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Post-Draft Insights On Chip Kelly

We take a deeper look at the Eagles' first-round decisions to see what it can tell us about Big Chip.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly has gifted us with a ton of quotable phrases since his arrival in Philadelphia. One of the more enduring ones was, "big people beat up little people." We've discussed at length how the 2014 draft class backs up this mentality, so in this post we'll dissect the first round to see if there are any other prospect attributes that Chip looks for which he may have left unsaid. Why only the first round? Because that was where Chip and Howie had to be the most strategic with their draft board; the trade wasn't simply about going up to get a player or acquiring more draft picks. There was actually quite a bit of intrigue and competition that led to the Eagles trading with Cleveland. So it is natural to infer that their pick at twenty-six was their most calculated decision.

To get started, here's a description of an NFL player:

  • He was chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles
  • He has extremely high measurables
  • He is extremely athletic
  • He switched positions in college and is relatively new to the one he was drafted for
  • He is considered to possess "a lot of upside"
  • He previously played quarterback
Who do you think it is? Marcus Smith? You'd be correct! Of course, you would have also been right had you guessed Lane Johnson, the Eagles' first round pick in 2013. The similarities are uncanny beyond the point to which I believe they are entirely coincidence. I'm not going to say that they are analogous to each other; Johnson was a sure-fire first-round pick who the Eagles had no problem selecting at fourth overall. Smith most likely had a high second-round grade on the Eagles' board and they seemed like they attempted to trade down again before realizing they had to make their selection. But even after considering all of that, would it be reasonable to ignore every similarity between the two players? I don't think so.

Three of those similarities above stand out to me immediately: the athleticism, the measurables, and the newness to the position (while previously playing quarterback may indicate a deeper understanding of the game, I'll call that a coincidence). When a player has those qualities, draft pundits typically say something like, "He's got a lot of potential, but he's still very raw. He needs more time than other, more polished prospects to learn the position." That second statement is usually treated like a drawback that makes a player less valuable. But Kelly's willingness to draft these players high tells me that he does not see a "raw" player is less valuable - in fact, he might consider them to be more valuable because they have more room to learn in Kelly's detail-oriented, insulated system.
Kelly might see "raw" players as being more valuable because he can mold them to his liking.

To illustrate this, say you're buying a house and you are trying to find the best sconces for your living room or foyer. You've looked through catalogs and you've found ones that are nice, but they're not perfect. They don't make your heart sing when you imagine them attached to your wall. You want to commit to the pre-fabricated, ready-made sconces, but they're just not good enough. So you break down and shell out the extra cash to have them custom-made. Sure, it was more expensive, but now they fit your new home perfectly in a way no other sconces could.

Kelly seems like he would rather take the larger expense (in this case, development time) in order to have a player that has been groomed to precisely match what he wants out of the position. If that is true, it is an interesting team-building strategy that appears to go against the grain of conventional wisdom. It shows just how much emphasis Chip places on the idea that the team is a program instead of a collection of athletes. He will sacrifice having immediate, polished production of one kind in order to achieve specific production that he desires down the road. Additionally, it demonstrates the tremendous faith he has in his position coaches to act as teachers and not just motivators.

Obviously this is all speculation. Nobody but Kelly and his inner circle know exactly what he is looking for. But, supposing that this is an actual strategy employed by Kelly, Lane Johnson would have been the first 'guinea pig' for this idea, with mostly positive results. He wasn't perfect, of course, but his name wasn't called out too much, which is good if you're an offensive tackle. Things will be much different with Smith, who does not have the top-ten pedigree that Johnson had and will not be expected to start immediately. It will be interesting if the "custom-made sconces" tactic can succeed consistently, but until it is known for sure we will repeat the mantra, "In Chip We Trust."

What do you think? Is Kelly going after "unpolished" players so he can mold them to his liking? Or is this just a coincidence?

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