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ESPN’s Kiper has Arizona Cardinals taking Ryan Kelly in first round

Alabama offensive lineman Ryan Kelly (70) sets up for a play against Michigan State during the first half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Early 2016 mock drafts almost all had the Arizona Cardinals attempting to bolster their pass rush and selecting a defensive end or outside linebacker with the 29th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

That’s not the case anymore.

Since March 1, Alabama center Ryan Kelly is the most common player linked in mock drafts to the Cardinals.

The latest analyst to share that thinking is none other than ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr.

In his fourth mock draft, released Wednesday, Kiper projects Kelly to Arizona.

The addition of Chandler Jones gives the Cardinals a much-needed pass-rusher. Now a team without glaring needs does have a noticeable one on the interior of the offensive line. Kelly is a plug-and-play option at center, and he’s also in the “best available” mix at this point.

It is interesting to note that Oklahoma State edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah is still on the board for the Cardinals in Kiper’s projection, only to be picked next by the Carolina Panthers at no. 30.

Kelly is 6-foot-4 and weighs 311 pounds. He started on the Crimson Tide’s offensive line for three years, including the 2015 season which ended with a College Football Playoff win at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

He won the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best center, and was a consensus first team All-American as well as the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year.

As Kiper points out, Kelly could be Arizona’s starter from Day 1, as last year’s first-stringer — Lyle Sendlein — remains an unrestricted free agent. Sendlein was signed during training camp last summer after no other teams made offers for his services, and he went on to start 17 games, including the playoffs.

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