There are few jobs more difficult in the world of sports reporting than that of a draft analyst. History is filled with examples of athletic prospects who looked like they were ready to take the world by storm and instead burned out almost instantly, as well as players that were essentially laughed out of the draft discussion entirely and went on to become all-time greats. You can have all the knowledge, all the tapes and all of the professional helpers in the world, but at the end of the day there is just no surefire way to guarantee that you can get that draft pick analysis just right.
Still, it’s a lot of fun to mock analysts over their mistakes. This is especially true in the case of ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who since 1984 has been using his fabled big board to tell us just what college players are going to become the very best the NFL has to offer. Perhaps it’s his figurehead position in the world of draft analysis, or maybe it’s just that ridiculous hairdo, but there is just no figure that is more entertaining to tear apart over their educated guesses than Mel Kiper Jr.
Most of the time, this fan ribbing is nothing more than just good-natured fun pointed towards a professional that is fully aware of his highly scrutinized position. However, there are select times when Mel Kiper Jr. overhypes players to such incredible degrees that you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief over how a veteran analyst held in such high regard could have ever made such an incredibly awful selection. We've all learned to accept mistakes from analysts, but these 16 players that Mr. Kiper couldn't stop hyping will surely haunt him forever.
Here are 16 NFL Prospects That Mel Kiper Completely Overhyped.
16 Ki-Jana Carter
Given that Kenneth “Ki-Jana” Carter was a physically gifted young running back who tore through the college ranks with seeming ease, nobody was surprised to see him go number one overall in the 1995 NFL Draft. Sadly, Carter never really displayed that same tenacity and big play ability that made him such a sensation at Penn State and eventually injuries would seal the deal on his already disappointing career.
While many misread what Ki-Jana would accomplish in the NFL, none were further off the mark than Mel Kiper who went so far as to say the young back would be the next Bo Jackson.
15 Andre Ware
Though there are certainly plenty of times when Kiper’s love of bold statements and shaky analytical abilities have combined to make him look like quite the fool, there are other times when the popular draft guru simply gets caught up in the same wave of hype that everyone else was at the time. Such is the case with quarterback Andre Ware whose impressive Heisman run at the University of Houston had everyone believing the Lions had picked their QB of the future when they selected him in the 1990 draft. Sadly, Ware would only make six starts for the Lions before politics and mediocre stats eventually squeezed him out of the NFL.
In Kiper’s own words, he “thought Ware was going to be a great NFL quarterback. Didn’t turn out that way.”
14 Jim Druckenmiller
If the name Jim Druckenmiller doesn’t quite ring a bell, don’t feel too bad. This former Virginia Tech quarterback lit up the college world in his two seasons and even beat a stout University of Texas team in the 1995 Sugar Bowl. He went on to be picked as the 26th overall selection in the 1997 draft by the 49ers, who felt that Jim would easily be groomed as Steve Young’s replacement.
Mel Kiper felt the same and went on to call Jim the “best QB in the draft.” Both sides would prove to be wrong, though, as Druckenmiller’s on-field time was so abysmal that 49ers GM Bill Walsh commented that he would have been cut in 1998 were it not for salary-cap issues.
13 Vernon Gholston
Though Vernon Gholston certainly accomplished quite a bit on the field as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes, what really intrigued NFL teams regarding the young defensive end was his raw athletic potential. Gholston wasn’t just a sack machine, he was a sack machine that could do 37 bench reps of 225 pounds and run a 4.5 40-yd dash.
Perhaps this is why Kiper kept raving about how Gholston was going to help a team right away and why the Jets couldn’t wait to pick him with the sixth overall pick in 2008. Unfortunately for both parties, Gholston would spend three years with the Jets without acquiring a single sack.
12 J.J. Stokes
J.J. Stokes was an interesting prospect coming out of college. Though he had displayed some serious skills as a wide receiver at UCLA, the bulk of his stats came in one memorable 1993 season where he went off for 1181 receiving yards and 17 TDs.
Most thought he would be a top prospect, but Kiper felt that he was as close to a sure thing as a wide receiver could be and couldn’t believe that nine other teams had passed on him before the 49ers grabbed him with the 10th pick in the 1995 draft. It became much more believable when Stokes' mediocre numbers quickly made him the third man behind Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens.
11 Akili Smith
At a time when the idea of a running quarterback was still something of a novelty, Akili Smith looked like a game changer. Not only did he display his cannon arm was capable of tremendous accuracy as starting quarterback for Oregon, but he showed that he was not afraid to tuck the ball in and run once in a while when the situation presented itself.
When the Cincinnati Bengals grabbed him with the number three pick in 1999, Mel Kiper had felt that they finally found a replacement for the legendary Boomer Esiason. A few disappointing seasons later, Kiper was caught speculating that Cam Newton would be just as big of a bust as Smith. Perhaps it’s best to walk away from the Akili Smith talk entirely, eh Mel?
10 Brady Quinn
We now enter the portion of this list I like to call “reasons why Mel Kiper should stop analyzing quarterbacks.” Who can ever forget the site of Brady Quinn patiently sitting in the NFL Draft waiting room while his projected pick placement kept falling and falling?
Certainly not Mel Kiper who openly tore into the Miami Dolphins for failing to pick Brady Quinn at no.9 when they had the opportunity. Kiper was insistent that Quinn would be, at-worst, a “good, solid quarterback in the NFL” and couldn’t believe how many teams were passing up on him. It became much more believable when Quinn took NFL snaps and displayed none of the technical prowess that made him a college star.
9 Ricky Stanzi
Ricky Stanzi was not expected to be a number one overall pick or, for that matter, a first round pick. He was, however, believed to be a late round QB who would most likely prove to be a steal for the team that drafted him. There was no bigger proponent of this possibility than Mel Kiper who even made some vague comparisons between Stanzi and Tom Brady, while stating that Stanzi was “pro-style all the way.” While you could argue that we never really got the chance to see if this was true or not given how little Stanzi actually took the field in the NFL, the fact he lost the second string job to Brady Quinn while a member of the Chiefs should be pretty telling.
8 David Carr
As an NFL draft analyst, there is nothing more dangerous you can do than compare a young player to an established star. While this maneuver is performed most of the time in an innocent fashion, it almost always ends blowing up in someone’s face. This was certainly the case in 2002 when Kiper looked at David Carr’s number eight jersey and couldn’t help but make a comparison to fellow no.8 Texas QB Troy Aikman.
Kiper felt that Carr could be every bit the foundation quarterback that Aikman was for the Cowboys. While Carr’s play certainly helped bolster some career sack numbers, Aikman he was not.
7 Mark Sanchez
The thing about Mark Sanchez is that he really wasn’t an awful QB in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s impossible to not have viewed the hype the young player had coming out of USC and not believe that he was destined to be something special. While Kiper was a little less cool on Sanchez than others, he still wasn’t shy about comparing Sanchez to the likes of Troy Aikman and Chad Pennington by saying that he was a guy with “smarts…passion…intelligence…and football acumen.” Note to Mel: smarts and intelligence are by and large the same thing, while Sanchez and Aikman are certainly not.
6 Joey Harrington
Though some were hesitant when it came to Joey Harrington considering that he had put up good, but not great numbers as Oregon’s starting QB and drew much of his hype from an outstanding Fiesta Bowl showdown with Colorado, Mel Kiper was fairly certain he was the real deal. He thought that Harrington was neck and neck with David Carr as the best QB in the 2002 draft, and was particularly excited to see him go to the Lions as he felt that their dome setting would help to cover for some of Harrington’s shortcomings. Dome or not, Harrington's weaknesses would be exposed in an unimpressive career.
5 Dan McGwire
As bad as it is to compare a rookie player to a hall-of-fame player right out of the gate, it is somehow even worse to compare one to a player in the same draft who goes on to be truly special. There is perhaps no better case of this than what happened in the 1991 draft when Mel Kiper rated Dan McGwire and Brett Farve to be fairly even. The Seattle Seahawks were even higher on McGwire as they took him with the 16th pick in the first round while Farve slipped to the second. Brett Farve would go on to be become an all-time great, while Dan McGwire made an appearance in the NFL trivia game as the answer to “Who was the quarterback taken ahead of Brett Farve?”
4 Jimmy Clausen
It’s one thing to be high on a player going into the draft, and quite another to bet your own career on the success of a player that has yet to take a professional snap. Yet, this is exactly what Mel Kiper did in 2010 when he famously said “If Jimmy Clausen is not a successful quarterback in the NFL, I’m done. That’s it. I’m out.”
Despite those strong words, and Jimmy Clausen’s completely unremarkable NFL career, Mel Kiper continues to provide draft analysis for ESPN, albeit with a considerable amount of egg on his face over that time he spent the majority of the draft praising the future of Mr. Clausen.
3 JaMarcus Russell
If you take a look at these quotes from Mel Kiper when the Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007, these same quotes can now apply to Derek Carr.
"JaMarcus Russell is going to immediately energize that Raider nation. That fanbase, that football team, on the practice field, in that locker room. Three years from now you could be looking at a guy who's one of the elite, top five quarterbacks in this league."
While that may be true for Carr, it most certainly was not for Russell. Three years from that draft day, not only was he not elite, he was out of the NFL. Many experts completely whiffed on Russell, who despite showing promise out of LSU, was perhaps the biggest bust in NFL history.
Okay, one more mad quote for you from Kiper:
"The skill level he has is certainly John Elway like."
2 Mike Williams
The thing about college wide receivers is that you never really can tell what is going to become of them. Even the very best collegiate wide-outs have proven to be NFL busts and, generally speaking, it's often the hardest position to evaluate between the two levels. This common bit of knowledge didn’t stop Mel Kiper from going all-in on Syracuse receiver Mike Williams, however, and predicting that the highly touted playmaker was going to be a “future Hall of Famer.” To Kiper’s credit, he later admitted that his analysis of Williams was the worst of his long career.
1 Ryan Leaf
You should never fault a draft analyst for going beyond the usual canned statements and really digging into the reasons why a player is going to stand out above the rest. For instance, in 1998 it was rather refreshing to hear Kiper praise number two overall pick Ryan Leaf for his maturity, attitude and mental stability rather than his power or accuracy.
Of course, this choice of words would go on to haunt Kiper after Leaf completely lost it during an infamous locker room rant and other assorted press outbursts. At least Kiper and the San Diego Chargers can always console each other over the fallout of this one.
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