Doug Robinson: NFL draft predictions must be taken with grain of salt

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 2:48 p.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, April 7, 2009 photo, football draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. talks about the draft during a taping at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore.

Gail Burton, Associated Press

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The story goes that in the wake of the 1994 NFL draft, Mel Kiper, Jr., criticized the Indianapolis Colts for not using the fifth pick of the draft to select Fresno State's Trent Dilfer, whom Kiper called "a franchise quarterback." He also called the Colts a "laughingstock." When asked about this later, Colts general manager Bill Tobin replied, "Who the (heck) is Mel Kiper?"

That's what I want to know 18 years later.

Yes, Kiper is a full-time NFL draft "expert" for ESPN. Kiper's job — his career — is predicting the NFL draft. He has helped spawn a generation of "experts" who do the same thing. Kiper has been doing it since 1984. How all this happened — how he became the draft guru — that's where it gets confusing.

With the draft a month away, Kiper's mock drafts are showing up on the Internet and on cable TV and elsewhere again, as are many others. The mock drafts are entertaining for football fans, but if you're looking for real insight into the upcoming draft you might as well consult a Ouija board. It was Kiper who called Jimmy Clausen the best quarterback in the 2010 draft, ranking him well ahead of Sam Bradford.

Look, I'm not saying that what Kiper and the others do isn't difficult, if not impossible. But for "experts" who do this for a living and are as ubiquitous as Kiper, they're not very accurate. Would you still have your job if you were right less than 30 percent of the time? Only in baseball will that pay the bills.

Kiper and the mock drafts are fun, but they aren't always harmless. BYU quarterback John Walsh left BYU early in 1995 to pursue the NFL draft in part because of Kiper, who at one point predicted Walsh would be one of the first five players chosen in the NFL draft and possibly the No. 1 overall pick. Only later, when the NFL combine used a sundial to time Walsh's 40-yard dashes, did Kiper back off to a degree, but he still touted him as a first-round pick. Walsh was the 213th player drafted (and the 14th quarterback). He was waived quickly, and because NCAA rules prevented him from returning to college, his football career was finished.

"Kiper is to blame," said then-BYU quarterback coach Norm Chow at the time. "Not totally. But he certainly influenced (Walsh) ... Because of Kiper and people like him, people like Walsh drop out of college. (Players) put their hopes in rumors and opinions and guesswork of people who have no stake in it."

According to the ESPN website, "Kiper is president of Kiper Enterprises, which he founded in 1981 while in college. It is responsible for all aspects of a series of annual publications including the NFL Draft Report and Draft Preview. His continuous, year-long research is aided by an office equipped with satellite dishes allowing him to pick up 20 to 25 college games each week. This adds to his in-depth knowledge gathered from lengthy discussions with coaches, players and team executives."

Keep all this in mind as we proceed to Kiper's record. I researched his final mock draft for each of the past five years to measure the accuracy of his predictions. I also looked at the record of Peter King, Sport Illustrated's widely quoted NFL beat writer. I learned that Kiper is very accurate when it comes to predicting the first few picks of the draft — but that's the easy part. After that, he might as well throw darts at a list of player names while blindfolded. I also learned that he is better at it than King, but he should be because he devotes himself full time to the draft.

Here are some of the numbers (if I missed anything it wasn't by much, but I admit that while staring at all these draft boards my eyeballs glazed over). Certainly, a pattern emerged.

In 2011, Kiper picked the first six draft picks correctly, but whiffed on 23 of the next 26. To be fair, 28 of his first-round predictions were selected in the first round, but they went to different teams and/or with different picks than he predicted. Also, NFL personnel should have made Andy Dalton a first-round pick, as Kiper predicted, but waited till the second round. Bottom line: He predicted 9 of 32 picks correctly. King picked six correctly (he missed five more by just one spot).

In 2010, Kiper again picked the first six correctly, but only four of the remaining 26 picks, giving him 10 of 32. King predicted nine correctly.

In 2009, Kiper once again predicted the first six picks correctly — but only two of the remaining 26 (and 1 of the last 23). King picked six correctly.

In 2008, Kiper picked nine correctly, compared to four for King.

In 2007, Kiper picked the first seven picks correctly, but only 10 overall. King picked 3.

Enjoy the mock drafts — but don't bet on them.

email: drob@desnews.com

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