Weekend Reading: Kelly’s Draft Advantage

NFL: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles

There was a common thread among three of the Eagles’ first four draft picks last season: they competed against Chip Kelly in college.

Zach Ertz and Matt Barkley both played in the Pac-12, while Bennie Logan’s LSU squad took on Oregon back in 2011. The only exception was first-round selection Lane Johnson.

Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News thinks Kelly and other coaches who have made their way to the NFL from college have a distinct advantage in the draft:

There’s more bad news for the Cowboys. The Eagles are coached by Chip Kelly, another successful college coach who recruited nationally at Oregon. He spent four years with the Ducks so he has a four-year window when he’ll know the draft board better than the NFL lifers.

He traces the theory back to Jimmy Johnson’s days with the Cowboys:

So Johnson had a mental file of the top college players in the country. He either coached, recruited or played against them on Saturdays. His knowledge of the college game and its players gave him an edge at the draft table over his NFL rivals.

For his first five years in Dallas, Johnson would be studying and drafting many of the same players he had already studied and recruited at Miami. Those five years would cover his five-year recruiting cycle at Miami. He knew the achievers, overachievers and underachievers.

Early returns on the 2013 draft are positive. Lane Johnson had some growing pains, but looks like a player. Ertz acquitted himself well compared to other rookie tight ends. And Logan worked his way into a starting role.

Time will tell if Kelly’s college experience provides the Eagles with a drafting advantage. But in the months ahead, it’s worth keeping an eye on players he recruited, coached or competed against.

LOVE FOR BRANDON GRAHAM

Andy Benoit of The MMQB has released his All-Emerge Team. These are players he expects to break out in 2014. Benoit shows some love to Cedric Thornton and Brandon Boykin, along with Brandon Graham:

It wasn’t supposed to take this long for Graham to emerge; the Eagles drafted him 13th overall in 2010. But his development was halted by a late-2010 knee injury, and he never quite found a niche in the 4-3 schemes that Andy Reid’s defensive coordinators ran. In Billy Davis’s hybrid 3-4, Graham operates primarily as an outside linebacker (though he’s also been effective lining up with his hand in the dirt). He should see more playing time with Trent Cole coming off a somewhat inconsistent 2013 campaign. And if he can’t take snaps from Cole, he’ll take them from someone else. Simply put, Graham will be the Eagles’ most dynamic pass-rusher in 2014.

I like bold predictions, but can’t say I’m on the same page with Benoit here. I still think Graham is best-suited as a 4-3 DE. If he couldn’t beat Trent Cole out in 2013, I’m not sure that he’ll be able to earn more playing time in 2014, especially considering the Eagles are likely to add more talent at outside linebacker in the months ahead.

WHERE KELLY RANKS

Patrick Dougherty of Rotoworld recently ranked all 32 NFL head coaches. He’s got Kelly at No. 6:

Kelly has spent exactly one of his 50 years on this earth roaming an NFL sideline. As recently as 2006, he was the New Hampshire Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. He earned his first head-coaching job at the age of 46. So how could he possibly be so high on this list? Because he has something nearly all his peers lack: Clarity of vision. From what kind of offense he runs to what kind of music he plays at practice, Kelly knows exactly what he wants to do as a football coach. Others might think they know, but others spend nearly as much time scapegoating assistants as they do winning football games. And unlike say, Greg Schiano, Kelly is not only a man with a plan, but a man who treats his players like men. He’s not a dictator, but a leader. Maybe Kelly will wind up the flash in the pan many are still certain he is. But if he does, it will be on his terms, doing things no one else has done before. He’s literally changing the way the game is played. How many coaches, in any era, can say that? In a copycat league, Kelly is himself. It’s a philosophy more should abide by.

Four of the five coaches Dougherty has listed ahead of Kelly – Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh and Sean Payton – all have Super Bowl rings. The other (Jim Harbaugh) has played in the title game.

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