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Kiper Active : ESPN'S football wizard is ready for the draft

April 25, 1993|JOHN SCHEIBE | Times Staff Writer

The National Football League draft is just another day on the job for Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper, 42, makes a living observing football talent, operating in high gear for 16 hours a day from July through May. Step into his world of satellite dishes, TV monitors, VCRs and audio tape recorders, computers, note pads, pens, pencils, glue and tape, and watch him dissect what America's gridiron has to offer.

He is to football, college and pro, what Bill James is to baseball.

Kiper (rhymes with hyper) is active. He watches 20 to 25 games a week at his office near Baltimore, a command post that looks a lot like a director's booth.

What he can't watch, he tapes. What he can't tape, he sees on coaches' shows and football highlight packages during the week.

Kiper begins a typical college football Saturday at noon and ends it at 4 the next morning with the conclusion of a game in Hawaii.

If he's not at home, he's probably at ESPN, where he's a frequent contributor to "SportsCenter" and the expert analyst for the network's 6 1/2 hours of draft coverage Sunday from the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. He'll be joined by host Chris Berman and analysts Tom Jackson and Joe Theismann. This is his 10th year analyzing the draft for ESPN.

He also can be heard on radio sports talk shows, answering call-in questions such as: "Hey, Mel, who will the Raiders pick in the first round?" and, "Is New England going to keep its first pick or trade it?" and, "What are the Rams going to do?" and, "Who's going to take Drew Bledsoe?"

As publisher, with his wife, Kim, of NFL Draft Report and the Draft Review, Kiper stays immersed in the game most of the time. "For us, the year starts in July with training camp and goes through fall practice, then heats up in December, January and February. April is the draft, radio reports and ESPN updates. May is the review and then we get ready for next year. The draft is just rehash for me."

Kiper pays little attention to all-star games and the NFL's off-season performance combine for draft-eligible players; watching players during season games is what counts, he believes..

"The combine overstates the athlete and understates the football player," he says. "All-star games are misleading to teams that are trying to find a player. They don't help teams in their evaluating of players."

Kiper's expertise on the draft is not only sought by sports television and radio shows, but also by NFL coaches, players and team executives. "The way it's structured, football is the only sport where the draft can give immediate help to a team," says Kiper, whose draft report runs 172 pages.

Kiper, who always wanted to be a scout or a coach, got inspiration from his father, Mel Kiper Sr., and Ernie Accorsi, an executive with the Cleveland Browns. "My dad coached everything, especially baseball," Kiper says. "He played shortstop in the Pirates organization until bursitis in his arm forced him to retire. Then, he went out and got a job."

In 1979, Kiper Jr. began preparing reports on players and teams for Accorsi, who at the time was an executive with the old Baltimore Colts. Accorsi told him, "Don't give it, sell it." That's what Kiper's been doing on a year-to-year basis since.

According to ESPN, Kiper's draft predictions are among the most accurate, often as much as 80% correct on first-round selections,

"New England will trade the first pick so that (Coach Bill) Parcells can start to build a defense," he says matter-of-factly. "(Washington State quarterback) Drew Bledsoe will be the first player picked."

What about the Rams and the Raiders?

"The Raiders are looking for a big-time safety to replace Ronnie Lott, a real solid linebacker and a running back.

"The Rams, with their offense set around Jim Everett, need a running game that would be a major complement to Everett. They also have a need at middle linebacker, defensive end, wide receiver and a punter. Don Bracken averaged only 33.2 yards per punt last season."

For the rest, we'll have to tune in.

ESPN's coverage of the 1993 National Football League Draft begins Sunday at 9 a.m. from New York.

1993 NFL DRAFT ORDER

Order of selection for the first round of the draft to be held Sunday and Monday in New York.

1. New England; 2. Seattle; 3. New York Jets; 4. Phoenix; 5. Cincinnati; 6. Tampa Bay; 7. Chicago; 8. Detroit; 9. x-New York Giants; 10. Atlanta.

11. Rams; 12. Cleveland; y-13. Philadelphia; 14. Raiders; 15. Denver; 16. Green Bay; 17. Indianapolis; 18. Washington; 19. Kansas City; z-20. Phoenix; 21. Houston; 22. Minnesota.

23. San Diego; 24. Pittsburgh; 25. Philadelphia; 26. Miami; 27. New Orleans; 28. San Francisco; 29. Buffalo; 30. Dallas.

x: used to select Duke quarterback Dave Brown in supplemental draft.

y: awarded as compensation for Green Bay's signing of free agent defensive end Reggie White.

z: awarded as compensation for San Francisco's signing of free agent defensive back Tim McDonald.

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