Have you wondered if Chip Kelly will select a former player for the Philadelphia Eagles in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft? In light of a recent article I wrote about the possibility of the Eagles taking former Oregon players Dion Jordan and Kyle Long with their first two picks, it got me thinking of how often that has actually happened.
Do college coaches over-value players from their former program? Do they prefer some familiarity with certain players because they know they’ll buy into their philosophy? Or, do they purposely try to avoid them so they aren’t criticized for being a “homer”, especially if the player fails?
Further yet, do they avoid their players because they have a hard time judging them with an unbiased eye?
Dion Jordan and Kyle Long appear to be excellent fits in Rounds 1 and 2 because they both fill big needs, are of good value at that slot in the draft and would seem to be perfect matches for what Kelly looks for in a player (obviously, they’re his former guys).
However, I truly wonder how seriously Kelly will consider these guys if they’re available when it’s time for the Eagles to pick. Therefore, I decided to do a little research and look at previous college head coaches who became NFL head coaches and see if they drafted a former player.
I was mostly looking at their first draft with their new NFL team to see if they used any high draft picks on one of their college guys. But, for curiosity sake, I also checked all of their drafts in which they would have had a former player eligible (in case they liked one of their younger players) to see if they took anyone from their former program as well.
I was mainly interested in high picks (rounds one through three), but also noted late-round picks as well.
The first college coach I thought of was Jimmy Johnson, who went straight from Miami to the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. He was the coach for four seasons in Miami so had a good look at those players. And, 1989 was back when the NFL draft was 12 rounds long instead of the current seven rounds.
In his first draft, Dallas held the No. 1 overall pick. There were no highly touted players coming out from Miami that year so there wasn’t much of a choice. Plus, Troy Aikman was the potential franchise QB out of UCLA so it was a no-brainer pick.
Johnson ended up only selecting three Miami players that year, all in rounds 10 through 12. Today, those guys would be UDFAs.
In 1990, Johnson selected a former player in Round 3 (DT Jimmie Jones) and then in 1991 he took former player Russell Maryland with the first overall pick in that draft. Maryland played two years under Johnson in Miami (’87 – ’88) but didn’t declare for the draft until 1991.
Next up is Tom Coughlin, who was the head coach at Boston College for three years before becoming the Jaguars’ first head coach in 1995. Coughlin was in somewhat the same position as Jimmy Johnson in that he held the second overall pick, but there were no highly touted players coming out of BC that year.
However, there was a Boston College player that ended up being drafted in the top-10 that year. Eagles fans might remember him…his name was Mike Mamula, The thing is, though, he was not regarded as a top-10 caliber pick.
So, this was a case of the Eagles reaching on a player rather than Coughlin bypassing a former player.
Anyway, Coughlin never drafted any of his former players…in any round. He also didn’t appear to bypass any former player of significance.
How about former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil? He is the last Philadelphia head coach to come straight from the college ranks. He was only a head coach for two seasons at UCLA before jumping to Philly in 1976.
The Eagles did not have any draft picks until Round 4 of Vermeil’s first draft. But, there were no highly touted players coming out that year either. The first UCLA player off the board wasn’t until the middle of the second round. Vermeil did end up drafting two former players that year, though they were in rounds 13 and 15.
Again, they would be the UDFA players of today.
Oddly enough, Vermeil didn’t have any first or second-round draft picks for his first three seasons as Eagles coach, thanks for some crappy trades back then. However, by the time he did get to select a college player in Round 1, it was a UCLA player.
Coincidentally, it was also the last time the Eagles ever selected a linebacker in the first round. Vermeil picked Jerry Robinson, whom he recruited to UCLA in 1975 and coached for one year in college. He was the only former player Vermeil ever drafted.
Pete Carroll was the head coach at USC for nine seasons before coming back to the NFL in 2010 and taking the Seahawks job. The USC player you may remember most in Carroll’s first draft was safety Taylor Mays.
Some people had a first round grade on Mays but most viewed him as a second-rounder. I can’t say Carroll bypassed him because Seattle picked at No. 6 and 14 in the first round and Mays was not widely viewed as being a player worth either of those slots.
In Carroll’s three drafts, he has taken just two USC players. Both guys were late round picks (6th and 7th rounds).
In order to cut down on the length of this article, here is the quick view of the rest of the coaches I looked at…
Nick Saban – Went from LSU to the Dolphins in 2005. Drafted one former player in the fourth round.
Steve Spurrier – Drafted one former player in the second round.
Greg Schiano – No former players drafted.
Jim Harbaugh – No former players drafted.
Bobby Petrino – No former players drafted. Bypassed highly touted DT Amobi Okoye at pick No. 8 for DE Jamaal Anderson. Okoye taken two picks later.
Mike Riley – No former players drafted.
Butch Davis – Drafted three former players, one in Round 3 and two in Round 7. In his second draft, he bypassed CB Phillip Buchanon and S Ed Reed in Round 1 for a running back you’d barely remember.
Dennis Erickson – Did two stints as an NFL head coach directly out of college. In his first stint, he drafted one former player in Round 7. In his first draft, he bypassed former player Warren Sapp in Round 1.
In his second draft (1st stint), he bypassed former player Ray Lewis in Round 1. No wonder he failed miserably in his first stint as an NFL head coach!
In his second stint as a head coach, this time with the 49ers, he drafted just one former player in the fourth round. This time, he didn’t bypass anyone of real consequence, unless you want to count LB Nick Barnett.
In total, that is 12 coaches who left college for an NFL head coaching job. I’m sure there are more, but these 12 guys give us a decent sample to look at. They also give us a good time span to cross reference.
12 coaches and 36 total drafts reviewed.
15 total former players drafted.
Breakdown of rounds former players were drafted:
- Round One – 2
- Round Two – 1
- Round Three – 2
- Round Four – 2
- Round Five – 0
- Round Six – 1
- Round Seven – 4
- Past Round Seven (would be UDFAs today) – 3
- Players of significance that were bypassed – 5
Observations of results:
Obviously, this is not “science” here. However, we can say that, based on past history, the trend is that college coaches do not draft their former players with much frequency.
- Not a single coach drafted a former player in Round 1 or 2 of their first draft out of college.
- The majority of these coaches held picks in the first half of the draft with many being top-10.
- Nine of the 12 coaches did not have a former player coming out in their first draft that matched-up with their team’s respective draft position. Therefore, they didn’t bypass a prominent player.
- The three coaches who bypassed highly-rated former players were unsuccessful NFL head coaches.
- The two coaches who drafted a former player in Round 1 of a draft both made multiple Super Bowls (and won at least one).
- Over half of the former players drafted were in Round 6 or later.
What can all of this tell us about Chip Kelly? In reality, nothing!
However, his situation is a little more unique in that he does, in fact, have a couple of players in Dion Jordan and Kyle Long that match up very well in regards to draft position, team need and talent.
If he passes on Dion Jordan at pick No. 4, he would go on the above list as a coach who passed on a highly-touted former player. His only saving grace would be if the player he chose instead becomes a stud player (which wasn’t the case for the other coaches who bypassed such a player).
With that said, the above also tells us that the chances are slim that he will draft a former player in the first two rounds. There is a much better chance that if he does draft a former player, it will be in the late rounds.
With the exception of Butch Davis, Dennis Erickson and maybe Bobby Petrino, there was no evidence of college coaches purposely avoiding their former players. However, we can’t prove that they truly did ”avoid” them.
This would have been a better research study if there were more situations where a highly-touted player was coming out and was projected to be drafted around where the coach’s new team was drafting. That would have allowed for a better idea of avoidance, or if they would have taken their “star” former player.
But, alas, this is all we have to go on.
If the larger trend from above holds true, don’t expect Kelly to draft Jordan or Long. However, the interesting caveat is that the only two coaches who did draft a former player in Round 1 ended up being very successful head coaches.
Therefore, maybe there is a smaller trend in which to consider. That’s probably a reach, I know, but still interesting food for thought.
And what happens if they bypass Jordan, but take Long in Round 2? Well, the only coach who took a former player in Round 2 was Steve Spurrier…the guy Chip Kelly was most often compared to prior to him becoming the Eagles’ head coach.
Hopefully, that wouldn’t be the beginning of a trend.
I’m of the opinion that the Eagles should draft Jordan with their first pick. He’s a talented player and excellent fit all the way around. Plus, maybe Kelly will be the third head coach to draft a former player in Round 1 and win a Super Bowl.
So far, the success rate of those who did is 100%!