Is Mel Kiper Jr. working for a sports agent?

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If you’ve visited this blog before, you may know that I’m no fan of Mel Kiper Jr. His bombastic style and galea-like hair make him a regular on ESPN, but his mock drafts suck. And now, with the must-read expose by Josh Luchs, there are allegations that he’s working as a shill for a sports agent.

In the piece, Luchs clearly calls Kiper out: “people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary (Wichard)’s clients.”

He recounted in 2000 sitting in a room with his boss, fellow sports agent Gary Wichard, and Stanford D-Lineman Willie Howard. Wichard had pre-arranged for Kiper to call and say that Howard was the #1 defensive lineman in the draft. He was eventually drafted in the 2nd round and played 2 years.

How would you determine if Kiper ranks Wichard’s players more favorably than others? I have three hypotheses on how one could tell.

1. Check the mock drafts, and see how Kiper compares to other “experts” for Wichard’s clients

Since I have the data from the 2010 draft, I checked to see if Kiper had Wichard’s players ranked higher than other analysts. I used Pete Prisco (the champ) and fellow ESPN prognosticator Todd McShay as controls.

There appears to be some correlation. Kiper had Clausen ranked higher than the other analysts (he was eventually selected 48th overall). For Taylor Mays, he was the only one to rank him in the first round. However, for both Spiller and Griffen, he had them rated the 2nd highest.

It’s also noteworthy that Kiper had 4 Wichard clients picked to go in the first round, compared to McShay’s 3 and Prisco’s 2.

To dig into this one further, one would need to take a look at prior drafts. I don’t have this data, so I’d encourage the ESPN Ombudsman to take a look.

2. Look at earlier versions of Kiper’s mock drafts and see if he has a tendency to hype Wichard’s clients, only to rank them lower in his final mock draft

Kiper doesn’t want to look like a fool on draft day (although he usually does). So by checking earlier versions of his mock drafts and comparing them to the final, one may see Wichard’s clients fall precipitously.

I looked at Kiper’s 2010 March mock draft and compared it to his final mock draft in April. I did the same for comparison his colleague McShay (only data I had – wish I had more).

Wow, that’s some movement. All but Spiller saw their final mock draft prediction decrease.

What about McShay?

Well, McShay’s mock draft moved similarly. This one requires more research as well. ESPN should look at the mock draft progression over the past several years and see what Kiper (and possibly McShay) did with Wichard’s clients.

3. Talk to NFL scouts and management to see if Kiper used his influence to promote Wichard’s clients without using his mock draft

This one is practically impossible to prove. It’d take an informant no longer in the game to risk his reputation to call out Kiper for promoting certain players when he talked to teams.

The takeaway is that ESPN cannot march Mel Kiper Jr. out for another NFL draft without an investigation. I volunteer my services to help parse the data, but I’m not signing up for an ESPN Insider account.

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