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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Mel Kiper Releases First Projections

It’s that time of the year. With his perfectly manicured hair in-tow, Mel Kiper rolled out of hiding — where he’s likely been poring over tape while methodically working maintaining his Big Board — to release his first mock draft of the year. Consider it a warmup on Kiper’s part as he and Todd McShay get to work to settle their draft grudge match once and for all — or at least until next year when they do it all again. Tis the season.

Here’s a quick peek at his mock draft. For the rest, you’ll need an insider account.

Nick Fairley vaulted into the No. 1 overall spot. A dominant performance in the BCS Championship pushed Fairley to the No. 1 spot in many drafts and Kiper’s was no exception. Without Andrew Luck, the draft is wide open, and it looks like Fairley stands to gain the most. Also in the mix: Patrick Peterson and Marcell Dareus.

The top of the draft is defensive lineman heavy. Calling it loaded with lineman may even be an understatement. Where the draft lacks in top-end left tackles, it makes up for on the other side of the ball. Fairley leads the way, with Marcell Dareus and Da’Quan Bowers joining him in the top-five. If the Seahawks are looking for a defensive lineman this year, the depth in the first round might just be to their benefit. There’s plenty of high-caliber prospects to go around.

Blaine Gabbert is the first quarterback off the board, taken in the top five. The other beneficiary from Luck’s decision to stay in school, Gabbert’s decision to enter the draft early looks like it’ll pay off in the form of a top-five, or top-ten at the worst, pick. Gabbert may be the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft, simply by virtue of having the least amount of questions surrounding his ability. Cam Newton, Jake Locker and, perhaps, Ryan Mallet are also in the mix here.

Kiper’s draft is the first of many out of ESPN and signals the beginning of the yearly war between the ESPN draft gurus as the experts scramble to try and nail down each and every first round pick. For more on the draft, check out our own 2011 NFL mock draft at SB Nation. It’s free and free is good!