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Dan Levy
Sports Media Guru

Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.

Don't Blame Mel Kiper

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Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez will be linked forever. Just like Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Just like Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers. Just like Vince Young and Matt Leinert (and Jay Cutler). It's what we do. We link quarterbacks from the same draft classes together and stack their careers against one another. Stafford and Sanchez may not be the best two players in the draft, but where they go and who they play for might determine the fates of many in and around the NFL -- more than you may think.

If you caught Mel Kiper on PTI earlier this week you witnessed a fascinating moment of television. Kiper brought his passion and energy to the program and talked at great length (for FIVE good minutes, at least) about the upcoming draft and the players who shall be selected therein. But before he left, he pulled out the biggest set of clippers and hedged, hedged, hedged.

When Wilbon pressed Kiper on the potential for Stafford -- the Georgia quarterback who Kiper thinks will be the first pick in the draft -- to be a bust, Kiper put his success squarely on the coaches who will be mentoring the player:

"He wants to play this game at a high level. He's coachable. He's got unbelievable arm strength. He's a great kid. If you can't make him a very good quarterback, then you can't coach.

"And we don't blame these coaches enough when these guys bust out. We blame the player or the GM or the scouts. The coaches have to take responsibility. If the work ethic and the talent are there, make this guy at least a very good quarterback. He doesn't have to be Hall of Fame, but at least he should be good to very good. Anything less than that, the coach has got a problem."

Well then. If he's great, Mel told us so. If he stinks, blame the coaches.

I like Mel. I think Mel does a great job both with the depth of his research and his excitability on television. But to put all your eggs in Stafford's basket for the last few months when many people, including ESPN's Todd McShay, point out that Stafford isn't the best player on the board, seems dangerous. In fact, Scouts Inc. has Stafford as the eighth-best player in this draft, so this pick has really become Mel vs. McShay over at ESPN, and it will take 4-5 years to see who is right. The problem is, will Mel still be around to say he told us so?

Kiper finds himself in a trap. On his most recent "Big Board" (updated April 9) he has Stafford as the third best player in the draft. So even Kiper agrees that Stafford is not the best player in the draft. Do the Lions need a quarterback that bad that they'll pick the third (or eighth) best guy in the draft just because he throws the ball? This team will not be making the playoffs next year. They need to focus on winning one game before they can win 10. Depth on defense or on the offensive line can help down the road as well. Why should the Lions pick Stafford if he's not the best guy in the draft? Are there no good quarterbacks worth drafting next year or the year after that?

And what if Stafford goes with the first pick and Sanchez proves to be better a better pro quarterback than him? Who takes the hit for that? The coaches?

Mel needs a win, as ESPN has gone to McShay more and more in recent years. Mel has hitched his wagons to the heels of Stafford and if the quarterback ends up being a bust as the first-overall pick, people will look at the pick as an indictment on Kiper as much as the Lions.

Hence the hedge, hedge, hedge. It's not the scouts fault if Stafford doesn't perform to the level of the best player in this draft. Don't blame them. And don't blame Mel. Blame the coaches.

But for the sake of Sanchez, let's assume Stafford is going #1 overall. In draft order, the teams that you could make a case may draft a quarterback of the future are: Detroit (#1), St. Louis (#2), Seattle (#4), Jacksonville (#8), San Francisco (#10), Denver (#12) and Washington (#13). There isn't much chance Stafford or Sanchez will fall past the 13th pick.

St. Louis needs more help in other places than quarterback, so don't expect Sanchez to go there. But Seattle has been rumored to have interest in the USC product. And Denver, which has the 12th and 18th picks in this draft, worked out Sanchez this week. Rumor has it Denver could package a few of their draft picks to move into the top five to snag Sanchez.

By the looks of it, Sanchez won't drop to 13 for Washington, no matter how much wining and dining Dan Snyder does (Snyder knows he's not a college recruiting coordinator, right?). And the fact is, the teams in the top 15 that need quarterbacks the most are Detroit who, as mentioned above, needs EVERYTHING, San Francisco and Denver, who just jettisoned their franchise guy this month. You may have heard about that.

The Lions could shake things up by taking Aaron Curry or an offensive lineman. Then both Stafford and Sanchez would be available for these other teams, potentially moving Sanchez down. But no matter where the pick is, Sanchez should go to Denver. It might be at 12, or at 10 if San Fran can leverage a trade with the Broncos, or at four if Seattle can do the same.

My prediction is that you'll see a new coach and a new GM start their time in both Detroit and Denver with a new guy under center. And if he doesn't pan out, Mel Kiper has taught us who to blame.

By Dan Levy  |  April 22, 2009; 2:10 PM ET  | Category:  Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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