As a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I can tell you firsthand that some people take the words of ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. as gospel. As a teenager in the '70s, Kiper was merely an amateur scout that would write draft reports and personally hand them out to anyone who would read them. While in high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Mel Kiper had the chance to give one of his draft reports to Baltimore Colts executive Ernie Accorsi. Accorsi encouraged Kiper to turn his passion into a business and sell his draft reports to NFL fans and the rest is history. In 1981 while attending Essex Community College, Kiper started Kiper Enterprises and by 1984 he started draft coverage at ESPN before the NFL draft became what it is known as today.
Throughout the years, Kiper has been on television and in print giving grades and analysis of nearly every draft eligible player over the last 34 years. That is a lot of experience and that kind of experience is what makes Kiper so well respected in his field. If you are a younger NFL fan, Mel Kiper is all you know and if Kiper doesn't like a player or falls in love with one, fans tend to do the same. This is not the case however for NFL front office personnel. Kiper's mock drafts have rarely been correct and you would find it surprising how different NFL teams view prospects compared to the analysis of a Mel Kiper or even a Todd McShay. With that being said, we'll look at 10 NFL players that proved Mel Kiper wrong and 10 young players that will.
20 Proved Kiper Wrong: Aaron Rodgers
Going into the 2005 NFL draft Mel Kiper had Aaron Rodgers ranked behind Alex Smith. As the draft unfolded, Alex Smith went first overall to the San Francisco 49ers. Regarded as the second best QB, Rodgers fell all the way to pick 24 and the Green Bay Packers.
In his evaluations, Kiper viewed Rodgers as "a bit mechanical" and said "he loses a little quickness and escape ability when things break down in the pocket."
If you know one thing about Aaron Rodgers it is that he's absolutely at his best outside the pocket when things break down and has the ability to extend plays. This all-time blunder is not only on Mel Kiper, but the 23 teams that passed on the best QB in the NFL today.
19 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Baker Mayfield
The Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, shocking many draft experts including Kiper. Kiper preferred Wyoming's Josh Allen to Cleveland with the first pick and said that he didn't like the pick on draft night. After the selection, Kiper questioned Mayfield's speed and escapability as well as if he can play a full season in the NFL.
Mayfield is in a great situation in Cleveland behind Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield will be able to play behind a veteran quarterback and learn the game. It also helps that Mayfield will have weapons such as Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry to throw to when he's finally ready to take the field.
18 Proved Kiper Wrong: Wes Welker
When discussing Wes Welker, Kiper said that Welker was not worth a second round pick. Welker would go undrafted in 2004 and made the San Diego Chargers roster but was released after the first game of the season. Welker would clear waivers and sign with the Miami Dolphins for three years before being traded to the New England Patriots. Kiper said that “I don’t care how much you like his work ethic...he has done nothing to show a value that high.” That may have been the case early on, but Welker developed into one of the best slot receivers in NFL history.
17 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Lamar Jackson
The Baltimore Ravens traded up to the 32nd pick of the 2018 NFL draft to select Lamar Jackson, the quarterback out of Louisville.
Kiper didn't have a first round grade on Jackson and thought of him more as a developmental project and even mentioned the possibility of him playing wide receiver in the NFL as Terrell Pryor did.
Not a lot of experts were high on Jackson throughout the draft process but the former Heisman trophy winning quarterback has as high an upside of any quarterback in this class. Situation matters and Jackson can learn from Joe Flacco and the Ravens are a great organization and should put Jackson in the best situation to be successful.
16 Proved Kiper Wrong: Ladainian Tomlinson
If you hear Mel Kiper on television nowadays, you hear about how he does not put any value on running backs in the first round of the draft. I do not think that was always the case as the game once revolved around running the football. In 2001, Kiper had Ladainian Tomlinson tied for the 25th best prospect in that class. The San Diego Chargers drafted Tomlinson fifth overall and the LT of his generation would go on to be a league MVP, 5x Pro-Bowler and one of the best running backs in NFL history en route to a hall of fame career.
15 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: T.J. Watt
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected T.J. Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt with the 30th pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Mel Kiper had Watt going 47th in his mock draft and wasn't that high on Watt as an NFL pass rusher. Watt had 54 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception in his rookie season with the Steelers. Although he did not win defensive rookie of the year (Saints' Marshon Lattimore) T.J. Watt had a legitimate case to be in the conversation. If Watt continues to develop over the next few years, he will no doubt be a standout player for the Steelers, who are notorious for finding defensive gems.
14 Proved Kiper Wrong: Le'Veon Bell
In 2013, Mel Kiper was interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and asked about the Steelers running back situation. Kiper said that the Steelers should be in no rush to take a running back and could opt for Le'Veon Bell in the fourth or fifth round of the draft. The Steelers did draft Bell, but it was in the second round of the draft.
Kiper thought that Bell was slow to the line of scrimmage and lacked initial burst.
The Le'Veon Bell style of running is different from most backs and his patience in the backfield has been one of his best characteristics.
13 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Alvin Kamara
The New Orleans Saints selected Alvin Kamara with the 67th pick in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Kiper was not sold on Kamara coming out of Tennessee and viewed Kamara as more of a "situational player, a return man." Running backs Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, and Christian McCaffrey were all selected before Kamara, but he arguably had the biggest impact last season. Kamara was co-offensive rookie of the year and led all rookies with 14 total touchdowns.
Last year, Kamara was arguably the most lethal pass catcher out of the backfield and although he only ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, he is nearly impossible to catch in the open field.
12 Proved Kiper Wrong: Russell Wilson
Sometimes you overlook prospects and with so many draft eligible NFL players, it really takes a lot of work to have a feel for every player and even if you have done your homework you can still be wrong. This is the case with Russell Wilson.
Mel Kiper compared Wilson to Seneca Wallace and thought he would be a good backup to bring off the bench.
Most teams missed on Wilson as he has gone on to become a Super Bowl winning quarterback and one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL today. Kiper has since backtracked on those comments, going as far as saying he would start his franchise with Russell Wilson in 2016.
11 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Kareem Hunt
The other half of the co-offensive rookie of the year in 2017 was Kansas City's Kareem Hunt. Hunt was selected with the 86th overall pick in the third round of the draft out of Toledo. Kiper listed Hunt as his 82nd prospect on his big board and said Hunt had above average vision and patience, with average agility and acceleration.
Last year, Hunt rushed for 1,300 yards with 8 touchdowns as well as 455 yards receiving with 3 more touchdowns. As a rookie, Hunt edged out Todd Gurley as the NFL rushing leader and proved in year one that he was undervalued and hopes to prove naysayers such as Kiper wrong for years to come.
10 Proved Kiper Wrong: Matt Hasselbeck
The Green Bay Packers selected Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL draft. After his selection according to Hasselbeck, Kiper said "That’s a waste of a pick.’ At 187! So, you know, whatever.” Hasselbeck has only gone on to have a very serviceable career and in comparison to quarterbacks that are busts in the early rounds, he actually turned into a valuable pick. During his career, Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl appearance and made three Pro Bowls in his own right. That waste of a draft pick went on to play 17 years in the NFL.
9 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Josh Rosen
The Arizona Cardinals drafted Josh Rosen with the 10th pick in the 2018 NFL draft and Rosen was not pleased that he fell so far. Rosen even went on to call the other selections before him "mistakes" even if they were not in need of a quarterback. Kiper had Rosen as the third best quarterback in the class and had him going 11th.
Kiper sighted his injury history as a big question mark and questions whether Rosen can galvanize a team.
Rosen has the skill set to be successful in the NFL and the Cardinals have a veteran receiver named Larry Fitzgerald who will help Rosen find a comfort zone.
8 Proved Kiper Wrong: Richard Sherman
Mel Kiper Jr. was not a fan of the 2011 draft by the Seattle Seahawks one bit. Initially he ranked their draft as a D- in a year when a player like Richard Sherman was selected in the fifth round. This class was not only much better than Kiper credited it for, but the driving force behind the "Legion of Boom" and the Seahawks' back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. In 2013, Sherman referenced the draft process as a sham and pinpointed his ranking as proof before calling out Kiper for hyping up prospects on television that cause half of the first round to become busts.
7 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Denzel Ward
The Cleveland Browns had two first round picks in the 2018 NFL draft, both in the top five and with their second pick Cleveland elected to take Denzel Ward, the cornerback out of Ohio State with the 4th pick. Kiper did not love this pick and instead preferred that the Browns take the pass rusher Bradley Chubb. Cleveland drafted Myles Garrett the year prior and valued a cover corner over another edge rusher. Ward has all the qualities to be an elite corner in the NFL and former teammate Marshon Lattimore had an immediate impact for the New Orleans Saints. Ward's speed and cover skills will allow him to prove Kiper wrong in the long run.
6 Proved Kiper Wrong: Tom Brady
The New England Patriots selected Tom Brady with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Kiper mentioned that the Patriots passed on Joe Hamilton to select Tom Brady. Kiper had a higher grade on Hamilton, who never found his footing in the NFL over Tom Brady who has won five Super Bowls, three MVPs, and 13 Pro Bowl selections in his 18 NFL seasons.
The entire NFL passed on Tom Brady not only once but multiple times and that includes the New England Patriots.
No one saw Brady developing into what he is today as he was notorious for one of the worst combine performances many scouts have ever seen.
5 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Rashaad Penny
In a surprise of the first round in the 2018 draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected Rashaad Penny with the 27th pick. Kiper was vocal about his disbelief in Penny being selected here and thought there were several better backs that Seattle could have drafted and other needs they should have filled. Penny ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and at 5'11 and 220 lbs. The Seahawks can get back to their identity and run the ball the way they did with Marshawn Lynch. With Russell Wilson under center, Penny will not have to run with a loaded box and this should allow him to become an impact player worthy of a first round selection.
4 Proved Kiper Wrong: Jared Allen
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Jared Allen in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL draft. Kiper did not have Allen on his big board and some NFL teams may have felt similar about the prospect from Idaho State University. Kiper thought that Allen had some pass rushing skills but needed a lot of work in the weight room. Pass rushing skills may have been an understatement as Allen led the NFL in sacks in 2007 and 2011. Allen retired from the NFL in 2016 but not before making five Pro Bowl selections and tied the NFL record with 4 career safeties forced.
3 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Terrell Edmunds
In another first round surprise from this year's draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Terrell Edmunds at 28th overall. Kiper called this pick a head-scratcher and added "Virginia Tech's Terrell Edmunds was my eighth-ranked safety. Eighth."
The Steelers have found a way to develop dominant safeties throughout the years and hope one day that Edmunds will help fill the void of Troy Polamalu.
Edmunds was the first safety the Steelers have drafted in the first round in the draft since Polamalu in 2003. At the combine, Edmunds ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and with that speed and the Steelers' scheme on defense he should become an impact player in Pittsburgh soon.
2 Proved Kiper Wrong: Rob Gronkowski
The New England Patriots selected Rob Gronkowski in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. On draft day, Kiper called Gronkowski "stiff, and doesn't adjust to the ball that well" after the pick was made. Kiper even preferred that the Patriots select Ed Dickson or Sergio Kindle as players that were still available. Since 2010, Gronk has become the most dangerous pass catcher in the NFL and by far the most dominant tight end in football. Gronk has made five Pro Bowl appearances and helped the New England Patriots win two Super Bowls and his career is not done yet.
1 Will Prove Kiper Wrong: Leighton Vander Esch
The Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. Mel Kiper Jr.'s immediate reaction was that the Cowboys reached for Vander Esch and should have opted for receiver Calvin Ridley from Alabama. Kiper ranked Vander Esch as his number 37 overall prospect and questioned if he was no more than a one-year wonder. The Cowboys were in need of a linebacker and Vander Esch fits the mold of a prototypical linebacker in today's NFL that likes to spread out the defense. With Sean Lee as his mentor, Vander Esch will develop into a starter for Dallas for years to come.