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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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