Mel Kiper seems to be more closely associated with the NFL Draft than anyone else, players and front office staff included. For over 30 years, he's been going deep into draft classes with incredibly-detailed scouting reports and mock drafts, and for the most part he's very well-educated on the players and their fits with different teams.
But how good is he, really?
Mock drafts are usually a crapshoot after the first few picks, since it only takes one team throwing a monkey wrench into everything to change the next hundred picks. Of course, given how close to the top the Buffalo Bills have been drafting in recent seasons, it's usually expected that he'll be more or less accurate with the player the Bills decide to roll with.
That said, here's a look at the last five drafts, comparing how Kiper's mock pick compares with Buffalo's actual pick, and my take as to who got it right.
2010, No. 9 overall
Kiper: Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
Buffalo: C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
Spiller has been a fairly mercurial player with the Bills. From his slow start to his breakout 2012 campaign right through the last two injury-riddled seasons, it seems like Spiller is always leaving you wanting more. Of course, it remains to be seen who exactly will be getting more from him, as there's a decent chance he'll make a new home next season (although it's not at all out of the question that he stays). What he has given us, though, is still miles ahead of Clausen. The eventual second-round pick started 10 games for an awful Carolina team in his rookie season, playing so poorly that he followed that with three seasons without a single regular-season pass before moving to Chicago in 2014. He played relatively well there, but was still well below par as a quarterback.
Winner: Buffalo. Picking Clausen would have set the Bills back years, although they might have nabbed some better players with higher draft picks. Spiller has been the better player by far.
2011, No. 3 overall
Kiper: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Buffalo: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
This is the only pick in the frame that Kiper got right. Dareus has been a force on the defensive line from day one, and this season finally started getting some recognition as one of the premier defensive tackles in the NFL with his first All-Pro selection. He'll be in line for a hefty pay day at some point between now and next offseason, preferably one that keeps him with the Bills.
Winner: Push. Obviously. The 2011 draft was one of the better ones in recent history, and it seems like both Kiper and the Bills knew that Dareus is a major-league talent.
2012, No. 10 overall
Kiper: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Buffalo: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore has battled injuries and inconsistency over the last three seasons, but he showed good improvement last season, and could have a breakout campaign in 2015 if he stays healthy. His interception total has improved by one each season (although his passes defended number has dropped by 10), and he holds opposing receivers to roughly the same statistical output as guys like Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. Upshaw, who was picked by Baltimore early in the second round, has been steady but unspectacular at linebacker. He doesn't stand out in any area, but has seen his playing time improve in each season.
Winner: Buffalo. Setting aside the fact that the Bills have more linebackers right now than they know what to do with, Gilmore is close to becoming an elite corner in the NFL. That's not something to take for granted.
2013, No. 8 overall
Kiper: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Buffalo: EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
For this year and the next, I'm doing a player-for-player comparison, ignoring trade components. We all know how Manuel has turned out so far; calling him "spotty" is about as nice as you can be. He hasn't set the franchise back much, largely because the Bills seemed wary from the start and already started the process of pulling the plug. He simply hasn't shown the ability to make the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make, and that's inexcusable when you draft a guy in the first round. Te'o, yet another Kiper projection who fell into the second round, hasn't been anything close to the force he was in college, even after the infamous catfishing scandal left the headlines.
Winner: Kiper. I'm not a big fan of Te'o as a player, but missing on a linebacker isn't as bad as missing on a quarterback. It's the lesser of two evils, more or less.
2014, No. 9 overall
Kiper: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Buffalo: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The debate about whether or not the Bills should have stayed at No. 9 and taken Odell Beckham, Jr. isn't likely to go away anytime soon. The trade aside, however, Watkins showed he can be a top-tier receiver in the NFL. The fact that he even approached the numbers he did considering the quarterback situation with the Bills is proof that he'll likely be the team's top wideout for the next 10 years. Even with the trade, though, the Bills never had a chance to pick Robinson, who went second overall to St. Louis. He struggled for most of the season, not even starting until the sixth game of the season, but improved as his playing time increased.
Winner: Buffalo. If Robinson played guard, I might pause for a second on this. He doesn't, so I'll go with the generational talent at receiver.