Why Was Kiper Only Guy On Balmer Bandwagon?

Current Seahawks defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer is a former first round pick (29th overall) taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2008 NFL Draft. During his first two seasons with the Niners, Balmer not only didn’t record a single sack, but failed to start a game.

Mel Kiper John Blake Kentwan Balmer

(Balmer in two NFL years: No sacks, no starts)

He also failed to show up for training camp this season, forcing the 49ers to trade him to the Seattle Seahawks in August for a sixth-round pick in order to realize any value for what might’ve been the worst first round pick of the 2008 draft.

Yesterday George Dohrmann of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED had the sordid, first-person story of Josh Luchs, a former longtime NFL agent who admitted to Dohrmann that he paid current college players while recruiting them as clients.

In his commentary to Dohrmann about his unsavory deeds, Luchs cited NFL Agent Gary Wichard as having what some might consider undue influence over ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper as it pertained to the agent’s clients:

Gary also used his contacts in the media to help him recruit. In 2000, before a meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howard, Gary arranged for ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper to call. Gary and I were talking to Willie in Gary’s office when Gary’s phone rang, and he put it on speakerphone.

“Viper, how are you?” Gary said. That’s what he called Mel, Viper or Vipe. “Viper, I’m sitting here with the best defensive lineman in college football. Do you know who that is?”

“You must be with Willie Howard,” Mel said.

Gary used Mel like that all the time. In the agent business, people know Gary and Mel are close, and some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary’s clients.

Kiper has sinced denied showing Wichard clients any favoritism in his NFL Draft analysis over the years.

With that in mind, I thought I’d examine Kiper’s treatment of current Wichard client Balmer, who has been in the news recently not only because of his trade to Seattle, but thanks to alleged impropriety of his former position coach at North Carolina, John Blake.

Former UNC Assistant Blake was recently accused of being a “runner” for Wichard by recruiting current college players for the L.A.-area based NFL agent. Despite having resigned as a coach for the Tarheels, Blake’s bio remains on the official North Carolina football website.

Here’s an excerpt from that bio:

In three seasons at UNC, Blake has sent five defensive linemen to the NFL, including 2008 first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer. Blake earned rave reviews from NFL Draft analysts for his ability to develop Balmer into a first-round selection in just one year of coaching.

“Kentwan had a great senior year under the tutelage of John Blake, who I think is one of the best defensive line coaches at any level,” said ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

Before the Niners took former UNC Tarheel Balmer in the 2008 NFL Draft, Tom Margeneau of the DAILY OKLAHOMAN wrote of Blake in a “Cheers and Jeers” column:

Cheers: To John Blake, who is drawing rave reviews from NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. for Blake’s work with defensive linemen, first Nebraska’s Adam Carriker, who went 13th overall to the Rams in the 2007 draft, and now North Carolina’s Kentwan Balmer, who has shot into first-round projections.

If you pore over Kiper’s mock drafts leading up to the NFL Draft in 2008, he ranked Balmer’s draft status well above where Balmer was projected by many other distinguished draft experts - including Mike Mayock of NFL Network, Todd McShay of ESPN and Scouts, Inc., Rick Gosselin of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS and Don Banks of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

Before the 2008 Senior Bowl and NFL combine, in his Jan. 22, 2008, mock draft, Kiper projected Balmer as a tenth overall selection going to the New Orleans Saints. On Feb. 20, the first day of the 2008 combine, Balmer was Kiper’s 12th selection in his first round projections. Read more…

ESPN Dumps Draft Devotees For Blonde Mistress

Last night I spent the start of the NFL Draft flipping back and forth between ESPN and the NFL Network before finally settling in to NFLN coverage for most of the night.

Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Debate Jimmy Clausen

(Dude on the left? A-hole, which is why I like him)

Why? Because ESPN left its big NFL Draft guns Mel Kiper and Todd McShay on the bench in favor of offhand analysis by Jon Gruden. Inexplicable when considering that ESPN singlehandedly built the NFL Draft into the popular, pop culture event that it is today by the non-stop propping up of prognostication by Kiper and now McShay.

Once I realized that Kiper and McShay were being shoved aside by ESPN to placate Gruden’s ego, I turned to NFL Network, which spent most of the night giving viewers what they wanted, astute analysis from draft expert Mike Mayock.

So why did ESPN flip the script? The network is doing all it can to keep Gruden from returning to the NFL, so it showcased the coach on what has become perhaps ESPN’s signature NFL property. But in the process of doing so, Bristol betrayed what it has built into an astonishingly popular property.

I’m flummoxed by ESPN’s naivete about Gruden. Bristol execs somehow think that he wouldn’t break his current contract with the network if the right coaching deal came along. A deal that would probably include an NFL team buying out a portion of Gruden’s remaining ESPN contract.


So on what should be a triumphant night for a property ESPN basically invented, the network sent NFL Draftniks scurrying to the NFL Network as Kiper and McShay were mostly idle throughout the night.

While I know there are probably plenty of you who despise Kiper and McShay, ESPN has turned them into undeniable celebrities. So ESPN spends all this time building up the pair’s predictions, then shoves them aside during the actual NFL Draft coverage just to make Gruden happy? Though the coach could leave the network at any moment and is somewhat reticent about giving strong opinions for fear of alienating a future employer?

I’m not defending Kiper and McShay, more making a comment about ESPN’s inability to see how its being played by Gruden.

Read more…