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We've got Mel

If it's April, it must be Kiper's time to grab the spotlight

Posted: Sunday April 23, 2006 2:48AM; Updated: Monday April 24, 2006 6:34PM
Mel Kiper Jr. is the face of the NFL draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. is the face of the NFL draft.
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The world can be divided into two types of people: Those who love Mel Kiper Jr. and those who would love never to see Mel Kiper Jr. on television again. Bill Tobin and Ryan Leaf are part of the latter category. I belong to the former.

While ESPN has brilliantly turned the draft into a month-long multi-platformapalooza -- the SportsCenter NFL draft specials this month hosted by Trey Wingo have been particularly good -- Kiper remains the NFL draft's face, lightning rod and pied piper. He began his ESPN career in 1983 and has put out his draft guide for the past 28 years.

It's mind-boggling that ESPN nearly dumped him two years ago during contract negotiations. (At one point the network announced that it would not be renewing Kiper's contract due to non-monetary differences.) The two sides, recognizing they needed each other the way ebony needs ivory, settled the differences. Kiper is now signed through 2007.

Last week, he reinforced the best thing about him: His refusal to sugarcoat. Kiper lit into those NFL talent evaluators who have placed Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler in the same area code as Matt Leinart and Vince Young. "Does [Cutler] deserve to be rated above Matt Leinart and Vince Young?" asked Kiper. "Absolutely not. I just think he's been overhyped. Overhyped is a word I use about someone who has had things said about him that just aren't true. I had him in my top 25 as the season progressed, and he didn't finish strong against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. But I think he's a pick who deserves to be in the 20-to-32 range. I never thought he was better than Young and Leinart." Cutler's selection should be among the more enjoyable moments of ESPN's coverage on April 29.

The Great Kreskins: You may as well throw out bold predictions, because inevitably only the long-shot winners are remembered. Thus, we bring you TNT's Charles Barkley: "If the Clippers make it to the Western Conference finals I wouldn't be shocked, and if Denver makes it to the Western Conference finals I wouldn't be shocked." But Barkley's prediction is tame compared with that of ESPN basketball analyst Mark Jackson, who told Dan Patrick on his ESPN Radio show this week that when all was said and done, Kobe Bryant would be a better player than Michael Jordan. I'll be bold enough to predict this: Mark Jackson has lost his mind.

Net Gains: According to Business Week, the NFL Network is expected to announce next week that Bryant Gumbel and Cris Collinsworth will call its new package of eight regular-season NFL games. While it has long been proven that announcers don't add eyeballs to a broadcast (Monday Night Football's ratings went down during the John Madden era), the pairing of Gumbel and Collinsworth would give the NFL Network the most coveted commodity a young network needs: buzz. One thing to keep in mind: Gumbel, whose journalistic work on Real Sports has been exemplary, made his bones at NBC Sports as a pre- and postgame host and not as a play-by-play announcer.