My Own Relationship with Mel Kiper

I'm as excited (or even more so) about the upcoming NFL draft than most fans are. Year in and year out I follow the scuttlebutt and make a game out of it - what GMs are lying and which ones tell something (kinda close to) the truth. Mel Kiper has been the one constant soothsayer through the years.

Actually, ALL the GMs pretty much lie through their teeth, temporarily taking on duties of "Propaganda Minister" for their respective teams for a good two-month span. The poker game, the this, the that - the phenomenon has many names that fans derisively (later) refer to it as. 

However, one thing Dave Gettleman said that is my favorite, regarding the woes at offensive tackle last season: "Sometimes the answer is right there on your roster," he was quoted as saying after Jordan Gross retired. I love it for two reasons....the part that he said, and the part that he insinuated which I took and ran with at the time. 

The "insinuation" part being the unsaid part "....and sometimes it's NOT!"

Obviously, it wasn't. I knew it, and I'm sure Rivera and Gettleman both knew it too. They just had to work around it for a season until the Cap Hell just became Cap "Purgatory" this season as we work our way out.

Mock Drafts are Fun but grow Old Fast

I never have seen the huge draw that so many "mock drafts" garner from fans. Oh, I've participated in writing them up (even called it right when I had the Panthers taking Kawann Short in the second round a couple of years ago and nailed the Kuechly pick the previous season). As I just showed you, I even got a few of the higher picks correct for Carolina.

But that's the problem - those "hits" are by FAR the exceptions to the rule. 

A really good mock drafter might - MIGHT - get a handful of choices correct in the first round, and that's counting the almost-always shoo-in for the top pick of any given year. Newton. Luck. Winston this year, 

The prognosticative problems you run into starts with the first "miss" - usually around pick #4 or 5. One miss is going to beget a second "miss" for another team when you think of it - the guy you picked for the team drafting someone else has to go somewhere later down the line, where your original pick will already have been wrong.

But, people do it anyway. Fellas like the infamous Colts GM "Who in the Hell is 'Mel Kiper' innaway?" helped make the mock drafts (and those that over-over-over-analyze them) household names for those of us that follow it.Todd McShay, a boyish-looking analyst also with ESPN, gives Kiper a foil to compare to. 

It really has been a long time now that the public interest in the draft has gone from lukewarm at best to ravenously voracious today. I remember Kiper actually being soft-spoken, if you can imagine THAT, his first year on TV with Chris Berman.

A young twenty-something kid in a cheap suit, Kiper was almost whispering his thoughts to Berman after each pick was made. 

The Evolution of Draftniks

Mel was the trailblazer even if there were people before him who collected information and published it. Kiper became the face of it. He was a younger, slimmer, non-scowling version of his current self. As I said, back THEN he was more soft-spoken, and frankly a good-looking young man who simply had a passion for the game that he parlayed into a nice career. 

Once he knew he wasn't going to get thrown off the air and that the pre-draft phenomenon had taken off and was swelling in earnest, that's when Kiper let his brusque New York-style (and sounding) personality out to unleash his ire on GMs who made what seemed to be like bad picks at the time. Such is where the infamous exchange came from - I think it was the 1994 draft - when the Colts passed on Trent Dilfer of all people in favor of a guy you've never heard of. Dilfer did win a Super Bowl ring, but was more of a passenger than the driver of that team. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants 34-7 and is the one defense that the case could be made that was history's best for a single season over that of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Kiper went from a man just trying to carve out a niche for himself to the Godfather of all Draftniks, and opened the door for others like Todd McShay. Now, everybody (including my housecat) has a "mock draft." The idea has become so diluted that there isn't just "a" mock or two from the most famous guys, but EVERYBODY has a mock draft these days. 

Our own composite, Mel Mayock, is another of the second- or third-generation 'draftniks." In a way, I am also, even though I haven't done my own "mock draft" in a few years. I have mocked a team's draft, but not the entire first round and beyond other than on's "predict the pick." 

Remember, Kiper did everything to get his start before the existence of the Internet, beyond DARPA, the Pentagon, and a few universities. He did his research the hard, time-consuming and expensive way: by buying draft magazines, reading the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated,  and compiling the information himself. He compared it with the most glaring needs he saw in each team, and made a career out of commenting on the "inside-info," the nuts and bolts, of why a particular draft choice was a good or bad one.

The Annual NFL Selection Meeting hits Center Stage

Growing up a Miami Dolphins fan, remember this is before the Carolina Panthers existed, so send your hate mail elsewhere hahahaha....

Anyhow, growing up a Dolphins fan, I recall watching those drafts in the mid-1980's and beyond. I even remember the 1983 draft, when the Dolphins had this crummy, crummy QB named David Woodley. About all you could really say about him was that he was mobile and a pretty good runner....sorta like Tim Tebow sans any charisma (or guns) whatsoever. The 'Fins needed a passer, Dan Marino was falling as five other QBs went before him, beginning with some fellow named John Elway going tops overall.  

But rather than recount drafts themselves year by year, I'm sharing my remembrances of how things looked and the evolution of the phenomenon.

The 1987 draft is the one I recall the set and surroundings the most. At least, the earliest draft I distinctly can put details to names, faces, dates, etc.

There were no massive, huge, thirty-foot-wide sets where the draftniks had their own sideshow and plenty of elbow room for their tablets (none around back then) , mobile devices, no Tweeting, no Internet. Remember, we were still in the analog age then.

The ESPN crew of Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, I _think_ Chris Mortensen was there - not sure - and one other guy. It literally reminded me of having them right at my kitchen table because that's about the amount of space these four men had. Due to the single camera they had, all four had to sit in somewhat less than a semi-circle or they'd have the back of their head or the earhole showing to the camera and they were packed in almost like sardines. 

The reason I remember things so well? Dan Marino had already lit it up for the past four seasons and the Miami Dolphins were known for having the highest-octane offense in the entire NFL, including the 49'ers. The Niners were known as the BEST team, yes, but that was because they had no weaknesses. The Dolphins were a 1-trick pony in that nobody could really stop their passing offense, but they couldn't run the ball (despite Don Shula's continual trying until mid-second-quarter every game and failing) and the drafted defense each year but couldn't get above about 24th in the NFL and never got any better.

That much, I attribute to Tom Olivadotti, Shula's defensive coordinator, whom Shula was WAY too loyal to. Shula's Dolphins never had the strong defenses that their previous DC used to pull in...that would have been Bill Arnsparger. 

At any rate, I had been inspired by Mel Kiper in particular in past seasons, to do my own "draftniking" using the same publications he did. Of course, I wasn't nearly as informed as he was - I was in high school and college during these years where he was doing it 24/7/365 by now - but I did have an idea of the general needs of each team and the general talent level of the incoming rookie pool. With their drafting near the end of the first round each year, the Dolphins actually had to research the guys they wanted to pick or face getting it completely wrong. That year, with their first selection, the Miami Dolphins selected....

....Eric Kumerow. Yep! That first ballot Hall of Shamer, Eric Kumerow.

By now, Kiper was secure in his position and career, and he lit into the Miami Dolphins organization bad.

A "Reach" is Born

For the first time in my life, or at least the first time it made a big impression upon me, the term "Reach" entered the NFL Lexicon, as well as the term "Tweener." Here's a rough paraphrasing of what Kiper said some thirty years ago:

"I cannot believe the Miami Dolphins took this guy here. I mean, he's NOT an NFL defensive lineman - he's too small. He's NOT an NFL linebacker - he's too big and lacks good speed for the position. If he's 'your guy' here, you trade down. I think he's a real Reach. You want an answer as to why the Dolphins keep drafting defense in the first round and haven't been improving? Here's your answer: they keep picking guys like this, who come into the league without a positional need being filled. And that's with your first pick? That's your best shot at this thing? No way. You trade back, still grab the guy a dozen picks down the road, and get more draft picks. The defense is full of holes and with picks like this, they're gonna need a lot of warm bodies and hope they get lucky because this approach isn't working and hasn't worked in years."

Wow. Tell us how you really feel there, Mel! Quite a long way from the shy, guru-in-the-headlights first on-camera draft some years before, and most younger fans have never known a Mel Kiper that had any reservations about anything. Always outspoken, never shying away from giving his opinion on any particular prospect, his name has become synonymous with draft prognostications. For me, it all began with an opinion about the kid named Eric Kumerow. For the record, Kumerow was out of the NFL by 1991. BTW, I had the same thoughts from my own "research," and

The Pro Day

It's also interesting to follow the ups and downs of different players through the process as media scrutiny increases with every passing year. Between the time of the NFL Combine and the NFL Draft, no further attributes on the field become known....other than perhaps what they show at their school's Pro Days, that is. Even then, by their Pro Days, most guys are already known quantities but the Pro Day allows them to possibly "clean up" a poor showing in one of the drills from the Combine. The Combine puts previously-unknown or unheralded players (Ezekial Ansah, Dontari Poe) on the map or knocks them off their first-round perch (Vontaze Burfict). 

While the Combine is the "blunt instrument" of pre-draft evaluations, the Pro Day is the scalpel that helps bring a known picture into better focus, for better or for worse. 

For instance, Cam Newton's Pro Day showed off his throwing arm strength as I recall he was attempting his passes into the teeth of a rather "biting wind" were the exact words of one onlooking sports reporter. Cam did enough to solidify his top ranking and the rest is Panthers history. 

On the other side, most of us recall the news from Teddy Bridgewater's disastrous Pro Day just last year. People began asking if the lights would be too bright for him or if he was a guy who might fold under pressure. He was still a first-round pick, but he fell down the boards likely as a direct result of his poor showing there, but he didn't go from a likely late first-rounder or early second-rounder to undrafted free agent, like Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict did. The result? Bargains for the Vikes and Bengals, respectively. Mel Kiper helped make the Pro Day relevant.

All Mocks are Always Wrong - So what's the POINT?

Nobody gets anywhere close to matching all 32 first-round picks with the correct teams before the draft - nobody. That's why you see these billion-dollar prizes for the person that can...the odds are astronomically bad. It isn't like it's (1/2)^32 since any given draft pick is NOT "binary" - a "Winston or Mariota" choice - but rather could be more like (1/40)^32 to get them all correct, since the draft pool is so large even when you discount all but the top few dozen prospects coming out of college. When I kept track, I think my best year was picking 8 correctly, and half of those were pure luck on the back end. Drafts never do "fall" the way you think they will, but all the zigging and zagging from what you projected actually can cancel itself out, and pick #19 could actually wind up being the guy you said, even though you had the last eleven in a row wrong. 

Mocking a draft is one part knowledge of team needs, one part knowledge of abilities of incoming rookies, one part knowing the coaching system and the types of players they like, and about fifty parts luck once you get past the top ten. 

As such, I really don't do my own full first-round "mock drafts." As I've pointed out, even the pros, like Mel Mayock here at C-Cubed, are going to miss on a lot more than they get right, but "getting it right" isn't really the point. The point is really the same as when you buy that $2 Powerball ticket. You don't actually PLAN on winning; that $2 buys you the chance at winning, and the fantasy-thinking of what you would do with it if you actually were to win all that money. It's an escape, which is what watching sports is.

Mock drafts also get fans excited and talking about the possibilities of what their favorite team might look like if they could add certain players. It helps get inside the heads, or try to, of people like Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman, then after the real draft is done, you compare what direction they seem to be heading with their picks vs what your own was, and then that generates even more fantasizing about possibilities now that The Deed Is Done.

Mock drafts are a fun way of keeping conversation and possibilities in the forefront of the more rabid fans among us and gives us something to think about during that two-month "dead time" when most of free agency for veterans has died down and the draft is still some time down the road.

There's just not much else to do during the March-April months in the NFL for fans, and mock drafts fill a necessary role for those of us suffering from NFL starvation and given the inexact nature of evaluating players, I only see mock drafts, as inexact as they are themselves, becoming more and more popular as future years go by.

As such, I've seen Mel Kiper change from the shy, soft-spoken, even kinda quiet handsome young man behaving as if he were at the library morph over time to the bespectacled, middle-aged, rough-skinned loudmouth with a hairdo that's nearly as "out there" as he is, both imposing themselves upon even those that don't want any part of it. 

Like him or not, Kiper's very likely the single person who has made the NFL Draft become the spectacle it has become since the "afterthought" it was during the 1970's and before. Kiper helped personalize the interest in college players shifting to the pros, the process they go through in doing so, and his opinions helped drive the initial surge in interest to where it is today. He has likely made the NFL more money just by being who he is than any advertising they could buy. He is a pioneer in the field and singularly the person who bridged the gap between each team's personnel-office side and the more informed fan's thirst for information at this time of year. 

When Mel Kiper finally retires, the NFL ought to honor the guy many times over. You just can't buy the publicity he has generated and since the NFL is a "copycat league" and many have since followed in his footsteps, Kiper is a trailblazer that few people appreciate as the contributor he has been in his own niche of NFL history.

Without him, I likely never would have followed the path I have and become a Carolina Panthers blogger in the first place.

Thanks, Mel!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye