The bespectacled Mel Kiper Jr. has become a legendary figure in the NFL without ever playing or coaching a single down in the league. Kiper spends exhausting hours evaluating college talent, ranking prospects and penciling them in according to the needs of each NFL team, earning him the respect of being one of the leading authorities on the NFL draft. In many respects, Kiper has transformed the NFL Draft from a sleepy back room game of cards to a major network event. His preparation, confidence that borderlines arrogance and opinions that often leave very little room for error, make it all the more newsworthy when he makes a mistake.
Kiper has covered the NFL Draft since 1984, providing valuable insight into the many prospects that fans so often don’t get a chance to see play for themselves. Kiper is able to tell the casual fan why they might care about a tackle from Central Michigan or a linebacker from the University of Buffalo. Despite all his zealous predictions and undeniable success, there are also times when Kiper goes out on a limb to award All-Pro status to collegiate players who have yet to play a down of football in the NFL. Kiper is a pure draft geek and his diligence and passion are hard to ignore, but his colorful opinions and demonstrative prognostications sometimes come back to bite him in the gluts.
From awarding Mike Williams a bust in Canton to putting his job on the line to ensure Jimmy Clausen’s NFL success, Kiper has not been a stranger to looking like a fool in the rain. It is hard to predict how players will adjust to the NFL even if they were bigger, faster and stronger than most of their peers in college. Kiper has plenty of insight and does manage to keep fans well informed, but the NFL Draft is not an exact science. In the case of these 15 predictions, Kiper probably wishes he would have kept his mouth shut.
15. Joey Harrington, QB – Oregon
According to Kiper – Joey Harrington had a Brett Favre-like flair for the dramatics.
Joey Harrington was a fiery competitor at Oregon, who managed to finish in fourth place for the 2001 Heisman Trophy award. The three-year starter managed to pass for 6,911 yards and 59 touchdowns with only 23 interceptions, in leading the Oregon Ducks to an impressive 25-3 record. Harrington was a first-team All-American selection, won the PAC-10 Player of the Year honors and was near the top of many draft lists.
The Detroit Lions were sold on Harrington and thought he would bring them the leadership they needed to stabilize the position for years to come. Harrington was not the worst quarterback on this list, finishing his career with 14,693 yards of passing and 79 touchdowns in six seasons of play. He finished with a quarterback rating of 69.4 and even had one season where he eclipsed 3,000 yardspassing. It didn’t help that he had 85 interceptions and only managed to average 5.8 yards per passing attempt. Needless to say, he was no Brett Favre.
14. J.J. Stokes, WR – UCLA
Kiper said… – “J.J. Stokes is a sure thing. A future All-Pro.”
J.J. Stokes had the size and physical attributes to be a dominant receiver. Stokes was 6-foot-4 tall, weighed just over 215 pounds and had terrific down field speed to complement his impressive size.
Stokes was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 10th overall pick in 1995. The 49ers were hoping that Stokes could replace John Taylor and provide more of a threat opposite Jerry Rice, who at that time was still in his prime. Stokes had his best season with the 49ers in 1998, when he caught 63 passes for 770 yards and 8 touchdowns, while starting in 11 games. He finished his 9-year NFL career with 342 receptions for 4,293 yards and 30 touchdowns. What plagued Stokes was that he was unable to separate from NFL defenders like he was able to do in college. Stokes ended his career with a 12.6 yards per reception average and a long-ball best of 53 yards. He never really made enough spectacular plays to be considered an All-Pro.
13. Vernon Gholston, DE – Ohio State
Kiper said… – “Those kinds of players (Gholston), those attacking, outside linebacker/defensive-end types, are going to help you right away.”
Vernon Gholston was a disruptive force at Ohio State. He was quick, explosive and powerful, using his 6-foot-3, 260 pound frame to set a school record with 14.5 sacks in 2007. That same season, he earned the Big 10 Defensive Lineman of the Year Award, while also adding All-American and First team All-Big 10 honors to his pre-draft resume. He even went off at the NFL Combine with a 4.58 second 40-yard dash, 37 reps of bench press and 41.5″ vertical leap.
The New York Jets saw enough, selecting Gholston with the 6th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. Gholston was never really able to crack into the starting lineup. His NFL career ended after the 2010 season, giving him only 42 tackles and no quarterback sacks in a total of 45 NFL games played.
12. Aaron Curry, LB – Wake Forest
According to Kiper – Curry was the number one player on Kiper’s draft board.
Aaron Curry was athletic enough at the linebacker position to return three picks for touchdowns as a junior at Wake Forest, tying an NCAA record in the process. He followed that up by logging 105 tackles his senior season winning the Butkus Award and All-American honors. At the 2009 NFL Combine, Curry showed his remarkable speed (4.56 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine), good strength (25 reps in bench press) and intelligence (26 on Wonderlic), making him a pretty solid prospect.
The Seattle Seahawks, looking for a significant upgrade to their defense, selected Curry with the fourth overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Curry had an average rookie season, starting in 12 games and recording 61 tackles, six passes defensed and two sacks. After a fairly productive sophomore season, Curry’s lost his starting job in 2011 and was eventually traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 7th-round pick. He finished his five-year NFL career with only 203 tackles and 5.5 quarterback sacks. Curry’s performance as a pro didn’t exactly help validate Kiper’s expertise in putting together his 2009 draft board.
11. Akili Smith, QB – Oregon
Kiper said… – “Akili Smith will be a great NFL player and would finally provide the Cincinnati Bengals with the passer they’d lacked since Boomer Esiason.”
Akili Smith was a terrific passer at Oregon. He passed for 3,763 yards and 30 touchdowns during his 11-game senior season. His solid frame and strong arm caught Cincinnati’s attention and that of Mel Kiper as well.
Cincinnati ended up selecting Smith with the third pick overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Smith came to training camp late after having contract issues, and never seemed to be able to grasp the team’s offense. Smith was athletic and full of potential, but came into the NFL with only two years of major college experience and one of those with limited play. He struggled with the Bengals and ended up appearing in only 22 games in his four year career. He had 2,121 yards passing with five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. To pile on, Smith had 11 fumbles in his 461 pass attempts and managed a 46.6 completion percentage.
10. Dan McGwire, QB – San Diego State
According to Kiper – Dan McGwire and Brett Favre are rated even.
In 1991, Kiper was sold on the big 6-foot-8 quarterback from San Diego State. McGwire had a big arm and entered college as a Parade Magazine All-American out of Claremont High School in California. He passed for 3,883 yards and 27 touchdowns in his final season at San Diego State and entered the draft as a quarterback with prototypical NFL size, a nice arm and terrific raw potential as a pocket passer.
Dan McGwire was picked 16th overall by the Seahawks in the 1991 Draft. Brett Favre ended up being selected with the 33rd pick overall. McGwire played five seasons, mostly with Seattle. He ended his career tallying only 745 yards passing and two touchdowns with six interceptions. In limited action, he also had five fumbles lost to finish with 11 turnovers in only 148 passing attempts and 14 rushes. McGwire started in only five games and finished his career with a scintillating 52.3 quarterback rating. His potential unrealized, he ended up being one of the biggest flops in Seattle’s draft history.
9. Jason Smith, T – Baylor
Kiper said… – “The OT spot is strong at the top with Smith, a former tight end who is supremely athletic and exactly what you want in a left tackle…”
Jason Smith was certainly athletic, but many scouts questioned how his blocking in Baylor’s spread offense would translate to the pro-style offenses of the NFL. Kiper, on the other hand, was enamored with his raw potential and dominant play in the Big 12 that earned him All-American, Baylor co-MVP and All-Big 12 honors as a senior. Smith did have 96 knockdown blocks and only gave up 3.5 sacks during his career at Baylor.
Much like Kiper, the Rams were sold on Smith’s potential, making him the second overall pick in 2009. In his rookie season, Smith was beat out at left tackle and spent some time at right tackle before suffering a concussion. He ended up bouncing around with the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints before finally ending his career in 2013 after spending the season on the Jets practice squad. In five seasons, Smith ended up playing in only 45 games and starting just 26. It is safe to say that he was not the dominant player that he was in college. All that athleticism that Kiper was enamored with didn’t end up making him “exactly what you want in a left tackle”.
8. David Carr, QB – Fresno State
According to Kiper – David Carr was going to remind Texans fans of Troy Aikman.
Kiper was convinced that David Carr was the best quarterback of the 2002 draft, and to make things worse, he had Joey Harrington rated right behind him. Carr came from the Central Valley of California and stayed close at home to play college ball at Fresno State. Many scouts were weary of the level of competition that Carr had to face in both high school and college but some, like Kiper, were convinced he had the arm, mechanics and intelligence to make it big at the next level. Carr also made a case for himself by passing for 4,839 yards and 49 touchdowns his senior season, earning the Johnny Unitas Award and Sammy Baugh Trophy.
A big part of Carr’s problem was being drafted to the Houston Texans in the first place. Going to an expansion team with essentially no talent would be taxing on any young quarterback. The Texans didn’t exactly have a stout offensive line and lacked a consistent ground game to keep defenders honest. As a result, Carr endured 76 sacks and struggled to stay upright in his rookie season. He was a starter for ficve with Houston, managing to pass for 3,531 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004. Carr earned a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in 2011, despite not playing a game. He managed to stick around the NFL for 11 seasons, finishing with 14,452 yards of passing, 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions. He was never confused with Troy Aikman.
7. Jimmy Clausen, QB – Notre Dame
Kiper said… – “If he (Clausen) is not a successful starting quarterback in the NFL, I’m done. That’s it. I’m out.”
Kiper had Clausen pegged as the best quarterback in the 2010 NFL Draft that included Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and even Tim Tebow. Clausen was a highly decorated quarterback out of Oaks Christian High School in Southern California, where he threw for 49 touchdowns in leading his team to the state Division III title. At Notre Dame, he had a terrific junior season, passing for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
Clausen was selected 48th overall by the Panthers. It didn’t help that Clausen got the call to start in his first season with the team. He started 10 games and ended up passing for over 1,500 yards (1,558). After five years, he hasn’t fared much better, with only 1,781 yards passing, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his 17 games. Clausen still has time to prove he belongs, but likely will never attain “successful starting quarterback” status. Luckily for Kiper, no one is holding him to his word
6. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – TCU
According to Kiper – LaDainian Tomlinson is the 25th best player in the 2001 draft.
In the 2001 NFL Draft, Kiper had LaDainian Tomlinson rated behind Deuce McAllister and Michael Bennett at the running back position. Tomlinson had an excellent pedigree, gaining 5,263 yards on the ground with the TCU Horned Frogs ranking fifth all-time in NCAA history. The San Diego Chargers went against Kiper’s evalutaion and selected Tomlinson fifth overall.
Tomlinson turned out to be not only the best running back in Chargers history, but one of the best ever to play in the NFL. He gained 13,684 yards with 145 rushing touchdowns, in addition to catching 624 passes for 4,772 yards and 17 touchdowns. “LT” was selected to five Pro Bowls and was the 2006 NFL MVP. In his 11-year NFL career, Tomlinson only had 12 turnovers and handled the ball well enough to throw seven touchdown passes in only 12 attempts. He is the fifth leading rusher of all time and should find his way into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2017 when he becomes eligible. Not bad for being considered the 25th best player of his draft class.
5. Andre Ware, QB – Houston
Kiper said… – “He will be an excellent NFL quarterback.”
In the 1990 NFL Draft, Kiper was high on the quarterback who ran the potent offense at the University of Houston. Andre Ware was coming off a Heisman Trophy winning season in which he passed for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns for the Cougars. To Kiper’s credit, there were very few productive quarterbacks in a draft that was headlined by Jeff George, Scott Mitchell, and Neil O’Donnell.
Andre Ware was a great college quarterback playing in a friendly system, but he seemed to lose his confidence playing behind Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer in Detroit. He finished his four-year NFL career with 1,112 yards of passing, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ware completed just 51.6% of his passes with a luke warm quarterback rating of 63.5. On the bright side, Ware did rush for 217 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Ware ended up playing in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts and Doug Flutie, and NFL Europe with the Berlin Thunder.
4. JaMarcus Russell, QB – LSU
Kiper said… – “Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top 5 quarterbacks in the league.” He even compared him to John Elway.
Kiper was not alone in being enamored with JaMarcus Russell. Russell weighed over 250 pounds, had good mobility and exhibited a canon for an arm. He had a tremendous junior season at LSU, leading the Tigers to a 41-14 trouncing of Notre Dame in the All-State Sugar Bowl. He scored three touchdowns in the game and accounted for over 350 yards of passing and running in what amounted to his last college game. He ended up declaring early for the NFL Draft.
JaMarcus Russell had all the physical tools necessary to be an elite quarterback, but his conditioning and preparation for games was far from elite. He was picked first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007 and managed to play in four games during his rookie season. After playing only three seasons, Russell was released and failed to make it back to an NFL team. He ended his career with 4,083 yards passing and 18 touchdowns, but will forever be known for what could have been. Unfortunately for Kiper, his chances of ever being like John Elway are rather slim.
3. Ki-Jana Carter, RB – Penn State
According to Kiper – Ki-Jana Carter can be the next Bo Jackson.
Ki-Jana Carter was a standout player at Penn State with good size and a terrific burst. In 1994, he helped lead the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season and finished it off with a 156 yard, three touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl. Carter finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting as well, with a dominant 1,539 yard, 23 touchdown season. Kiper was probably sold on his ability to break off long runs that was on display in the Rose Bowl when he broke off an 83-yard run on the first play of the game.
Carter was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the very first pick of the 1995 NFL Draft. Partly due to injuries, and maybe also having something to do with the size and speed of NFL linebackers, Carter struggled at the next level. Any comparisons to Bo Jackson were not going to come to fruition thanks in large part to his injury plagued rookie season. Carter ended up getting chances with Washington and New Orleans before calling it quits with only 1,144 yards in eight seasons. Although Carter was hampered by injuries, it was obvious that his speed and power were not to be confused with Bo Jackson.
2. Ryan Leaf, QB – Washington State
Kiper said… – “His attitude will be an asset in the NFL…”
Ryan Leaf was the big man on campus at Washington State. He had great size and a solid arm to go along with it, but his commitment and leadership qualities never seemed to be right. He did lead Washington State to a Rose Bowl berth in 1997, and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy as well. In that particular season, Leaf passed for over 330 yards per game and finished with 33 touchdown passes for the season, giving him plenty of exposure for west coast fans and Mel Kiper as well.
The San Diego Chargers made perhaps the worst pick in NFL history when they selected Ryan Leaf second overall in the 1998 Draft. Ironically, it was his attitude, arrogance and laziness that contributed to his poor performance as a pro. He was never the same after enduring a nightmare performance at a rainy Kansas City, in which he completed only 1 pass in 15 attempts for 4 yards and 2 interceptions, as well as losing three fumbles. He finished his NFL career with only 3,666 yards of passing, a 48.4 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Through time, Leaf has remained a poster child for the NFL’s biggest draft busts, and that sterling attitude has earned him troubles with the law off the field as well.
1. Mike Williams, WR – USC
Kiper said… – “I’ll see you at his Hall of Fame induction.”
It was easy to see why Kiper was high on Mike Williams. The Trojan receiver was 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, ran a 4.56 second 40-yard dash at his USC Pro Day, and caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final collegiate season. Williams declared for the draft early but had to sit out a year before being able to go pro and was subsequently declared ineligible to come back to school for his junior. His Wonderlic score of 20, might have been an aberration when considering his poor decisions, such as challenging the NFL.
Williams ended up being selected 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in 2005. He played in 14 games during his rookie season, catching 29 passes for 350 yards with only one touchdown. Williams finished his NFL career in 2011 with 127 receptions for 1,526 yards and five touchdowns to his credit. He might have made Kiper proud in 2010, when he caught 65 passes for 751 yards in his best season as a pro with the Seattle Seahawks. Williams surely would be more likely to be inducted into the Hall of Shame over the Hall of Fame with his career and the potential that he was never able to realize.
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