Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Apr 2007
Guest column by David Cohen
How do you evaluate an evaluator? Here's one attempt at creating a scouting report on Mel Kiper, perhaps the best known of all the NFL draft gurus.
Every year, there's a ton of material published that examines the players in the current draft class, some of which will be proved to be dead on and some of it dead wrong. Few ever stop to examine how the so-called experts fared.
It is possible, particularly from the distance of a few years, to analyze the analysts. Kiper, for instance, leaves a paper trail every year, in the form of his annual Draft Report, a book-length publication chock full of useful facts and opinions. He grades hundreds and hundreds of players and ranks them, both by position and how they fit in overall.
Evaluating the work of Kiper and other experts isn't necessarily easy. As a draft guru, Kiper's opinions often align with the work of other experts -- and those in the NFL making the actual selections. Last year, for instance, he listed Reggie Bush No. 1 overall, but so did many others. One can't give him special credit for doing so, but neither does he deserve criticism for going along with everyone else.
There are certain times, however, when Kiper has bucked the consensus, and those times deserve special attention when looking at how he has fared. In 1990, for instance, he gave QB Jeff George a middle-round grade. George was picked No. 1 overall, but he rarely played like a first-rounder. Clearly, Kiper had that one pegged.
To get a better sense of how Kiper has done, one has to move beyond isolated cases. In his annual Draft Report, Kiper always includes two lists -- one for overrated players and one for underrated players. In some cases, his opinion ends up reflecting the consensus on a player (some of those listed as underrated have actually been picked in the first round), but the lists as a whole do provide an opportunity to see when and how Kiper has separated himself from the pack.
Here's a look at Kiper's overrated and underrated selections. The analysis starts with the 2004 draft class (it's too early to evaluate 2005 and 2006) and goes back to 1993, when he started listing 10 or more players in each category. By necessity, it singles out some of his best and worst selections rather than examining each and every player on this list.
On balance, Kiper appears to be neither a genius at spotting talent nor the hapless clown that some of his detractors portray him to be. He's had a good number of hits, but he's also been completely wrong about his fair share of players over the years.
Kiper's Overrated List (18 players): The most prominent player on this list was RB Chris Perry, a first-rounder for the Bengals who has accomplished little. Kiper was off, however, about DE Jared Allen and WR Samie Parker, two fourth-rounders who have made their mark with the Chiefs.
Kiper's Underrated List (18 players): Sitting there at the top of his list, staring down hard, is RB Maurice Clarett, whose career was a self-inflicted disaster. It was understood at the time that Clarett was a talented player with a problematic personality; Kiper chose to see talent triumphing over trouble and it did not. RB Tatum Bell and FB Mike Karney have become solid pros, but it is hard to argue that WR Michael Jenkins and DT Junior Siavii deserved to be high draft choices.
Overrated (22): Kiper was on target with QB Kyle Boller, QB Chris Simms and WR Tyrone Calico, none of whom has excelled. On the other hand, DL Cory Redding looks like a pretty good third-round pick for the Lions, and DL Ian Scott helped the Bears get to the Super Bowl.
Underrated (22): QB Byron Leftwich was a first-rounder and his career has been less than spectacular. Fellow QB Seneca Wallace has yet to show much. Kiper was 180 degrees off about DE Michael Haynes, a first-rounder who never made an impact with the Bears, but he was dead-on about two players who have turned into standouts, WR Anquan Boldin and DB Asante Samuel. Both of them have established themselves as among the best at their positions.
Overrated (35): Not a great year for Kiper: Alex Brown certainly didn't belong on this list, and fellow defensive lineman Charles Grant found himself named New Orleans' franchise player. With the likes of DT Larry Tripplett, LB Scott Fujita, and others, it's easy to find several players on this long list who proved Kiper wrong.
Underrated (34): Joey Harrington was on this list for some reason, presumably to demonstrate that Kiper thought he was every bit as good as fellow QB David Carr (not on the list). Neither of them has performed with much distinction. OG Kendall Simmons and TE Jerramy Stevens both ended up being first-rounders and have had far better careers than either quarterback. On the other hand, DB Mike Rumph was another first-round disappointment. This list does have its standouts, including OC LaCharles Bentley and DE Aaron Kampmann.
Overrated (29): Rams first-round pick Ryan Pickett was indeed something of a disappointment on the defensive line, but two of Kiper's other selections, Derrick Burgess and Marcus Stroud, have played in Pro Bowls and seem to be threats to be picked for more. RB Rudi Johnson has also been a Pro Bowler. On the other hand, QB Mike McMahon no longer seems a threat to prove Kiper wrong.
Underrated (29): Kiper shouldn't get too much credit for singling out DL Casey Hampton or WR Reggie Wayne, both of whom ended up being fine first-round picks, but calling attention to WR Chad Johnson and WR Steve Smith does make him look pretty astute. LB Kendrell Bell was an outstanding player before getting hurt, and DB Anthony Henry led the league in interceptions as a rookie. This list included some other notables, including defensive linemen Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers.
Overrated (30): This wasn't one of Kiper's better years. "Overrated" running back Mike Anderson became a surprise star in Denver, and WR Laveranues Coles has more than 500 career receptions. Also making this list: OL Chad Clifton, LB Na'il Diggs and LB Mark Simoneau.
Underrated (30): QB Chad Pennington was a favorite of Kiper's, and he came back strong from injury last year to answer many of his critics. Kiper also singled out QB Joe Hamilton, but not Tom Brady, one of the greatest draft sleepers ever. There are few other prominent names on this list, though DB Tyrone Carter did help win a Super Bowl for the Steelers.
Overrated (30): His career seems to have collapsed around him, but before it even started QB Daunte Culpepper was criticized by Kiper, who found him to be a lesser prospect than Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and (ouch!) Akili Smith. Most of the other names on this list proved to be rather inconsequential, though Mike Rucker has been a key player on Carolina's defensive line for years.
Underrated (30): DE Lamar King was a first-round flop in Seattle, but Kiper unearthed two nuggets at linebacker: Mike Peterson and Warrick Holdman. Defensive linemen Aaron Smith, Kelly Gregg and Montae Reagor remain NFL contributors.
Overrated (30): He thought much too little of RB Ahman Green and CB Samari Rolle, though Kiper was pretty much dead on with WR Marcus Nash, a notable first-round flop.
Underrated (30): RB John Avery was on the underrated list, but then ended up as a first-round flop. Making Kiper look better: DB Patrick Surtain and a number of linemen and linebackers who have had decent careers, including OC John Wade and OT Jason Fabini.
Overrated (30): Of the 30 names, one jumps out and grabs your attention: CB Ronde Barber was a third-rounder and has played like a top 10 pick. Otherwise, Kiper's evaluation is hard to quibble with.
Underrated (30): DB Darren Sharper proved to be a superb second-rounder for the Packers, and this list also includes some decent linemen, including OG Dan Neil and OC Ryan Tucker. None of the skill players he listed (QB Chuck Clement? RB Calvin Branch? WR Macey Brooks?) did much of anything.
Overrated (30): Kiper had three tremendous misfires in this group: RB Stephen Davis, LB Tedy Bruschi and LB Donnie Edwards. All have had careers worthy of first-rounders, though none of them were. TE Jay Riemersma and DB Reggie Tongue also have had solid careers. Overall, Kiper has had better years.
Underrated (30): He listed WR Eric Moulds as underrated, though Moulds ended up being selected in the first round (and played like a top choice). Kiper also named RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar and ranked him as a potential first-rounder; the Dolphins picked him in the third round and he didn't do badly by them. Kiper's most astute selections: DT La'Roi Glover, a fifth-round steal, and OC Casey Wiegmann, who anchored an outstanding line for the Chiefs for several seasons.
Overrated (25): DL Travis Hall made this list, but was actually a terrific sixth-rounder for the Falcons. TE Pete Mitchell had a solid career with the Jaguars, and WR Tyrone Davis also was around for years.
Underrated (25): Kiper looks brilliant for singling out RB Curtis Martin, a future Hall of Famer picked in the third round by New England, who also snagged LB Ted Johnson off Kiper's underrated list. TE David Sloan and DL Gary Walker also deserve mention, and QB Kelly Holcomb remains in the NFL. FB Cory Schlesinger has been a fine player, but Kiper did not list Terrell Davis, a tremendous bargain in the sixth round.
Overrated (19): Most of these players didn't amount to much, but RB Dorsey Levens, a fifth-round pick, actually turned out to be vastly underrated, and DL Tyoka Jackson had a long, productive career.
Underrated (25): Kiper scored one bull's-eye with WR Isaac Bruce, a true star discovered in the second round. DT Tim Bowens also made the list, though he was actually not underrated, getting picked in the first round. RB Lamar Smith had some fine years, and DL Chad Bratzke had a decent career as well. Jay Walker, his sleeper at quarterback, never got anywhere.
Overrated (10): Kiper pegged QB Rick Mirer exactly, and RB Robert Smith had an up-and-down career, but TE Tony McGee gave the Bengals nine quality years and QB Trent Green turned out to be one of the great gems of this draft.
Underrated (10): FB Lorenzo Neal was a fourth-round steal, and DB Ray Buchanan stuck around long enough to pick off 47 passes.
David Cohen is a former sports editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and author of Rugged and Enduring, a book on the Eagles.
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