With a new regime in the Seattle Seahawks' front office and an unclear power divide between new general manager John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll, for the first time in over a decade, the Seahawks' draft strategy is a mystery.
We could spend hours attempting to dissect every statement Carroll has made, every off-handed comment he’s made to a reporter, or every facial expression he makes when something doesn’t go his way. From all that, we’d probably discern nothing concrete, and be left in the same ignorant position we are in.
Instead, we’ll take a look at some facts about college-to-pro transitions, and figure out some things about how recently-college coaches draft.
The group of coaches who will be included in this are coaches hired directly out of college since 1995—fitting, because that was when Dennis Erickson was lured from the University of Miami to coach the Seahawks. Those coaches include: Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Erickson (twice), Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin, Mike Riley, Butch Davis, Steve Mariucci, Tom Coughlin, and Rich Brooks.
If I missed one (which I don’t think I did), let me know and I’ll add him to the list.
The question for this post centers on a widely accepted notion that Carroll’s familiarity with several draft prospects who played at USC and an assumed proclivity for those players.
This research was done with the assumption that each of these coaches had significant influence on the drafts of the teams they coached (OK, maybe not Lane Kiffin, but bear with me). Obviously, most of those coaches didn’t have the freedom that Carroll does, and if a mean or median level were quantified and measured, Carroll would still almost assuredly come out way ahead.
But in most cases (again, perhaps not the Raiders), coaches have a large amount of influence on their teams' personnel decisions, especially the draft.
The numbers were compiled by examining the first four drafts a new coach was involved with, as theoretically, any college player who played a significant role in the coach’s former college team’s success would be a graduated senior by that time.
Though most of the coaches didn’t last that long (cue ominous instrumental).
It’s admittedly an imperfect system, as Kellen Winslow technically never played under Butch Davis, but was drafted by Davis in his fourth year in Cleveland. It seems likely that Davis played a large role in recruiting Winslow to Miami, though. This should be viewed as the exception, and not the rule. And if it makes the numbers easier to swallow, take one off.
Now properly prefaced, here are some numbers:
10 coaches involved
30 combined drafts
233 total players drafted by those coaches in the first four years of their jobs
7.76 average draft picks per team (technically below average when compensatory picks are included)
So while it may not be a large enough of a sample to create a scientific result, there is enough history with a similar situation that some valuable information can be gained.
If the question is simply “do college coaches draft their own players frequently,” the answer is no.
Ten players have been drafted by their former college coaches
But that tells an incomplete story, and I already mentioned that Winslow is included in this list only technically. But less than five percent of players drafted by former college coaches come are rejoining their former coach.
However, it’s not as though each of the 10 coaches picked his team’s quarterback or star player. In fact, of the 10 coaches, only six drafted players from the school they’d last coached at: Davis, Mariucci, Erickson, Saban, Spurrier, and Brooks.
Each of Saban, Spurrier, Brooks and Mariucci drafted only one player from their former schools.
Davis and Erickson both coached at Miami and combined to draft five Hurricanes (Davis drafted four, Erickson one), and Erickson drafted one player from Oregon State.
Perhaps the five players drafted from Miami are an indication of Miami’s strength from the late 90s to the early 2000s. In fact, from 1995 to 2004, the beginning of Erickson’s run in Seattle to the end of Davis’ run in Cleveland, there were 26 Hurricanes drafted in the first round.
But neither coach has made the playoffs in the NFL.
Of the six coaches who have drafted players from their last job, three are offense-oriented: Spurrier, Mariucci, and Erickson. Three are defensive-oriented: Saban, Brooks and Davis.
This was determined by analyzing the side of the ball which the person in question coached predominantly before becoming a head coach.
Spurrier and Mariucci drafted offensive players.
Erickson, in both stops, drafted defensive players.
Davis drafted offensive players with all four of his Hurricanes picks. Davis has coached offense at times in his career but has coached predominantly defense.
Brooks and Saban both drafted defensive players.
So apart from former Miami coaches, the coaches who have come directly from the college ranks have drafted players from the side of the ball with which they are most comfortable.
Where it really gets interesting though, is what round the players were drafted in.
Only Winslow (drafted by Davis, despite not playing for him at Miami) was drafted in the first round.
Rounds Two through Seven are distributed pretty disproportionately.
Four players were drafted No. 200 or later. (Two by Davis, one by Erickson, one by Brooks).
Only one player was drafted between 100 and 200, by Erickson.
And apart from Winslow, four players were drafted between 1 and 100. All came in the early third or second rounds (one each by Mariucci, Saban, Davis, and Spurrier).
So what can we determine from this?
Well, the question was: Do former college coaches draft their former players?
The answer is “not often.”
And when they do, it is typically on the same side of the ball as the coach has coached during his career.
Unless of course the coach comes from a pro factory of a college program, like Miami was a decade ago, and like USC is now. Then things can be a little different apparently.
With that in mind, there are a handful of USC prospects (as their always are) who could get drafted: Taylor Mays, Charles Brown, Everson Griffin, Joe McKnight, and Stafon Johnson.
A safety, offensive lineman, defensive end, and two running backs, respectively.
Each of those positions carries some level of need on this Seahawks team.
Mays, Brown, and Griffin will probably all go in the first round.
Mays is from Seattle and was a leader on Carroll’s defense in 2009. Scouts aren’t in love with his coverage skills, but if Gus Bradley and Carroll continue the team’s transformation from a poor cover-2 defense to a more aggressive Tampa-2 this year, Mays may have a place and could get drafted at No. 14.
Brown is an excellent fit for Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme and will receive some consideration at No. 14. However, Gibbs has been able to exploit a market deficiency for undersized, athletic lineman, and has consistently turned later-round picks into solid contributors throughout his career.
Griffen is a highly-athletic defensive end, and probably has a much greater chance of being drafted by the Seahawks now than a week ago, in the wake of Patrick Kerney’s official retirement. He also has perhaps the most volatile draft stock of the three first-round prospects. Some teams will question his short college resume and lackluster production. Others will question whether he is best suited to play end in a 4-3 or rush-linebacker in a 3-4. The Seahawks plan on running both, and Griffen will get a serious look at No. 14 also.
McKnight and Johnson are very different stories. Neither was every truly a first-round prospect, as neither is an elite level athlete. However, each possesses a wide variety of skills and a familiarity with Jeremy Bates, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator.
McKnight probably begins to get his first sniffs around the Seahawks' second-round pick (No. 60 overall). The team already has Justin Forsett and has been linked to Marshawn Lynch in the past week.
Johnson, on the other hand, has fallen from a likely mid-round prospect, to a player who could go undrafted, or drafted very late, as a result of a life-threatening weight lifting incident that crushed his windpipe. The Seahawks could take a flyer on Johnson between Rounds Five and Seven.
Realistically, the sixth overall pick, the Seahawks' top pick, will probably not net a USC player, but each of the Seahawks' remaining picks could net a former Trojan.
It’s probable that too much stock is being put into Carroll’s USC ties when projecting future Seahawks, but based on the sheer volume of USC players at Seahawks need positions, it seems inevitable that at least one will end up wearing Seahawks blue.