game against a Pac-12 opponent. A part of what I wrote then: “Luepke is a battering ram who should remind NFL offensive coordinators of the super-versatile Kyle Juszczyk.” I stand by that. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has gotten the best out of Juszczyk, putting him in positions to succeed.
Kiper’s Projection: Day Three, Round 4 or 5.
Wide Receiver Zay Flowers, Boston College
Two words: YES, PLEASE!
Kiper’s write-up is wordy but here are the takeaways:
- Small (5-9, 182)
- Explosive (4.42 forty)
- Great after the catch - forced 25 missed tackles last season (3rd-most in FBS)
- Not “just a slot receiver” - had 12 TDs in 2022 and five came with him lined up outside
Kiper’s Projection: Round 1, likely somewhere in the 20s.
Interior Offensive Lineman Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Skoronski is considered by some to be the best Left Tackle in the 2023 class, but his arm length (32-1/2) has most evaluators, apparently including Kiper, projecting him as a Guard in the NFL.
That’s fine by me though because Seattle’s two starting Tackles are under contract through 2025 but the starting Guards are free agents after this season. Ain’t nothing wrong with having three offensive linemen with high ceilings on rookie contracts
Note: Kiper’s write-up basically says what I just said (left tackle . . . could be dominant guard . . . all the tools), except that he throws out Zack Martin (Cowboys) as an example of a college Tackle who moved to Guard and is “on a Hall of Fame track”.
Kiper’s Projection: Possible top-10 pick.
Defensive Tackle Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Fun Fact: Kancey measured 6-1, 281 at the NFL Combine. Nine years ago, another Pittsburgh DT measured 6-1, 285.
Yes, that’s a comparison to Aaron Donald, but I’ll let Kiper dash any expectations - as well as throw some water on the idea of Seattle drafting him at #20 (although I’m not willing to rule it out given the “hybrid” nature of Seattle’s defensive scheme).
Now, let’s be careful here. Donald has a case as one of the NFL’s greatest defensive players ever, and Kancey is still raw. But you can’t deny the similarities, and Kancey also tested extremely well at the combine. I’m a big fan, but he likely is a fit only for a team that plays a 4-3 defense.
Also from Kiper:
(Kancey) had 13.5 sacks when lined up as a defensive tackle over the past two seasons, which ranked No. 1 in the FBS.
Kiper’s Projection: Kiper had Kancey going to the New Orleans Saints at #29 in his most recent draft but also thinks he could slip into the top-10 depending on how the board shakes out.
Note: Kiper’s most recent draft is the one where he had the Seahawks trading both of their R2s to the Eagles to move back into Round 1 and take QB Hendon Hooker.
Outside Linebacker Will McDonald IV, Iowa State
I would love, love, LOVE to see McDonald in navy blue, action green, and wolf gray. Big fan!
I love McDonald’s game, and he has the production to match his talent. He forced 10 fumbles in his career for the Cyclones and had 34 sacks. He was unblockable at the Senior Bowl against his peers, and he had a great combine workout too.
Kiper’s Projection: Late-R1, early-R2.
Inside Linebacker Drew Sanders, Arkansas
As I wrote in the recent ‘Frank’ discussion article re: the Seahawk’s defensive needs: The only ILB on the roster that is currently signed past this season is Nick Bellore.
Sanders is probably my favorite ILB in the draft, but . . .
I’m hoping we can drag our feet and get him with our second 2nd-round pick.
Sanders played 269 defensive snaps as a rotation player at Alabama in 2021, but he looked like a star after transferring to Arkansas last season. He stuffed the stat sheet with 111 total tackles, 16 total tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and 1 pick. He has a great size-speed combination, and at 6-4, 235 pounds, his length means he can be used as a third-down blitzer. He’s a three-down player.
Kiper’s Projection: Top-50; could slide into the end of Round 1.
Kiper’s other favorites
Here are the other eight prospects on Kiper’s ‘Favorites’ list:
- Quarterback Clayton Tune, Houston
- Running Back Sean Tucker, Syracuse
- Tight End Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
- Right Tackle Dawand Jones, Ohio State
- Defensive End YaYa Diaby, Louisville
- Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
- Safety Brian Branch, Alabama
- Kicker Chad Ryland, Maryland