AUBURN, Ala. — ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. considers Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson an elite talent in the 2017 NFL Draft — but there’s a catch with the former Tiger star.
Kiper, who released his first 2017 NFL mock draft Thursday morning on ESPN.com, left Lawson out of the first round because of his injury history. Lawson missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL and half of the 2015 season with a hip flexor injury.
“When Carl Lawson is healthy and is out there playing at a high level, he looks like a top-15 pick,” Kiper said Thursday in an ESPN conference call with reporters. “But the durability concerns are there.”
Lawson’s health concerns are clearly the biggest negatives against his stock heading into the 2017 draft. The All-SEC defensive end had 13.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks in the 2016 season, which was his first completely healthy one since his true freshman campaign in 2013.
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But Kiper could see a team that made the NFL playoffs in 2016 select Lawson late in the first round. He mentioned the Dallas Cowboys as a potential landing spot for Lawson at No. 28 overall.
“That’s the only thing, because I thought about giving him to several teams picking in the late first round that could use a pass-rusher,” Kiper said. “The only thing that prevented me from putting Lawson in the first round was that durability concern.”
While Kiper left Lawson out of his first mock draft, other draft experts believe he’ll be taken on the first night.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller mocked Lawson at No. 32 overall last week to the Cowboys, before the final draft order was set. CBS Sports’ Rob Rang had Lawson at No. 28 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will now pick at No. 30.
In a draft filled with pass-rushing talent — Kiper has Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen going in the top three picks — Kiper sees Lawson as the eighth-best defensive end.
“He’s right in there with Jordan Willis from Kansas State and right behind (Missouri’s) Charles Harris, who can play with his hand on the ground or play on his feet as a 3-4 outside linebacker,” Kiper said.