Mel Kiper Jr.’s Biggest NFL Draft Fails
Ryan Leaf (1998, 2nd overall pick)
Mel Kiper has been calling the NFL draft at ESPN for 30 years. When you’ve been doing something that long, you’re bound to make some pretty embarrassing mistakes along the way. Here’s a chronological look at some of Kiper’s biggest draft fails during his three decades at the Worldwide Leader.
What Kiper Said: “His attitude will be an asset in the NFL and give him a mental advantage over [other players in his draft class].”
What Actually Happened: Leaf’s attitude and temper led to nothing but trouble during his disastrous two seasons in San Diego, like infamously blowing up at a reporter. Leaf finished his three-year NFL career with almost three times as many interceptions (36) as touchdown passes (14) while classmate Peyton Manning is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks ever. So much for that advantage…
Jimmy Clausen (2010, 48th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “If [Clausen is] not a successful starting quarterback in the NFL, I’m done. That’s it. I’m out.”
What Actually Happened: After sliding to the second round of the 2010 draft despite Kiper projecting him as the best QB in his class, Clausen threw three TDs and nine INTs in 10 starts as a Carolina Panthers rookie - his only 10 starts as an NFL quarterback to date. He’s currently a free agent after Carolina waived him prior to the 2013 season.
We aren’t holding our breath for Mel’s retirement.
Ki-Jana Carter (1995, 1st overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Ki-Jana (Carter) could be the next Bo Jackson.”
What Actually Happened: All that Carter had in common with Jackson was that like Bo, Carter’s NFL career was also cut short by injuries. Only Carter never enjoyed anything close to Jackson’s star turn, missing all or part of three of his five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and rushing for a grand total of of 1,144 career yards.
Mike Williams (2005, 10th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Give the Lions credit for going away from their biggest needs to take receiver Mike Williams. … I’ll see you at his Hall of Fame induction.”
What Actually Happened: Kiper was still high on Williams’ tenure at USC even after he sat out the entirety of the 2004 season. As were the Lions, who took Williams 10th overall in ’05. Williams has since had uneventful tenures with four NFL teams and one CFL one as he struggled to keep down his weight. Maybe Kiper meant he’ll see you when Williams hits the buffet table.
JaMarcus Russell (2007, 1st overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league… look out because the skill level he has is certainly John Elway-like.”
What Actually Happened: The only “John Elway-like” aspect of Russell’s NFL career is that he went No. 1 overall. The rest of it was as anti-Elway as one could get: A 7-18 record as a starter, 18 TDs, 23 INTs and constant struggles with his weight and turning the ball over. He’s been out of the NFL since the conclusion of the 2009 season.
Akili Smith (1999, 3rd overall pick)
What 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.”
What Actually Happened: A lengthy holdout during training camp in 1999 was an omen, as Smith never coming close to duplicating his Oregon career in Cincy. In 17 starts, he threw five touchdowns and 13 INTs and spent most of his final two seasons with the Bengals riding the bench.
Mark Sanchez (2009, 5th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “He’s a hot guy right now because of the fact that he’s what you want in terms of accuracy. And that’s not just in the pocket, that’s not just when he has all day to throw. He can roll right, he can roll left and throw accurately.”
What Actually Happened: Sanchez has yet to exceed 56.7% completion during his NFL career, tossing more INTs (69) than TDs (68) in addition to 20 lost fumbles. After selecting him fifth overall, the New York Jets parted ways with the “Sanchize” this past offseason.
David Carr (2002, 1st overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “You look at that No. 8 (Carr’s jersey number), you look at Troy Aikman and what he meant to Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys. That foundation, that building block that you go and you build around and you get the supporting cast and the rest is history.”
What Actually Happened: Carr lacked both the supporting cast and the offensive line to ever develop into a star with the Houston Texans after they made him the No. 1 overall draft pick. He spent five mostly fruitless seasons in H-Town and never made the playoffs, much less win three Super Bowls.
Joey Harrington (2002, 3rd overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Harrington, who has a Brett Favre-like flair for the dramatic, was a highly productive quarterback and one I had rated only slightly behind Carr.”
What Actually Happened: Like many pundits, Kiper went 0-for-2 with his top two QB prospects in the 2002 draft. Stuck on a moribund Lions during the early 2000s, the only dramatics that Harrington offered were whether he’d be able to hold on to the starting job - the answer to which was “no” after he was traded to the Dolphins following the 2005 season.
Vernon Gholston (2008, 6th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Gholston has excited people. Those kinds of players, those attacking, outside-linebacker/defensive-end types, are going to help you right away.”
What Actually Happened: After going sixth overall to the New York Jets, Gholston didn’t help them right away. Or ever, for that matter, recording just 42 tackles and zero sacks in three seasons spent mostly on special teams.
Jason Smith (2009, 2nd overall pick)
What 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: someone you can count on to protect the blind side of your quarterback.”
What Actually Happened: Now without a team, Smith has yet to grow into that OT “you can count on.” The former No. 2 overall pick by the Rams spent just three season in St. Louis and has also spent time with the Jets (twice) and the Saints.
Andre Ware (1990, 7th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “He will be an excellent NFL quarterback.”
What Actually Happened: The 1989 Heisman Trophy winner proved to be nothing more than an overly hyped product of Houston’s Run & Shoot offense. Ware played in only 14 games in four seasons with the Detroit Lions (starting just six of them) and was out of the NFL by 1995.
Jim Druckenmiller (1997, 26th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “Druckenmiller is by far the best QB in the draft, and should have gone in the top ten.”
What Actually Happened: Kiper made his proclamation after the 49ers made Druckenmiller the 26th pick out of Virginia Tech. His painful struggles as Steve Young’s backup and one career touchdown pass mean he was lucky to get drafted at all.
J.J. Stokes (1995, 10th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “J.J. Stokes is a sure thing. A future All-Pro.”
What Actually Happened: A broken hand sidelined the former UCLA star early in his second season with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996 - paving the way for the emergence of teammate Terrell Owens and rendering Stokes a non-factor for the rest of his NFL career. So much so that in 1999, Football Outsiders ranked Stokes dead last in DVOA ratings among wide receivers.
Aaron Curry (2009, 4th overall pick)
What Kiper Said: “It’s not a bad pick for the Hawks, especially since Curry was the No. 1 player on my board.”
What Actually Happened: Curry, in fact, was perhaps the worst pick in recent years by a Seahawks organization that has owned the draft. He was a starter for part of three disappointing seasons in Seattle, and after stints with both the Raiders and Giants, he retired last August.