NFL draft guru Mel Kiper, the ESPN draft analyst extraordinaire, conducted a nearly two-hour conference call with media from around the country today.
He talked University of Miami players. He thinks cornerback Brandon Harris had a tough year but will still go in the first round. He talked Florida State. He called quarterback Christian Ponder a "poor man's Chad Pennington." He talked University of Florida. He said Mike Pouncey is nowhere near as good as his brother Markice Pouncey.
And, of course, he talked about the Miami Dolphins.
Kiper says he wasn't a huge fan of Chad Henne when he came out of Michigan in 2008 and what he saw there he's seeing from Henne in the NFL.
"I've thought about Miami and that quarterback position with Chad Henne, but I think it's unfair to kick him to the curb," Kiper said. "I was not a huge Henne guy like other people were. I thought he was wobbly inconsistent at Michigan and he is wobbly inconsistent in the NFL with Miami. That's the frustrating part. You see him great one week or in a quarter or quarter-and-a-half and then you see him revert back to an inconsistent quarterback that leaves you scratching your head with some throws that you say, 'How could you miss that receiver? How did you make that decision? How did you make that throw?' He's never been great mobility-wise but he's a big strong kid. He's a hard worker. I like Henne from that standpoint. I didn't love him coming out like some others did but I thought he'd be a serviceable starting quarterback. To kick him to the curb now is premature. He's still a young quarterback."
Kiper's Big Board on ESPN.com has the Dolphins selecting Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the first round. The Dolphins have the 15th selection in the first round.
"For Miami, running back, they're going to restructure the backfield, which they will," Kiper said. "It'll be a new stable of running backs the way it looks. Quarterbacks they're going to have to settle on Henne is he the guy or they're going to draft a young quarterback and have competition there. Offensive guard and center, the interior of the offensive line they could look at.
"I thought Mark Ingram would be a nice start. That will improve and change the whole stable of running backs there. With Ingram you see a lot of Emmitt Smith in him. He's not the game-breaker some people may want but they said the same thing about Emmitt Smith and that's the reason he went No. 17 the year he came out of college and he became a Hall of Famer ... I think Miami could go with Ingram and then think about a quarterback down the line a little bit. Maybe an Andy Dalton [TCU], maybe a Christian Ponder [FSU], maybe a Ricky Stanzi [Iowa], somebody like that they can take down the line that can be insurance in case Henne doesn't develop into a consistent quarterback."
Well, what if the Dolphins get a wild hair and want to take a QB in the first round? The likely candidates are Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton of Auburn, Jake Locker of Washington and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas. Personally, I don't see Newton (too few starts), Mallett (no value at No. 15) as likelihoods. But that is not from a source. That's just opinion.
Kiper's problems with each of those four:
On Mallet: "The meltdowns at the Alabama and Ohio State game late. The sloppy mechanics at times. The long-striding in the pocket, which bothers me. It affected [Byron] Leftwich negatively and for Mallet I think it could be an issue."
On Newton: "You have only those 14 starts. His accuracy is not super precise.I mean his completion percentage was high because you have those huge windows, but in the NFL the windows are tight. He's not super precise. He's more accurate than others, but the concern is there.
On Gabbert: "The system. The Missouri offense is not NFL-like. And he had the meltdown at the end of the bowl game against Iowa -- that pick when he rolled left."
On Locker: "If you can't get it down against college defenses, are you going to get it done in the NFL? He had the second chance against Nebraska and struggled in that game ... Kyle Boller to me was the same way. If Kyle Boller couldn't get it done and complete a high percent of those throws at Cal, how could he come into the NFL as a first-round pick? Well, he still went in the first round. And maybe Locker will still go in the first round. This week at the Senior Bowl is important but he hasn't wowed me with what he's done down there. He's a great kid. He'll interview well. He's a tough kid. Shanahan probably would have taken him at No. 4 last year. But he's a tough projection right now. He could go Top 10. It wouldn't shock me if he went in the first round. It wouldn't shock me if he went in the second round.