Friday, April 25, 2008

Draft gurus

Tomorrow is the NFL draft.

The pundits have been out in force, analyzing, dissecting, breaking down the top players - trying to find the sleepers, identify the busts, and anoint the next superstars without a single player having seen a single down in the NFL except on their television sets on Sunday.

It passed the stage of interesting a long time ago and now just resides in the land of tedium. Analysis for analysis' sake. Everyone has a different opinion, everyone identifies a different place where a team has needs, and everyone seems to feel they have the right remedy for what ails a given team.

Are there draft picks that are gimmes? Yeah, and there are those that are so glaringly wrong (Ted Ginn, Jr., anyone?) that one wonders how the GM and the scouts of those teams still have jobs going into the second day of the draft, and there are reaches. But let's face it, if these so-called draft experts were so good at what they do, they would be drawing their paychecks from the NFL and not some media outlet.

Mel Kiper, I'm looking at you.

I'm not saying what he does is easy. He compiles an immense amount of information and seems to be able to recall it without referencing notes. What I am saying is that he does not seem capable of doing the most difficult part of his job - which is to bring a certain gut instinct to his separate certain facts and make accurate projections based on scheme and mental make-up.

For those of you who think otherwise, here is a list of some of Kiper's most memorable moments ganked from his bio on Wikipedia...

  • Kiper also criticized the Colts selection of Marshall Faulk at #2 in 1994, saying that the team should have taken either Shuler or Trent Dilfer.[5] Kiper attacked the selection of Faulk, stating, "That's why the Colts keep picking No. 2 every year." [6] Faulk became the 1994 Offensive Rookie of the Year.[7] After a long career as one of the elite running backs NFL history, the general consensus is that Faulk will someday be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Kiper projected Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer as the 30th pick; he was selected second overall by the Seattle Seahawks.[9] Though he showed some early promise, Mirer failed to develop and was finally benched during his fourth season. He spent the remaining eight years of his career with six different teams as a journeyman backup. [10]
  • In 1999, Kiper said that Oregon quarterback Akili Smith would be a great NFL player and would finally provide the Cincinnati Bengals with the passer they'd lacked since Boomer Esiason. Smith was selected ahead of Daunte Culpepper, Torry Holt, Edgerrin James, Champ Bailey, and Jevon Kearse, but he spent less than four abysmal seasons in Cincinnati, starting only 17 games. He has since struggled in several brief stops in the NFL, NFL Europe, and the CFL. It's notable that Kiper rated Smith higher than Donovan McNabb and Culpepper, despite the facts that Smith only had 11 starts at the college level and had performed poorly on the Wonderlic aptitude tests administered at the NFL Combine, both of which are traditionally seen as important indicators of a quarterback's readiness for the NFL. Smith's career was marred by inconsistency and failure to grasp the complexities of the Bengals' playbook, issues which appear to have been foreshadowed by his lack of experience and low scores.
  • One of Kiper's most well known mistakes was when he stated that USC wide receiver Mike Williams would be the best player in his 2005 draft class, despite not having played football in over a year after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. When ESPN analyst Merril Hoge disagreed, Kiper uttered the now infamous line, "I'll see you at his Hall of Fame induction." Williams has been a remarkable disappointment, playing very little and showing no signs of improvement with either of the two teams he's played for. As of October 31, 2007 he is already out of football after being waived by the Oakland Raiders. Further adding to the embarrassment for Kiper (and the Detroit Lions, who selected him 10th overall) is the fact that the next three players selected after Williams all became Pro-Bowlers within 2 years - the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, the Chargers' Shawn Merriman, and Saints offensive tackle Jamaal Brown.
  • In the 1995 Draft, Kiper proclaimed UCLA wide receiver JJ Stokes a "sure-thing" who was destined to be a future All-Pro. On draft day, Kiper lambasted several teams, including the New York Jets, for passing on Stokes until he was selected 10th overall by the San Francisco 49ers. Stokes spent an undistinguished 8 years in San Francisco in the shadows of Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, never making a single Pro Bowl or even surpassing 770 yards receiving. After the draft, the Jets signed Hofstra wide receiver Wayne Chrebet as an undrafted free agent. Chrebet became one of the Jets most popular players and surpassed Stokes in every major statistical category.
  • In the same 1995 Draft, Kiper had rated BYU Quarterback John Walsh as a first round pick. Walsh declared for the draft after his Junior season and had an abysmal NFL combine where he ran a 5.3 forty yard dash and displayed a weak arm in workouts. Nonetheless, Kiper still rated Walsh as a late 1st/early 2nd round pick on the day of the draft and said he would be a perfect fit for a "West Coast Offense" team like the San Francisco 49ers because of his accuracy on short passes. Walsh slid all the way to the 7th round where he was finally taken by the Cincinnati Bengals. He never appeared in a single game for the quarterback needy Bengals and was out of football less than a year later.
  • One example of Kiper getting a player correct in the 1995 draft was when he asserted that Notre Dame defensive back Bobby Taylor, a college free safety, would make an excellent cornerback in the NFL because of his ability to match up with larger wide receivers. Kiper had Taylor rated as one of his top 10 prospects in the draft, and though Taylor wasn't drafted until the 2nd round by the Philadelphia Eagles, he went on to have a long and distinguished career just as Kiper said he would.
  • In 1998 Kiper said that Washington State Quarterback Ryan Leaf's "attitude" (which had rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way in college) would be an asset in the NFL and give him a mental advantage over Peyton Manning. Kiper also said that Leaf had the better natural physical tools and would be a great quarterback, though he still rated Manning as the more polished and better overall prospect. Leaf was chosen second overall by the San Diego Chargers immediately after Manning. Leaf's career soon imploded, largely because of a confrontational attitude and poor practice habits that alienated teammates, coaches, and fans. He is now regarded as not only the worst bust in NFL draft history, but also possibly the biggest bust in all of professional sports.[12] His story is viewed as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a team attempts to build around a player with raw talent but questionable attitude.
By no means is Kiper alone in this, however, when so glaringly wrong on picks like Leaf, Akili Smith, and Ware...all of whom had serious detractors at the time of their respective drafts, one has to wonder how he retains his draft guru title with ESPN.


Dave said...

What's fun is watching him and Todd McShay share airtime on ESPN. Kiper is pissed that he isn't the only guy there.

Even worse for Kiper is that McShay is better.

Kevin Smith said...

I agree about McShay and it is damn funny because he is so obviously peeved. I just never understood why he has been held in such high regard.

Dave said...

I think it is just a matter of him being there first. He really invented the whole idea of "Draft guru." It's like the keyboard; there are better layouts but everyone is used to QWERTY. Unfortunately for Kiper, the draft game doesn't work the same way. If McShay does a better job this year (and their boards aren't remotely similar) it could get really interesting.

the blue state blogger said...

In Kiper's defense, a few of those guys who COULD have developed into what he thought they were capable of were stuck in the systems of...well, the Lions and Bengals. The Bengals in particular were obsessed with QBs when they obviously had no system to develop them when they got to the NFL.

Kevin Smith said...

I'd agree, except I remember a big, collective "huh" and some head scratching in regards to the Akili Smith selection. From what I recall, only the Bengals agreed with him in regards to Smith being a future NFL QB. That said, yeah, Cincy was QB-happy, always looking for the next big thing.

But really - the Pats to go 0-16? I know no one had them picked to go the playoffs, but only Kiper said they wouldn't win a game.

Suldog said...


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the blue state blogger said...

"But really - the Pats to go 0-16? I know no one had them picked to go the playoffs, but only Kiper said they wouldn't win a game."

Well, I just defended him a little bit. I didn't say he wasn't an idiot.