Being able to predict everything that is going to happen in all seven rounds of the annual NFL Draft can be quite the challenge. However, there are experts for major media organizations who are looked upon for their thoughts and analysis in the months before players are chosen by one of the 32 NFL teams. For ESPN, Mel Kiper, Jr., has been that expert since 1984.
Not bad for someone who only graduated from Essex Community College, but had an offer to work for the Baltimore Colts before joining ESPN. But he’s become a name synonymous with the NFL Draft. Along with Todd McShay, Kiper’s evaluations of every player transitioning from college football to the NFL can be somewhat influential.
While Kiper is one of the biggest names when it comes to the NFL Draft, he’s never 100 percent accurate. Sure, he’s right on some of the players who are selected early in the first round. But more often than not, he’s been wrong on his evaluations of college stars who are hoping to make a big impact in the professional ranks.
Kiper has drawn some criticism for his evaluations. There some glaring errors he has made about certain players who became NFL busts. One time he compared JaMarcus Russell to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. He also said that he would quit his job if Jimmy Clausen wasn’t a star in the NFL.
As mentioned earlier, Kiper has gotten some picks right. It’s just that predicting the players chosen in the draft can be extremely difficult. The following looks at eight of the biggest draft mistakes in Mel Kiper’s career and seven times he was perfectly right on the money.
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15 Wrong – Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
Mel Kiper once said that Aaron Curry was one of the safest picks in the 2009 NFL Draft; adding that it was very difficult to find a flaw in his play. Curry had some impressive numbers as a linebacker for Wake Forest from 2005 to 2008. Curry finished with 331 tackles and six interceptions during his four collegiate seasons with the Demon Deacons. The Seattle Seahawks chose to pick Curry with the fourth overall selection in the draft. But Curry would struggle to live up to the expectations he set in college.
In his first two seasons with the Seahawks, Curry finished with 110 tackles and five-and-a-half sacks. He would be traded to Oakland in the middle of the 2011 season. But his time with the Raiders didn’t yield better results for Curry. The former Wake Forest linebacker would finish his professional career after just five seasons in 2012; totaling 190 tackles with no interceptions.
14 Right – Marcell Dareus, Alabama - 2011
Mel Kiper has been criticized for his accuracy in the last few years. In 2011, he thought that the Carolina Panthers would pick defensive tackle Nick Fairley first overall; they chose quarterback Cam Newton instead. But he was spot on when it came to the No. 3 spot. He felt that the Buffalo Bills needed defensive end Marcell Dareus out of Alabama. The Bills needed help on the line and Kiper felt he would fit into their 3-4 defensive scheme.
Dareus had a good start to his career that included consecutive Pro Bowl invitations in 2013 and 2014. He also earned All-Pro status for his performance in the 2014 season that featured a career-high 10 sacks. Dareus struggled in his last two seasons, but he still has good numbers with 201 career tackles and 34 sacks.
13 Wrong – Mike Williams, USC
Back in 2008, Mel Kiper admitted that he was wrong about former USC wide receiver Mike Williams. He was high on the receiver had some good numbers from the NFL Combine for a 6-foot-5 target.When he was drafted, Kiper went so far as to say, "I'll see you at his hall of fame induction in Canton". He certainly had good numbers with 30 touchdowns at USC. Williams would be selected 10th overall by the Detroit Lions after he had to sit out for the 2004 season.
Williams had made an attempt to enter the NFL a year early, along with running back Maurice Clarrett. But Williams lasted only two years with Detroit before he found himself with Tennessee and Oakland in 2007. In 2008, Kiper admitted that Williams might have been one of his worst evaluations. Williams had another shot with the Seattle Seahawks from 2010 to 2011. Unfortunately, Williams finished with just 1,526 yards and five career touchdowns.
12 Right – Joe Haden, Florida
The 2010 NFL Draft was not a good one for Mel Kiper’s big board. A lot of teams traded their picks and he almost missed on all of his picks. The one he did get right was defensive back Joe Haden out of Florida. Haden was coming off a great 2009 season with the Gators that saw him with 68 tackles, four interceptions and three sacks. It seemed like a good fit if Haden fell to No. 7; which he did.
Kiper said that the Browns couldn’t go wrong with an “elite-level” corner like Haden. While the Cleveland Browns have not been a great franchise during Haden’s time there, he’s been one of the better corners in the NFL. Haden started off hot with six interceptions as a rookie. He would follow that up with four picks in 2013 and another three in 2014 for back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. Haden currently has 19 career interceptions after seven seasons.
11 Wrong – Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
There’s a lot to be said when someone like Mel Kiper is willing to put his entire career on the line for a player he believes in. Kiper said that if Jimmy Clausen wasn’t a successful quarterback in the NFL, he would be done with his career as a college prospect analyst. Clausen had a lot of scouts looking at him after throwing for 3,722 yards, 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 2009 with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Clausen also completed 68 percent of his passes that season.
After being selected in the second round by Carolina, Clausen would win only one start in his NFL career; which came in a 19-12 decision over Arizona where he had just 141 passing yards. Clausen thus far has accumulated 2,520 yards, seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. By the way, Kiper is still working for ESPN preparing for the 2017 NFL Draft.
10 Right – Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
While his passing numbers weren’t extremely high – about 1,234 yards and eight touchdowns in the 2000 season – Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick attracted a lot of attention for his overall abilities. Not a lot of quarterbacks had the ability to move in and out of the pocket like he did. Mel Kiper was certainly correct in predicting Vick as the first overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft in his big board to San Diego.
However, the Chargers actually traded down to pick running back LaDainian Tomlinson. This allowed the Atlanta Falcons to select Vick. In the end, Vick would continue on to a long career where he was nominated to four Pro Bowl games. While missing the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to his legal troubles with dog fighting, Vick still finished a 13-season career totaling 22,464 passing yards and 133 touchdowns and another 6,109 yards and 61 touchdowns on the ground.
9 Wrong – LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU
Running backs coming out of a mid-major program in the early 2000s wasn’t easy. Despite big numbers, someone like LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t get a lot of love from draft experts. However, he was worthy of being a first round selection after rushing for 1,974 yards and 20 touchdowns in his junior season (1999) and 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2000. Kiper had Tomlinson as the third best back behind Michael Bennett and Deuce McAllister.
McAllister finished his eight-year career with 6,096 yards and 49 touchdowns. Bennett rushed for 3,703 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 seasons. Tomlinson had more yards and touchdowns than both men combined; rushing for 13,684 yards and 145 touchdowns in nine years with San Diego and two more with the New York Jets. Tomlinson also had more awards than both men and was arguably the best running back of his generation. He is set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
8 Right – Andrew Luck, Stanford - 2012
With an abysmal season without Peyton Manning in 2011, the Indianapolis Colts had the no. 1 choice in the 2012 NFL Draft. There might have been questions about what to do with a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, but the Colts decided to cut their ties and go with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Mel Kiper felt he was the right fit for the Colts; followed by Robert Griffin III going to Washington. He also said Luck was the most complete quarterback he had seen in a long time coming out of college.
He was right on both, but Luck has had the better NFL career than RGIII. In just five seasons, Luck has more than 19,000 passing yards with 132 touchdowns and just 68 interceptions. He also made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. While Manning would win a Super Bowl in Denver, it’s hard to argue with the Colts deciding to go with a more youthful route in 2012.
7 Wrong – Ki-Jana Carter, Penn State
Comparing any incoming running back to someone as dominant as Bo Jackson is quite the praise to be given by anyone. Mel Kiper made the statement at the 1995 NFL Draft that Ki-Jana Carter out of Penn State was going to be the next Bo Jackson. He certainly gave experts a lot of reasons why he could have been a great running back. During his season with the Nittany Lions in 1994, Carter rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns on less than 200 carries.
Carter was picked first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. Injuries early in his career would hinder his progress as he only had 264 yards (but eight touchdowns) in 1996; followed by his career-high 464 yards and seven touchdowns in the 1997 season. Carter would play a total of seven years in the NFL with an average of 3.6 yards per carry. He only started 14 games out of his 59 total appearances.
6 Right – Matthew Stafford, Georgia
Matthew Stafford made the decision to leave college early and enter the 2009 NFL Draft. Although his numbers were not as big as other top drafted quarterbacks – 3,459 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions – he was playing with the Georgia Bulldogs in the very difficult Southeastern Conference. Kiper was one of many who predicted that Stafford would be the No. 1 selection by Detroit and that he was worthy of that pick.
Of course, it came as no surprise to anyone that the offensively desperate Lions would chose the quarterback. They went 0-16 in the 2008 season and desperately needed a spark. Eight seasons into his NFL career and Stafford has been known as one of the most consistent gunslingers in the NFL. He has 30,303 yards and 187 touchdowns despite a 51-58 record. No one can blame Stafford for Detroit still not making it to the Super Bowl.
5 Wrong – Akili Smith, Oregon
During the 1998 season with the Oregon Ducks, quarterback Akili Smith drew a lot of attention. He threw for 3,763 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. While it was likely he was going to be a high selection in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft, Kiper’s comments might have been a little excessive. As Smith was selected third overall, Kiper said that Smith would be the Cincinnati best quarterback since Boomer Esiason.
In the NFL, Smith rarely started aside from his sophomore season in 2000 – 1,253 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 starts. Overall, he had a 3-14 record as a starter during his four seasons with the Bengals. He had 13 interceptions against his measly five touchdowns. Smith also completed just 46.6. percent of his throws.
4 Right – Matt Ryan, Boston College - 2008
Matt Ryan deserved to be named the top quarterback in the 2008 NFL Draft. After his senior season at Boston College, he should have really been the No. 1 selection overall. While the Eagles weren’t a strong team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Ryan still threw for more than 4,500 yards with 31 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Mel Kiper still put Ryan at No. 3; thinking Miami would pick defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, followed by St. Louis picking defensive end Chris Long.
While offensive tackle Jake Long went first to the Dolphins and Chris Long went to the Rams, the Atlanta Falcons did pick up Ryan. They needed a quarterback after the departure of Michael Vick. Kiper gave Ryan an extremely high draft grade, among the top 10 grades he's ever given to a QB. Well, Ryan turned out to be quite the valuable acquisition for the Falcons. In nine seasons so far, Ryan has 37,701 yards, 240 touchdowns and 114 interceptions; including his MVP win for the 2016 season.
3 Wrong – Ryan Leaf, Washington State
In all fairness, Ryan Leaf was one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history. Mel Kiper certainly wasn’t the only one who thought highly of the Washington State quarterback. Leaf was coming off a 1997 season where he threw for nearly 4,000 yards with 34 touchdowns against 11 interceptions; leading the Cougars to the Rose Bowl that year. While he agreed Peyton Manning should have been taken No. 1 in the 1998 NFL Draft, he talked about Leaf having the skills to succeed.
Unfortunately, Leaf lasted only until the 2001 season after the Chargers let him go three years into his NFL career. Leaf had a 4-17 record as a starter with 36 interceptions compared to just 14 touchdowns. Leaf also had a number of attitude problems that also spilled into life after football after he got into trouble with drugs while he was a coach for West Texas A&M.
2 Right – Joe Flacco, Delaware - 2008
Joe Flacco was a transfer player who left the Pittsburgh Panthers football team to go and play in Delaware for the Fightin’ Blue Hens. While it’s certainly not a major college football program, Flacco had success in his senior season with 4,263 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. Some scouts felt that his height, 6-foot-6 inches, was considered too tall. But some scouts like Mel Kiper felt he showed he was the real deal after that 2007 season.
In fact, Kiper felt Flacco was the second best quarterback in the 2008 NFL Draft – behind Matt Ryan. He would be selected 18th overall by the Baltimore Ravens and has been their franchise quarterback for nine seasons. So far, Flacco has 32,639 yards and 182 touchdowns. He’s also 10-5 in the playoffs, which includes leading the Ravens to win Super Bowl XLVII.
1 Wrong – JaMarcus Russell, LSU
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell had a lot of success playing for the LSU Tigers from 2004 to 2006. The larger gunslinger had 3,129 yards, 28 touchdowns and only eight interceptions during his last year with the Tigers. Mel Kiper believed that Russell had the tools to become one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He even compared Russell to two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway – a man with more than 51,000 yards and was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
Russell’s career numbers were nowhere close to Elway, or any of his backup quarterbacks. Russell would have a record of 7-18 as a starter for the Oakland Raiders; who selected him first overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. After throwing 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2008, his 2009 season saw a big drop in production with just three touchdowns to 11 interceptions and a 2-7 record as a starter. He's the NFL's all-time biggest draft bust and Kiper was among those who were hyping him up as the next big thing. That's gotta be the biggest embarrassment of Kiper's career.
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