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Grading Mel Kiper's NFL Draft Grades From 2007 to 2009

Mel Kiper is The Man when it comes to the NFL Draft, so everyone anxiously awaits his draft grades, then points out that it’s way too early to grade. Well, I’m going to grade the grader today, by looking back at the 2007 to 2009 drafts. We have now completed years 3 to 5 in those draft classes and can make a decent assessment of them.

So how has Mel Kiper done? Is it just throwing darts at a dartboard, or have his good grades tended to go to the best students, and his bad ones to those that failed the test?

He’s done pretty well, if I may say so vaguely before getting into more details. Now, there are several ways to evaluate a draft class in retrospect. Sometimes, the draft grades reflect things like trades and working the drafting room for value, or avoiding making a perceived reach pick. I’m just going to assess those 2007 to 2009 classes on value added, in terms of starting seasons, pro bowls, etc. I am not focusing on specific players or picks, but the whole grade. If Kiper liked a class and said Player A would be good and instead Player B was better, I’m not drilling down to that fine of detail.

I used the “approximate value” numbers from the draft pages at pro-football-reference.com, and made some adjustments off those. For example, I didn’t want a class that had a bunch of borderline starters on bad teams showing up better than they should by compiling number of starts. So, I set a couple of baselines, for minimum starter value, and elite player value, so that I could measure two things–decent contributors produced, and elite talent produced. I combined those into one draft score.

Then I went and found all of Kiper’s grades for the 2007 to 2009 drafts that were released the week after.

The correlation coefficient between Kiper’s grades and draft scores for the teams was positive each year, meaning their was a relationship between getting a good grade from Kiper and finishing higher in draft value. For 2007, it was +0.54, for 2008 it was +0.23 and for 2009 it was +0.35. The average across this period was a correlation of +0.37. To put that in some perspective, that correlation is similar to a team’s winning percentage last season, and the next season, in the NFL. Some relationship, some surprises, but overall not random.

Where Kiper has been better is at the extremes, in both identifying good draft classes (B+ or better) and the very bad ones (C- or worse).

Kiper only gave out three grades of A- or higher during this span: Kansas City in 2008 and Green Bay and the Jets in 2009. As we will see, two of those three are among the best draft classes from that period. In contrast, he gave only two D’s, to Oakland and Dallas in 2009, and those classes have produced virtually nothing in the NFL. Among the eight C- grades, only the Giants in 2007 produced better than the average team graded by Kiper in the C+/B- range.

Here were the top ten draft classes from 2007 to 2009 so far, based on my “approximate value” draft score.

  1. Atlanta, 2008: QB Matt Ryan, MLB Curtis Lofton, S Thomas DeCoud, OT Sam Baker, DE Kroy Biermann, WR Harry Douglas (B)
  2. Kansas City, 2008: RB Jamaal Charles, CB Brandon Flowers, CB Brandon Carr, OT Branden Albert, DT Glenn Dorsey, OT Barry Richardson (A)
  3. San Francisco, 2007: ILB Patrick Willis, S Dashon Goldson, OT Joe Staley, DT/DE Ray McDonald (B+)
  4. New York Jets, 2007: CB Darrelle Revis, MLB David Harris, WR Chansi Stuckey (B)
  5. Green Bay, 2009: OLB Clay Matthews, DT B.J. Raji, G/T T.J. Lang (A)
  6. Philadelphia, 2009: RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin, LB Moise Fokou, WR Brandon Gibson (B-)
  7. New Orleans, 2008: OG Carl Nicks, DT Sedrick Ellis, CB Tracy Porter (C+)
  8. Detroit, 2009: QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew, LB DeAndre Levy, S Louis Delmas (B-)
  9. Carolina, 2007: MLB Jon Beason, C Ryan Kalil, DE Charles Johnson, TE Dante Rosario (B)
  10. Minnesota, 2009: WR Percy Harvin, OT Phil Loadholt, CB Asher Allen, S Jamarca Sanford (C+)

Some of Kiper’s grades can be tied to volume and raw draft value. For example, the Green Bay and Kansas City grades were tied to both of those teams having multiple first round picks in addition to making what Kiper thought were good selections.

However, I’ll give him credit for not simply going by pick volume and value. While the Kansas City 2008 class had a lot of picks with value (thanks to trading Jared Allen), Denver in 2009 had just as much value, yet Kiper gave them a C. That low grade despite the volume of picks proved correct. Similarly, he gave Oakland that D in the Heyward-Bey draft despite having a decent amount of picks.

So, who should be happy or concerned? All of his selections are behind the Insider wall, but you can find picks and grades at various team sites. He graded Philadelphia and Tampa Bay as an A, and gave Cincinnati and Indianapolis an A-.

The Raiders, on the other hand, had no picks in the first two rounds, and garnered a C- from Mel. Similarly, the Saints got a C- after being hamstrung by the loss of the second rounder and the trade of the first rounder last year for Mark Ingram.

We can debate individual teams, and in my opinion the value is more in identifying draft reaches and whether teams went for appropriate value at the right time, but Mel Kiper’s grades are way better than giving everyone the same grade and acting like we don’t know anything.

[photo via US Presswire]

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