ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. weighs in Jake Locker, Mason Foster and other draft prospects

Jan 5, 2011, 6:52 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

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According to some draft experts, it’s looking more and more like Jake Locker will be a first-round pick after all.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. joined Brock and Salk on Wednesday and said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Locker go as high as No. 10 to the Washington Redskins.

“There was talk here in this Baltimore/Washington area that (Mike) Shanahan would have taken Jake Locker at No. 4 (last year) – they would not have made that (Donovan) McNabb trade had Jake Locker been in that draft,” Kiper said. “So Mike Shanahan needs a quarterback at Washington. McNabb is not going to be back, Rex Grossman is not the answer. So they’re going to look at a quarterback. …if he still has that same high opinion of Jake Locker, then maybe he would still take Jake Locker despite the struggles during the regular season that Jake went through.”

There had been some sentiment – especially earlier in the season when Locker and Washington were struggling – that the senior quarterback had played himself out of the first round. That thought doesn’t seem as prevalent as it once did.

Last week ESPN’s John Clayton said on the Kevin Calabro show that it is “inevitable” that Locker goes in the first round, likely in the top-10 but no later than No. 15.

Kiper said he thinks Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, who declared for the draft earlier this week, will be the next quarterback taken following Stanford’s Andrew Luck, whom the Panthers will almost certainly pick should he decide to not return for his junior season.

UPDATE: Andrew Luck announced Thursday that he will return to Stanford.

That leaves Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Auburn’s Cam Newton as the top quarterbacks who could be available when the Seahawks pick sometime late in the first round (they are guaranteed to pick no earlier than 21st).

Kiper has some reservations due to Mallett’s late-game struggles this season. Along with a pair of fourth quarter interceptions he threw in a September loss to Alabama, Mallett was picked off on Arkansas’ final drive of Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.

“You can’t melt down at a point like that in a college football game,” Kiper said, adding that “Mallett is going to drop a little bit after last night.”

Kiper said Newton’s performance in the BCS title game could have a huge impact on his draft stock.

“He can’t have a hiccup,” Kiper said. “He can’t … have any point in that game when there’s some doubt or he’s going to drop into the late first round.”

As for Washington linebacker Mason Foster, who led the Pac-10 with 151 tackles this season, Kiper thinks he’ll go in the third or fourth round.

“Mason Foster is a good looking linebacker and you saw that in their bowl game, you saw that all year,” Kiper said. “(He is) a guy that I thought was very under the radar and has a chance in a year where (there) is not that many linebackers of consequence he could end up being in that third or fourth round area very easily, depending on his workouts. He could go up a little bit from that or down a little bit from that, but I’ll say third or fourth round right now for him.”

Kiper also discussed his evaluation of Luck, which positions in the draft are deeper than others and more. You can listen to the entire conversation here.

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