Mel Kiper discusses several of the Michigan Wolverines football's top NFL prospects.
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McGrone An Underrated Pro Prospect? NFL Outlooks For Collins, Thomas & More

Senior defensive end Kwity Paye and redshirt sophomore right tackle Jalen Mayfield are the Michigan Wolverines' top two football prospects heading into April's NFL Draft, but ESPN analyst Mel Kiper went in-depth on a few of the program's other future pros on a conference call this afternoon.

Kiper touched briefly on Paye and Mayfield and what his thoughts are on each, but expanded significantly more on senior cornerback Ambry Thomas, senior receiver Nico Collins and redshirt sophomore linebacker Cameron McGrone.

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Michigan Wolverines football's Cam McGrone
Michigan Wolverines football's Cam McGrone hails from Indianapolis. (The Wolverine)

Kiper began his draft analysis on Paye by addressing why he thinks the Rhode Island native will be a "late first-round pick."

“When you look at Kwity Paye, he has flashed the pass rush potential," Kiper noted. "He plays hard and gets after the quarterback. This season was interrupted and it’s hard to evaluate players and scrutinize them heavily.

"Paye should test tremendously well and I love the intensity he plays with. He’s someone you can play in a variety of ways, with his hand on the ground or on his feet."

The majority of mock drafts have Mayfield slightly behind Paye in their projections, coming off the board either late in the first round or in the second. Kiper admitted he "almost" pegged Mayfield as a late first-round pick in his most recent mock draft, but instead has him as "more of a second-round pick at right tackle."

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Collins and Thomas, in particular, are in unique draft positions, since they chose to leave the team before the 2020 season began and as a result never played their senior campaigns.

The only film on both of them since their junior seasons came to an end, as a result, is the 2021 Senior Bowl practices and game that took place in Mobile, Ala., this past January.

The question has been asked countless times whether or not not playing their senior seasons hurt their respective draft stocks, and Kiper addressed that issue this afternoon.

"I don’t hold that against Ambry Thomas," Kiper said. "From what I saw, I've given him a fourth-round grade. If he would’ve played, I think he would have helped himself and could have been a second or third-rounder had he played.

"Look at [cornerback] Thomas Graham Jr. from Oregon — he didn’t play [in 2020], but I liked the way he played in 2019 when he had a solid year. Thomas showed flashes of brilliance at times.

"I think not playing maybe hurt him more than Nico. He [Thomas] may go early day three."

Kiper was more upbeat in regards to Collins' draft potential, noting he liked the way the Alabama native dropped weight at the Senior Bowl and was "a little quicker and separated better."

"He has to show he can get open in the NFL and get that natural separation," Kiper opined. "It has been proven with [Philadelphia Eagles wideout] Alshon Jeffery [who stands 6-3, 216] that you can play as a power forward and other guys can play in that role as well.

"There will be coverage against Nico, but he has that size and power forward mentality to beat smaller corners for the football, and that’s what you’re looking at there. You’re probably looking at a second or third-round pick for Nico."

As for McGrone, Kiper was higher on the former Wolverine linebacker than most and called him one of his "underrated guys" in the draft. The expert cited McGrone's "diagnostic ability" and the toughness he plays with, as well as the knack he has "that you look for in a linebacker."

"He can get through traffic and make plays, so I like him a lot," Kiper said. "I just updated my linebacker grades, and right now I have him sixth. I would think about him in the fourth round area, though he may go a little later than that.”

If Paye were to go in the first round, he'd become the first Wolverine defensive end chosen within the first 32 picks since Rashan Gary went No. 12 overall in 2019. U-M's recent track record hasn't been as impressive with offensive tackles, however, though Mayfield could end that streak.

If the Grand Rapids, Mich., native hears his name called in the opening round, he'd be the first Wolverine offensive tackle selected in the first round since Taylor Lewan in 2014.

Michigan Wolverines football's Jeremy Gallon
Michigan Wolverines football WR Jeremy Gallon was a seventh-round pick in 2014. (AP Images)

The last 5 defensive ends Michigan has had drafted:

• 2020 — Mike Danna (5th round)

• 2019 — Chase Winovich (3rd round)

• 2019 — Rashan Gary (1st round)

• 2017 — Chris Wormley (3rd round)

• 2017 — Taco Charlton (1st round)

The last 5 offensive tackles Michigan has had drafted:

• 2020 — Jon Runyan (6th round)

• 2018 — Mason Cole (3rd round)

• 2014 — Michael Schofield (3rd round)

• 2014 — Taylor Lewan (1st round)

• 2008 — Jake Long (1st round)

The last 5 cornerbacks Michigan has had drafted:

• 2019 — David Long (3rd round)

• 2017 — Jeremy Clark (6th round)

• 2017 — Jourdan Lewis (3rd round)

• 2009 — Morgan Trent (6th round)

• 2007 — Leon Hall (1st round)

The last 5 wide receivers Michigan has had drafted:

• 2020 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (6th round)

• 2017 — Jehu Chesson (4th round)

• 2017 — Amara Darboh (3rd round)

• 2015 — Devin Funchess (2nd round)

• 2014 — Jeremy Gallon (7th round)

The last 5 linebackers Michigan has had drafted:

2020 — Khaleke Hudson (5th round)

• 2020 — Josh Uche (2nd round)

• 2019 — Devin Bush (1st round)

• 2017 — Ben Gedeon (4th round)

• 2015 — Jake Ryan (4th round)

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