Kiper: 2014 NFL Mock Draft 3.0

There's a surprise at No. 1 as free agency clouds Mel's latest projection

Updated: March 27, 2014, 9:57 AM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider

Free agency can have an affect on draft decisions, but not as much as it used to. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, when you were bound to pay a first-round pick a lot more money than you do today, you'd see cases in which you knew a team had to make a decision between the prospects of a rookie and the possibility of what they could add in free agency. That's not the case as much anymore. First-round picks don't take up much cap space, so the finances don't come into play. And need? It's also not as big a deal as you'd think.

Unless you're truly in a win-now situation, you draft looking for core players who can help your team for years. You have a different timeline in place with many free agents. So with free agency in full swing, a couple things to keep in mind for mock 3.0:

• For this version, I'll address the free agency situation for each slot as much as the scouting report.
• In talking to teams, I can assure you all of them are still deep into evaluations and are not set on one guy at each slot.

That said, let's dive into 3.0 ...

1. Houston Texans: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

The Texans are in some ways like Kansas City drafting at No. 1 last year in that they don't fit the profile of a team drafting so high. The personnel situation isn't terrible; the defense can keep them in games; they have a new head coach who has a good track record with quarterbacks and may not be content to wait on a rookie QB to develop when he could be winning. Mack is a fit in most systems, but he'd excel in this system as a pass-rusher and a player who can back up and make plays in space and to the edges. Houston hasn't been active in free agency, but Mack can fill a role and be a key contributor early for a team that can start winning again. And it's been almost a full year since a player from the MAC went No. 1, right?

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst