Scouts analyze collegiate prospects and submit comprehensive reports and assessments on these players to NFL decision makers. Despite scouts’ extreme vetting, league executives and knowledgeable fans understand that accurately predicting the next gridiron great is an utter crapshoot. Few individuals realize the inexact nature of scouting more than ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. As former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Tobin angrily asked in 1994, “Who the hell is Mel Kiper?!”
The 57-year-old Kiper is a Baltimorean who, while attending the Community College of Baltimore County in the late 1970s, began developing expansive overviews of collegians eligible to enter the league’s draft. Kiper sent his findings to Ernie Accorsi and the former Baltimore Colts’ general manager encouraged the budding scout to distribute his analyses to fans. Following three years of perusing the youngster’s exhaustive files, Accorsi offered Kiper a prestigious role in the Colts’ front office. Unfortunately for the determined Marylander, shortly thereafter, the Colts shockingly abandoned Baltimore for Indianapolis in March 1984 and Kiper’s prospective position was nullified.
However, fate arose and C-level executives at the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” asked Kiper to join its coverage of the 1984 NFL Draft. Kiper remains with the illustrious company and he regularly contributes to SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and ESPN.com. The founder of Mel Kiper Enterprises Inc is praised for his evaluations and his website boasts that he “accurately predicts as much as 80 percent of first-round draft selections.” Kiper’s distinguished résumé notwithstanding, the drafting whiz has made an array of atrocious prognostications and he’s been accused of purposely overvaluing some of his friends’ clients.
With his backstory provided, let’s recall eight players that Kiper misjudged and seven that he surprisingly nailed.
15 DEAD WRONG: MATT HASSELBECK
“What’s his name,” Matt Hasselbeck, 42, rhetorically asked, “Mel Kiper? Yeah, when I was picked, with pick 187, I think his exact words were something like, ‘That’s a waste of a pick.’ At 187! So, you know, whatever.” The Green Bay Packers selected the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Hasselbeck out of Boston College in the sixth round of the 1998 draft. After serving three seasons as Brett Favre’s backup, Green Bay sent Hasselbeck and the 17th choice in 2001 to the Seattle Seahawks for that year’s 10th overall pick and a third-round selection.
Over 10 seasons in Seattle, Hasselbeck was a three-time Pro Bowler who made the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary Team. Hasselbeck completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 212 scores and 36,638 yards in 209 contests with the Packers, Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts before retiring in March 2016.
14 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: BRETT FAVRE
Brett Favre was an altogether undisciplined individual coming out of the University of Southern Mississippi in 1991. Accordingly, rather than gamble on the reckless and hard-partying Favre, the Seattle Seahawks made San Diego State’s Dan McGwire the first quarterback chosen in that year’s draft. While Kiper acknowledged Favre’s drawbacks and applauded McGwire’s upside, he was enamored with the gunslinger’s potential.
“He has a strong, powerful arm, throwing the 15- to 25-yard intermediate routes across the middle as well as any quarterback to come out in the last few years,” wrote Kiper.
“Delivery is outstanding -- he snaps the ball right off from his ear, cutting through the wind that is a factor to deal with in the late fall/winter months. This kid is a competitor, possesses above average physical skills, and did his damage against top competition during his four years as the starter. I really believe strongly that he has the natural ability and overall attitude to make the successful transition to the NFL.”
The Atlanta Falcons chose the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Favre with the 33rd overall pick. Favre, a three-time NFL MVP who led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship in 1996, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2016.
13 DEAD WRONG: LADANIAN TOMLINSON
Mel Kiper infamously rated Texas Christian University running back LaDainian Tomlinson as tied for the 25th-best player in the 2001 draft. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Tomlinson, a 2000 consensus All-American and two-time WAC Offensive Player of The Year as a Horned Frog, was taken by the San Diego Chargers with the fifth selection in 2001. Tomlinson brightened America’s Finest City and became a five-time Pro-Bowler, three-time First-Team All-Pro, and the winner of the 2006 NFL Most Valuable Player of the Year award. A member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, L.T. carried the ball 3,174 times for 145 touchdowns and 13,684 yards as a Charger and New York Jet. The 38-year-old Tomlinson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5.
12 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: JOE FLACCO
The Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens’ football program is not exactly a hotbed for dynamic signal-callers. Hence, it was difficult to properly evaluate Joe Flacco when he departed Newark, Delaware, for the NFL in 2008. Boston College star Matt Ryan was almost universally considered the preeminent quarterback available in the 2008 draft. Still, Mel Kiper was convinced that the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Flacco was equal on the gridiron to the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ryan. Kiper concluded that Ryan was strictly favored over Flacco because he played against a higher level of competition. Kiper then noted Flacco’s ability to throw a pigskin in excess of 70 yards downfield.
Ultimately, Ryan went to the Atlanta Falcons with the third pick and Flacco was taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the 18th choice. While Ryan’s statistics dwarf Flacco’s, the elite Blue Hen guided the Ravens to a crown in February 2013. For his brilliant pouting, Flacco earned the Super Bowl MVP award. Conversely, Ryan infamously choked during last February’s championship game and remains without a title on his résumé.
11 DEAD WRONG: AARON CURRY
Mel Kiper likened Aaron Curry to three-time All-Pro Keith Bulluck and said that “he’s a complete OLB with great character and work ethic, which is why it was no surprise when he nailed his combine workout.” The Seattle Seahawks chose the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Curry out of Wake Forest University fourth overall in 2009. Curry plummeted as a Seahawk and Seattle sent him to the Oakland Raiders in October 2011 for a 2012 seventh round selection and a conditional choice in 2013. Unfortunately for the Silver and Black and former Demon Deacon, Curry also flopped in The Town.
Curry participated for the New York Giants’ practice squad in May 2013 before he permanently shelved his cleats roughly three months later at the age of 27.
10 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: MARCELL DAREUS
The Buffalo Bills drafted Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus third overall in 2011. Mel Kiper accurately predicted that the 6-foot-3, 330-pound Dareus would be taken by Buffalo and become a force in the NFL.
“A scheme-versatile player who can be a disruptive, penetrating force as an interior lineman, or a fantastic pass-rusher as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, he's a safe pick,” wrote Kiper.
“He doesn't have remarkable quickness, but his agility and versatility at a full 319 pounds is the stuff of an elite lineman. Saying that a guy is the top defensive lineman drafted in this class is to say a lot.”
Unlike other overhyped DTs in recent years, Dareus met expectations and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2014. After six primarily stellar seasons as a Bill, Dareus was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 27 for a conditional 2018 sixth-round draft pick. Dareus has recorded 306 tackles, 35.0 sacks and two forced fumbles in 93 games as a Bill and Jaguar.
9 DEAD WRONG: JIMMY CLAUSEN
“If Jimmy Clausen is not a successful quarterback in the NFL, I’m done. That’s it. I’m out,” Mel Kiper said before the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Clausen dissected defenses as an Irishman in South Bend. In 35 games with the Irish, Clausen completed 695 passes for 8,148 yards and 60 touchdowns. Regrettably for Kiper and the cocky Californian, Clausen’s skills didn’t translate to the NFL. Clausen hit an anemic 54 percent of his targets for seven scores, against 14 picks, and 2,520 yards as a member of the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. The 30-year-old Clausen has been out of the league since the conclusion of 2015. Perhaps, Kiper should be “done” and “out” for raving about Clausen.
8 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: MICHAEL VICK
Michael Vick is the most successful rushing quarterback in NFL history. Although most experts lauded Vick’s physical gifts, plenty of critics rejected the notion that a scrambling signal-caller could ever make a lasting impact on the gridiron. While Mel Kiper worried about Vick’s accuracy in the pocket, he was convinced that the Atlanta Falcons should select the Virginia Tech star first overall.
“With an awesome talent like Vick, the only concern will be how long it takes him to develop into a top-of-the-line, pure passer who is capable of beating the opposition with his arm as well as his incredible running skills,” wrote Kiper. “There is no questioning Vick's arm strength. He can throw the ball 75 yards down the field or deliver a frozen rope to the intermediate areas.”
Vick didn’t fully mature into a “pure passer” as a Falcon. Surprisingly, after being imprisoned for 18 months for serving as Bad Newz Kennels’ mastermind, Vick soared throwing the ball with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010.
Vick, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who earned 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors, retired on February 3. Because Kiper can’t be blamed for Vick’s dogfighting ring, the often-maligned scouting guru deserves kudos here.
7 DEAD WRONG: JOHNNY MANZIEL
Mel Kiper initially envisioned Johnny Manziel as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. However, if that didn’t transpire, Kiper said he “couldn’t see Manziel sliding out of the top eight.” Kiper was completely mistaken and the Cleveland Browns finally selected the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Manziel with the 22nd choice. Primarily due to substance abuse issues and a comical sense of entitlement, Manziel was a pathetic employee in Cleveland before he was waived by the inept organization in March 2016.
The troubled 2012 Heisman Trophy award winner completed 57 percent of his attempts for seven touchdowns and 1,675 yards in 14 contests as a Brown. Although presently jobless, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League have discussed signing the 24-year-old Manziel.
6 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: CARSON WENTZ AND JARED GOFF
In stark contrast to blue-chip quarterback prospects from yesteryear like Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, many onlookers were unsure of California’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Granted, Goff and Wentz were the top two selections in the 2016 draft. Nevertheless, both passers were chosen more out of desperation than unwavering confidence in their abilities. Unlike skeptical pundits, Mel Kiper praised both signal-callers and foresaw their greatness.
“I think it’s a flip of the coin right now on those two quarterbacks. Some like Goff. Some like Wentz,” wrote Kiper.
“I’m not that concerned about Goff. If all you’re worrying about is weight and strength on a quarterback coming out of college, there isn’t much to critique. … If that’s the only criticism you have, you’ve got yourself a heck of a prospect. The main knock on Wentz is he played for a school in the Football Championship Subdivision instead of college football’s highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision. But he completed 64.1 percent of his career passes with 45 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Great attitude, great approach, hard worker … nothing bothers the kid, nothing rattles him.”
Wentz is the favorite to win the NFL MVP award and Goff is guiding the league’s third most productive offense.
5 DEAD WRONG: ANDRE WADSWORTH
“I compare Andre Wadsworth to Bruce Smith in terms of his natural instincts and athleticism, getting after the quarterback,” said Mel Kiper. “He is as close to can’t miss as you can get.”
The Arizona Cardinals selected defensive end Andre Wadsworth out of Florida State University third overall in 1998. Wadsworth, a consensus All-American and the ACC Player of the Year in 1997, was a cloudy presence in the Valley of the Sun. Hampered by knee ailments, the decorated Seminole compiled 96 tackles, eight sacks and one interception in 36 games with the Cardinals before the franchise cut him in March 2000. Following a seven-year hiatus, Wadsworth and the New York Jets agreed to a minimum base contract in March 2007. Gang Green axed the then 32-year-old Wadsworth roughly five months later.
4 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: MATTHEW STAFFORD
Mel Kiper gushed about Matthew Stafford’s skills while he was still attending Highland Park High School in University Park, Texas.
“Matthew Stafford eventually will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Write that down,” said Kiper.
Following three seasons as a Georgia Bulldog, the Detroit Lions selected the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Stafford first overall in 2009. A historically feeble franchise, Stafford’s helped Detroit clinch playoff berths in the 2011, 2014 and 2016 campaigns.
"He's been a good QB with bouts of greatness, and while you can call modern passing stats inflated, Stafford is on a pace to eclipse 50,000 passing yards in his career,” Kiper wrote in March 2015.
With the league’s new safety rules intact, the 29-year-old Stafford should continue thriving under center well into the 2020s.
3 DEAD WRONG: MIKE WILLIAMS
Mel Kiper told disbelieving ESPN analyst Merrill Hodge that he expected to one day attend wide receiver Mike Williams’ “Hall of Fame induction.” The Detroit Lions chose the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Williams out of USC with the 10th selection in the 2005 draft. Although Williams outclassed secondaries in Tinseltown, the 2003 consensus All-American was substandard in Motown. After two toothless seasons as a Lion, Williams was traded to the Oakland Raiders in April 2007. Williams was a harmless Raider and he deteriorated into a journeyman. The ineffective Trojan was waived by the Seattle Seahawks in July 2011 and he was removed from the league altogether by the age of 27. Williams finished his NFL career with 127 catches for 1,526 yards over 56 games with the Lions, Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Seahawks.
2 SURPRISINGLY CORRECT: JOE HADEN
As reported by Cleveland.com in February 2010, “ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. is on the Joe Haden bandwagon.” Maybe listening to Kiper, the Cleveland Browns chose the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Haden out of Florida to serve as a lockdown cornerback.
"I think Joe Haden makes the most sense, in terms of value," Kiper said. "We don't know if he's going to be Darrelle Revis (of the Jets) or (Oakland's) Nnamdi Asomugha. They're the two best cover corners in the NFL right now. They didn't (get drafted) in the top 10. But Haden will. Haden has potential to be an elite corner. He's a complete corner, effective on the blitz, outstanding in coverage."
Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2013, was cut by the Browns on August 30. Mere hours after getting cut, the 28-year-old Haden and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a three-year contract worth $27 million.
1 DEAD WRONG: RYAN LEAF
Mel Kiper amusingly thought that Ryan Leaf’s snarky demeanor would “be an asset in the NFL and give him a mental advantage over other players in his draft class.” The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Leaf, taken by the San Diego Chargers out of Washington State second overall in 1998, is frequently deemed the league’s most embarrassing bust. Leaf was abysmal on the gridiron and boorish off the field. The Chargers fired the 1997 First-Team All-American in March 2001 following three forgettable campaigns in America’s Finest City. Leaf briefly gained employment with the Tampa Bay Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks before retiring in July 2002 at the age of 26. Leaf, who served two years in prison for a string of drug-related burglaries, has been sober for four years and he works as a program ambassador for a recovery community center.
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