I had to move from one desk to another one way across the newsroom a couple of months ago, and in doing so I did some housecleaning and threw away a lot of stuff. For some reason, though, I kept “Mel Kiper Jr’s 1998 draft report.” I wanted to thumb through it, 13 years later, on the eve of this 2011 draft and see how it stacked up.
After looking at it awhile, I realized again why NFL GMS and others who draft players for a living have such a tough job. Just like the upcoming 2011 draft will be, the one in 1998 was littered with both busts and breakout players.
Kiper had Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth graded the highest overall in that draft, ahead of Peyton Manning (No.3). Wadsworth was plagued by injuries and never made the Pro Bowl; Manning is in the discussion as the best NFL quarterback ever.
Kiper’s top RB that year? Curtis Enis of Penn State (who retired at age 24 due to injuries and never had a 1,000-yard season) was No.1, well ahead of players like Fred Taylor and Ahman Green.
Randy Moss (who the Panthers could have drafted but instead took DE Jason Peter, another huge bust) was only Kiper’s 24th-highest rated player (behind WR Kevin Dyson at the position). Moss was taken No.21. Kiper was more accurate on Peter, whom the Panthers took at No.14 in a major mistake but whom Kiper had rated as only the 41st-best player in the 1998 NFL draft.
The point of all this? Kiper’s board generally is not far off most NFL teams’ draft boards. You are taking huge risks in any NFL draft, but especially when you have to make a very high draft pick.
Cam Newton is a monstrous risk, yes, but so is anyone else the Panthers would pick at No.1. Because if your No.1 pick is not a multiple Pro Bowler, you messed up. He can’t just be a good player. He has to be great.
Again, I am advocating the Panthers pick Newton – I think the upside is so high that the enormous risk is worth taking. He could be Ryan Leaf (No.4 overall in Kiper’s 1998 book), or he could be Manning, or far more likely, he will be somewhere in between those two. But because Newton has so much potential, it would be a mistake not to draft him.