Mel Kiper Jr. isn't budging.
ESPN's long-time draft guru is still high on Jimmy Clausen's future as an NFL quarterback although Clausen fell from a potential early first-round position in last week's NFL draft to being selected midway through Round 2 by the Carolina Panthers with the 48th overall selection.
"The reason I like him is because he's tough, he's gritty and he competes," Kiper told the Observer on a conference call with reporters this week. "He's 6-2 1/2, 220, which is ideal size. He doesn't have a howitzer for an arm, but it's good enough - it's more than good enough."
Kiper rated Clausen the fourth best player in the draft. Kiper looked agitated as the draft wore on and Clausen wasn't picked early. He said this week he still believes he had Clausen accurately rated.
"That's my opinion and I'll stand by it," he said. "We'll see where it stands three years from now."
Clausen threw 28 touchdown passes and just four interceptions last season as a junior at Notre Dame, which had a 6-6 season that featured many close losses.
While some NFL teams and draft analysts agreed with Kiper's high rating, others marked him down for intangibles, questioning his leadership and ability to get along with teammates. Some labeled him overly cocky.
Kiper said he talked to several current and former Notre Dame players, plus a member of the Irish's coaching staff and they all praised him as a leader and teammate.
"They raved about Jimmy and they didn't have to," said Kiper. "They didn't have to say positive things."
Kiper said Clausen "pokes and prods" teammates at times, but only to get the best out of them.
"He wants everybody to compete like he is," said Kiper. "That's how a quarterback has to be. It's amazing when you talk about that swagger and that confidence you want. Jimmy had that and everybody knocked him for it. I never understood that."
Kiper called Clausen a "gym rat" who'll work hard at his craft and eventually become an outstanding pro.
"I'm not saying he's going to be Dan Marino or John Elway or the greatest quarterback in the NFL," said Kiper. "I've never said that. I think he can be a very good starting quarterback in this league."
Clausen will join Carolina's other draftees, newcomers and returnees at a three-day minicamp starting Friday at the team practice fields near Bank of America Stadium.
Kiper gave the Panthers an overall draft grade of "B," tied for seventh best in the league.
Here's what he had to say about the Panthers' other picks:
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, Round 3: "Dropped a few catchable balls at times, but didn't have great quarterback play at LSU. He's got talent. There were a lot of teams who thought he was a second-round pick, and they got him in the third round."
Wide receiver/kick returner Armanti Edwards, Round 3: "I thought that was a little expensive (giving up a 2011 second-round pick to trade back in the third round this year) for a projection as a slot receiver, wide receiver, and (kick returner)."
Defensive end/outside linebacker Eric Norwood, Round 4: "I like (him) as a pass rusher."
Defensive end Greg Hardy, Round 6: "He's got to stay healthy, which was an issue late in his career at Ole Miss."
Wide receiver David Gettis, Round 6: "Has a lot of talent, but he's another one - (his) route-running and consistency catching the ball is an issue. That's why a second-round talent was there in the sixth round.
Quarterback Tony Pike, Round 6: "He can throw the football. He's got the height (nearly 6-6) but has got to fill out that frame and get stronger. He played in a very quarterback-friendly offense (and) he's got a big adjustment coming into the NFL."
Defensive backs: Jordan Pugh (Round 6), R.J. Stanford (7) and Robert McClain (7) - "I think McClain of that group, I like, because he's a smart football player. He's opportunistic. All three of those kids should be able to help you on special teams, and I think two of those three make it as backup defensive backs."