Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, April 19, 2002
Mel Kiper Jr.

Special to Page 2

ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. is the sports world's equivalent of Santa Claus -- he puts in 363 unseen days of work (he claims "only 361"), then appears on the radar screen for a single day ... and both have amazing hair.

Mel and Kim Kiper
Mel Kiper Jr. says that without his wife, Kim, he wouldn't be in business right now.
One day before Kiper's big day, Page 2's Eric Neel drafted 10 Burning Questions for nation's No. 1 draftnik, who revealed what goes into the making of a draft guru.

1. Page 2: It's just one day before the draft -- how much sleep have you been getting lately?

Mel Kiper Jr.: I get to bed around 2 or 3 and I'm up at 7.

What are you trying to get done in these last hours?

Kiper: Well, you basically have to make as many calls as you can, without worrying too much about who teams are going to take.

My role is different than Chris Mortensen's. Chris' role is to give people information on how teams are thinking. My job is to talk about how a player's performed at the college level, how he grades in terms of his overall performance, is he a reach, is he a steal, how does he fit in with the team that's selected him, that kind of thing. I don't like to get consumed by projecting who's going to go where.

How many days a year do you spend getting ready for the draft?

Kiper: I start getting ready three days after the end of this draft, Wednesday of this coming week. I can't get started Monday or Tuesday because we're still doing reviews of this draft. Once I put a final exclamation point on this draft by grading each team, that's when the next draft begins for me.

No days off for you and the family?

Kiper: Well, we usually take a little bit of time in May and June. We take two or three weeks.

2. How many TVs do you have in your house?

Kiper: Eight.

That's got to be more than one in every room.

Kiper: Pretty much. I have two in the main room that I have, and I bring three in on game day.

Remember, during the college season, we do College Game Day on ESPN Radio, so I'm gone every Friday and Saturday. I'm not home to watch games during the college season. During the week, I'm looking at as many games as I can, and Sunday is the day I break out all the TVs.

Is it ever possible for you to sit and watch a game in person?

Kiper: Yeah, I watch Ravens games. I'm a season-ticket holder. I take my family, we have four seats.

I've heard a rumor that you break chairs when you watch games at home -- what's the story?

Kiper: Oh, yes! I've broken ... well, whether it's La-Z-Boys, Barcaloungers, you name it, I've broken it. They have not made a chair that I can't break. If a company out there has a rocker, a recliner that can stand up to me and not break within three to six months, that can get through a college football or NFL season without me breaking it, I should be the main endorser for that product.

How do you break them?

Kiper: I'm constantly rocking.

3. How did your life as a "draft expert" begin? What are the origins of this life?

Kiper: It was in high school. I was a big fan of the NFL and college football. I saw the impact of the draft then. It was the only way you could improve your football team from year to year. There was no free agency, there were very few trades.

Chris Berman
Chris Berman, "the best in the business."
I always thought, if this is the only way to increase your talent base, there should be huge interest in this. I thought any college or NFL fan should crave the kind of information that I was interested in.

The GM of the Baltimore Colts at that time, Ernie Accorsi, was a good friend of mine, and he basically encouraged me. He told me that fans would crave that type of information, that I should take it public and turn it into a business.

Is that when you knew it was more than a hobby?

Kiper: I credit Ernie ... really, I credit two people for where I am right now. I credit my father, who was the brains behind the business part. Fortunately, before he passed away in 1988, he had a chance to see the business prosper, flourish, and my role at ESPN grow, and I at least know he saw it come to fruition. And Accorsi's been a great friend over the years. And of course, my family's always been supportive over the years. My wife, Kim, handles the business now, and without Kim there would not be a business.

Do you like being called, "Mel Kiper -- Draft Expert"?

Kiper: Well, I just laugh about it. How others view you or refer to you ... I just laugh about it. I don't take it that seriously. I just try to do what I do. I try to have an opinion and be strong about that opinion.

What's the best part of your job?

Kiper: I think the fact that you're so close to college and pro football. One leads into the other, and they both work hand in hand. All year, when you're watching college football and you're watching the NFL, you know that it's all with one goal in mind, which is the draft, but when you're talking about football, college and pro, what could be better than that? It's all-consuming. It's not the draft -- it's college football and the NFL all wrapped up in one.

Best part about working with Chris Berman on draft day?

Kiper: A lot breaks we come out of, you'll see me getting a drink, or coughing -- it's because we've been laughing so hard during the break. To sit in that chair for 19 years next to Chris Berman has just been incredibly enjoyable. I wish everybody would have that opportunity.

Rick Mirer
Kiper had Rick Mirer at No. 30, but he ended up going second overall.
4. What are the biggest differences between your first draft 19 years ago and the draft now?

Kiper: Free agency is the big difference. Back in the '80s and early-'90s, you could project based on need pretty easily. Now you can't. The days of putting a mock together or identifying areas of need are over. The need chart changes on a day-to-day basis now, based on signings.

Over the years, who is the one guy you feel most proud about "getting right"?

Kiper: The Jeff George scenario, when I had him 84 and he went No. 1; Rick Mirer, who I had 30th and he went at No. 2. There's some vindication there.

I think the whole thing with Trent Dilfer, too. I fought the battle there that day. It was a situation where Bill Tobin took offense to my comments. It put Trent Dilfer and Trev Alberts front and center. I thought Trev was a fine prospect, I just thought they should have gone with Dilfer and obviously, it worked out for me where Trent went on to be a Pro Bowl quarterback in Tampa, led the Ravens to a Super Bowl, and now is doing a great job in Seattle. Those are the things you look back on.

Who sticks out in your mind as someone you got really wrong?

Kiper: Andre Ware. Coming out of the University of Houston as a Heisman winner, coming out of a run-and-shoot team, going to a run-and-shoot team, I thought he would be a great player and obviously it didn't turn out that way with the Detroit Lions.

Andre Ware
Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware was one guy Kiper got completely wrong.
5. Do you still make people angry each year?

Kiper: I think you do. Some are less argumentative than others. I might not be happy to hear a critical opinion about a pick, but I think everybody's entitled to an opinion. Everybody in this country has a right to an opinion. I don't think it's right to say somebody doesn't have a right to an opinion, and [the way Tobin responded to me] identified that pick [as a big deal].

Look, my best call ever was when I said the Rams should have taken Eddie George and Marvin Harrison over Lawrence Phillips and Eddie Kennison. I remember Hank Goldberg went to the Rams' coach Rich Brooks and said, "Coach, I gotta tell you, Mel Kiper's been very critical of your picks. What do you have to say to Mel?" And Brooks said, "Mel's entitled to his opinion. We respect what he does, but we feel good about our picks." And nobody's ever remembered that call or those picks; they forgot about them the next day. My best call was forgotten because it wasn't an argumentative situation.

6. What's the best predictor of player performance? What are you looking for?

Eddie George
Kiper's right call about Eddie George was forgotten because the Rams didn't get nasty over it.
Kiper: What you do is work physical skills in conjunction with productivity. You never take a player who wasn't productive and raise him up your board because of his great physical skills.

Like Julius Peppers, for instance. People are criticizing my placement of Julius Peppers, saying he didn't do this, he didn't do that. The thing is, he led the nation in sacks as a third-year sophomore. People say I contradict myself with Peppers. No, I'm not contradicting myself with Peppers. He is not only a great talent, he produced. He was a major factor in all his games, even when he wasn't productive.

7. Were you an athlete as a kid? What did you play?

Kiper: I played everything. Baseball was front and center for me, not football. Football, I always analyzed and studied, and had a great passion for, but I played baseball more than anything.

I come from an athletic family. My father was an outstanding baseball player. My cousins were great soccer players at both the high school and college level. So, it was an athletic family and I always was involved in some type of sports. But I always felt, from an analytic standpoint, from an evaluation standpoint, football was where I could do my best work.

Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers produces, so he's high on Kiper's list.
If you weren't working as a draft analyst, what would you be doing now?

Kiper: I would hope I'd be coaching, or I would have liked to have been an athletics director at the high school level, coached at the high school level, and worked my way up.

8. Does it bother you when people talk about your hair all the time?

Kiper: No, I laugh about it. That, to me, started in the '80s, when it was probably longer than it should have been.

When I married Kim in 1989, Kim Kiper changed all that. I think it's old news really.

A couple of days ago, on "The Dan Patrick Show," the poll question was "Who has the best hair in sports." I think you came in third. Did you know that?

Kiper: I think I came in second, behind Barry Melrose.

Who cuts your hair?

Kiper: Kim. It's not her choice, as far as the style goes. She would much rather alter the style, but she knows I'm not interested in anything except something that's easy and manageable.

Do you ever put a hat on that hair?

Kiper: No. Very rarely. Uh-uh.

9. Kim wrote an article for Page 2 last year in which she said you don't do e-mail. Is that still the case?

Kiper: Oh yeah, I never do it. I get on the computer to check out a few things and check out the site that I have at ESPN.com, but beyond that, I'm not computer literate at all.

You do everything on the phone?

Kiper: Everything's on the phone. I'm stuck in the '70s and '80s, pal.

10. Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people.

Kiper: I think the big thing is that football is second for me. It's a far, far, distant second to my family. Always has been, always will be.