During the barrage of NFL Draft content recently, Deadspin posted a couple of infographics with the totally non-confrontational headline You’re Better Off Guessing Than Listening To Mel Kiper.
The infographics are tough to reproduce because, being infographics, they rely in part on being ridiculously oversized and somewhat baroque, but basically what they show is this: on one side, the top 20 of Mel Kiper’s predraft rankings. On the other, where those players would rank in a list organized by actual production from members of that draft class (along with a few notable players whom Kiper left unranked). Aside from Mel’s top 20 and the other notables, the list is unpopulated, so the impact of the graphic comes from the long stretches of blank space, demarcated by the blank lines where the ranks would be.
Deadspin produced two of these infographics, one for 2003 and the other for 2008. On each one, the bottommost player — the guy who makes you wear out your mouse’s scroll wheel (or your wrist muscles, if you’re trying to look at the thing on a tablet) — is someone drafted in the second round by the Redskins. More specifically, the bottommost player is a wide receiver drafted in the second round by the Redskins. Or, not to put too fine a point on this, the bottommost player is a wide receiver drafted in the second round by Vinny Cerrato.
Also, each of those wide receivers — the estimable Taylor Jacobs and the legendary Devin Thomas — had fewer than 40 receptions in his entire career with the Skins.
I mentioned this on Twitter when the post went up on Deadspin, just because I thought it was mildly amusing, but the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. See, most of the people I saw talking about this post (on Twitter and in the comments on Deadspin) were focusing on whether or not it really makes Kiper look like an idiot. But that’s sort of a pointless question.
Being a draft prognosticator is a pretty impossible task. Not only are you claiming to be familiar enough with all of the available players to accurately rank them against one another, you are then taking the additional step of predicting how individual teams assess them. And each prediction is inherently dependent on the one before it. Each time you get a pick wrong, the error ramifies and cascades and makes it even likelier that you’re going to get another one wrong down the line.
So, basically, of COURSE Mel Kiper’s mock drafts and pre-draft rankings look stupid five or 10 years down the line. That’s inevitable. But who cares? No one is affected when Kiper gets shit wrong, right? He’s just spouting off on TV, not actually making decisions for an NFL franchise.
But, see, that’s kind of the thing. The WORST guys from Kiper’s pre-draft top 20 — in two separate drafts, five years apart — were both selected by the same team. Which could be coincidence, of course. Maybe the GM of that team just happened to have reached roughly similar conclusions to Kiper while working totally independently, and therefore believed those receivers represented value in the second round.
But the GM in question was Vinny Cerrato, a guy who is well-known to be reasonably good buddies with Kiper. (See here for one published reference to that, or just Google it.)
And thinking about that relationship brings to mind that time that Cerrato felt compelled to jump into a stupid on-air debate between Kiper and his in-network nemesis Todd McShay about the pro prospects of Jimmy Clausen. (Not insignificantly to this whole thing, history has proven McShay very right about that assessment, and proven Kiper and Cerrato very, very, very wrong.)
And thinking about THAT stupid incident brings to mind the 2010 SI first-person tell-all from ex-agent Josh Luchs, which made some pretty damning allegations about the relationship between Kiper and yet another agent, the late Gary Wichard. (“In the agent business, people know Gary and Mel are close,” Luchs explained, after an anecdote about Wichard having Kiper call a prospect, “and some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary’s clients.”)
Also good friends with Wichard? As in, was in his wedding party? Cerrato.
All of which is just a VERY long and roundabout way of saying that, yeah, I’m just gonna go ahead and assume that Kiper and Cerrato talked about players, and Kiper and Cerrato’s agent BFF talked about players, and that those conversations probably got back to Cerrato as well. When I think about that for long enough and then go back to those two infographics on Deadspin where Cerrato TWICE saw “great value” in terrible players whom Mel Kiper just HAPPENED to also have rated highly … well, I still don’t think it matters if Mel Kiper looks like an idiot five and 10 years down the line, but I feel a bit differently about the GM of an actual team.
I should probably be very clear: I don’t think Cerrato made bad picks just to make Kiper’s predictions look good. I don’t think Kiper’s rankings were the only scouting the team did under Cerrato. And I certainly have no inside information on any of this. I just think that those two infographics create the impression that an awful lot of Cerrato’s opinions might have been based on what he heard from his pal Mel Kiper, which pretty much confirms Deadspin’s headline: Redskins fans probably would’ve been better off if he’d just been straight-up guessing.