Mel Kiper Watch: A man who makes his living obsessing about the NFL draft -- only in America! Though Kiper is often lampooned, the day ESPN put him on the air was an important day in football annals. First, Kiper's example allowed millions of Americans to come out as draftniks. At this time of year, very large numbers of people have intense, strongly held convictions regarding football prospects they may never have seen perform. Mel's example made it all right to be a draftnik -- the man makes his living talking about this stuff! Everybody laughs at Mel's hair, but deep down, there are significant numbers who wish they could exchange occupations with Kiper. And I don't mean just miners or stevedores who would trade places with Mel in order to exchange dangerous or exhausting work for sitting in an air-conditioned office. Many doctors, lawyers and business managers would trade occupations with Kiper in a New York minute, because a huge number of Americans simply love the draft, and Kiper lives in the draftnik world 365 days a year. Kiper is significant in another way, too. His example made it OK for men (and, increasingly, women) to admit they are totally obsessed with football. Obsessed is the key word. Before Kiper, people watched NFL or college games, and maybe the occasional highlight show, and now and then absentmindedly thumbed through a football annual. Kiper made it OK to be obsessed about football, to watch every last game that's on, to read every last sentence that's written, to pore over stats and tapes. In this sense, Mel Kiper Jr. has made a greater positive contribution to the incredible financial success of the National Football League than all but a few people in broadcasting. Watching him on his perch at Radio City on Saturday, I reflected on the fact that the respectable media and football worlds refuse to honor Kiper: he's too out-there, too goofy. Yet many respectable-media types who snicker at Kiper privately know he has accomplished more than they have. His was a central role in the last two decades of the promotion of professional and college football, helping inspire round-the-clock viewing and, now, round-the-clock Internet following. And Kiper has been a populist influence, expressing in his own inimitable way this message: anyone can figure this stuff out, The Experts don't know anything you can't know. I say in full seriousness that someone needs to give Mel Kiper an award. Think what you will about the pompadour: Kiper's contribution to broadening the base of public interest in football exceeds that of most famed broadcasters and sportswriters and of most NFL executives, for that matter. These things said, part of the fun of Kiper is watching him be all over the map. This year he issued five mock drafts, each contradicting the one before. Mel had the Dolphins going first for Winston Justice, or Ashton Youboty, or Donte Whitner, or Antonio Cromartie; they actually used their first selection on Jason Allen. "If Justice is available, he has got to be the call for Miami," Mel foresaw; Justice was available and was not the call. Kiper had the Bucs going first for Cromartie, or Marcus McNeill, or Chad Greenway; they actually used their first-rounder on Davin Joseph. Kiper had Dallas investing its first choice on Jason Allen, or Chad Jackson, or Manny Lawson; the Cowboys chose Bobby Carpenter. Kiper had DeAngelo Williams going as high as 10th or as low as 22nd, being picked by Arizona or New England or Denver; Williams went 27th to Carolina. Kiper had Tamba Hali going as high as 12th to Cleveland or as low as the second round; he went 20th to Kansas City. On March 6, Kiper predicted Oakland would use the seventh overall choice on quarterback Jay Cutler; on March 27, Kiper said "it would be odd" if Oakland used its first pick on a quarterback. (Oakland passed on Cutler.) With its first pick, Jacksonville "could go one of two ways, Thomas Howard or Deuce Lutui." Both were available when Jax picked, and the team went a third way. At various points, Mel had the Chargers taking Tye Hill or Justice or Jonathan Joseph or Santonio Holmes; San Diego took Cromartie. At various points Kiper predicted the Eagles would take Justice or Holmes or Jackson or Ernie Sims or Greenway; they took Brodrick Bunkley. Surely if any one of his multiple forecasts for any of these teams had been correct, Mel would have claimed to have predicted it! Kiper's player comments are similarly all over the map. Davin Joseph was chosen in the first round; two months before the draft, Mel said Joseph "has a chance to be a second-round pick." Mark Anderson: "He could be a second-round pick." Anderson went in the fifth round. A month before the draft, Kiper called Kellen Clemens "a late-round possibility." Then Kiper forecast Clemens as a second-round choice. As Clemons was chosen in the second round, by Jersey/B (aka the Jets), Kiper said, "That's a little high for Clemens, considering Brodie Croyle is still available." In his own final mock, Mel had Clemens going before Croyle. When Detroit took Daniel Bullocks early in round two, Kiper said, "That's where I thought for him, early round two." In all his mock drafts, Mel had Bullocks going either late round two or below the second round. Kiper predicted of Denver's first choice, "They could get a wide receiver or running back. Their key area is defensive end." Denver used its first choice on a quarterback. The Panthers, Kiper said, "would be hard-pressed to pass on Mercedes Lewis." They passed on Mercedes Lewis. For the Titans to choose Matt Leinart would be "a no-brainer." The Titans passed on Leinart. Of course there are hundreds of prospects, and Kiper was exactly right about some of their destinations: he forecast Nick Mangold to the Jets with the 29th selection, for example. But Kiper makes draft predictions the way Kobe Bryant takes shots: they both launch so many that one or two have to fall. My favorite Kiperism this year? When Donte Whitner went eighth overall, Mel said, "That's about right. I had him going 16th to Miami, but that's still about right." Kiper did have Whitner going 16th to Miami -- in a January mock. The day before the draft, he forecast Whitner to Cincinnati at the 24th slot. Kiper couldn't keep his own predictions straight. And who could blame him?