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NFL Draft: Do Defensive Coaches Draft Offensive Players?


There's a common NFL Draft myth out there that goes, "Coach X is a defensive-minded guy. He'll take a defensive player with his first-round pick."

This belief has been used countless times over the years. In 2007, some, including myself, believed Bill Parcells would take Chris Long over Jake Long because he's a defensive coach. A few picks later, some, including myself, had Glenn Dorsey over Matt Ryan because Mike Smith is a defensive coach. Last year, some, excluding myself - I learned my lesson - had Aaron Curry over Matthew Stafford because Jim Schwartz is a defensive coach.

This year, the baton has been passed to Steve Spagnuolo. Known for his incredible defensive line in New York, Spagnuolo seems set on drafting either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy - or so many people believe.

The purpose of this article is to debunk two common NFL Draft myths:

1. That defensive head coaches draft defensive players in the first round.

2. That defensive head coaches shy away from taking quarterbacks in the first round because they value playing tough defense and running the ball.


The following chart, arranged chronologically, comprises every single current defensive head coach in the NFL, as well as all of the former defensive head coaches in the league, dating their hire back to the 2002 realignment year (arbitrary).

The chart lists every single first-round pick used by that head coach in his first three seasons (the rebuilding years). Note that some head coaches had as many as five picks; they were just fortunate enough to be drafting twice in the first round some years.

The last column is the number of offensive players and the number of total players taken by each coach in his initial three first rounds.


Defensive NFL Head Coach
Team
Year Hired
Pick 1
Pick 2
Pick 3
Pick 4
Pick 5
Offensive / Total
Eric Mangini
CLE
2009
C
1/1
Jim Mora Jr.
SEA
2009
OLB
0/1
Raheem Morris
TB
2009
QB
1/1
Rex Ryan
NYJ
2009
QB
1/1
Jim Schwartz
DET
2009
QB
TE
2/2
Mike Singletary
SF
2009
WR
1/1
Steve Spagnuolo
STL
2009
OT
1/1
John Harbaugh
BAL
2008
QB
OT
2/2
Mike Smith
ATL
2008
QB
OT
DT
2/3
Wade Phillips
DAL
2007
OLB
RB
CB
1/3
Mike Tomlin
PIT
2007
LB
RB
DT
1/3
Dick Jauron
BUF
2006
SS
DT
RB
CB
1/4
Eric Mangini
NYJ
2006
OT
C
CB
OLB
TE
3/5
Rod Marinelli
DET
2006
LB
WR
OT
2/3
Romeo Crennel
CLE
2005
WR
OLB
OT
QB
3/4
Herm Edwards
KC
2005
OLB
DE
WR
1/3
Mike Nolan
SF
2005
QB
TE
ILB
OT
3/4
Nick Saban
MIA
2005
RB
S
1/2
Jim Mora Jr.
ATL
2004
CB
WR
WR
2/3
Lovie Smith
CHI
2004
DT
RB
1/2
Jack Del Rio
JAX
2003
QB
WR
WR
3/3
Marvin Lewis
CIN
2003
QB
RB
LB
2/3
Bill Parcells
DAL
2003
CB
OLB
DE
0/3
Dom Capers
HOU
2002
QB
WR
CB
OLB
2/4
Tony Dungy
IND
2002
DT
TE
1/2
John Fox
CAR
2002
DE
OT
CB
1/3
Marty Schottenheimer
SD
2002
CB
CB
QB
1/3
Bill Belichick
NE
2000
DT
TE
1/2
Jeff Fisher
TEN
1994
DE
QB
RB
2/3
Totals
16/29
17/23
8/17
2/5
1/1
44/75


As the chart shows, most current and recent defensive NFL head coaches tend to take offensive players in the first round. Out of 75 first-round picks, 44 were offensive players, meaning the defensive coaches opted to go with offense 58.7 percent of the time.

Going further, most current and recent defensive NFL head coaches focused on drafting first-round offensive players early in their tenure. Looking solely at each coach's first two first-round selections, offensive players were chosen 33 out of 52 times, for a whopping 63.5 percent.

Why do defensive head coaches opt for offense so frequently? My guess is that because most head coaches are overly confident in their abilities, so these defensive guys believed they could coach up "lesser" defensive players.

Conversely, a defensive coach might be worried about his job security if his offense isn't up to par. Thus, the coach will overcompensate in the draft and select talented players who can take care of the other side of the ball.

Defensive head coaches draft defensive players in the first round: NFL Draft Myth Debunked.


Let's move on to a more specific position - the one that inspired this article.

The question is, what are the chances that Steve Spagnuolo eschews drafting Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy in favor of Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford, should he feel that either Clausen or Bradford is worthy of the No. 1 pick (which, I have to say, is likely)?

First, let's look at the aforementioned defensive coaches and discard the ones who already had a franchise quarterback, a promising young signal-caller or a highly priced veteran on their team:

  • Eric Mangini, CLE - Brady Quinn was an unknown; he had just three career starts going into the 2009 season and looked great in one of them.

  • Jim Mora Jr., SEA - Matt Hasselbeck.

  • Mike Singletary, SF - Alex Smith's salary was too high, and there was no quarterback worth taking anyway (Stafford, Sanchez off the board).

  • Steve Spagnuolo, STL - Marc Bulger's salary was too large for the Rams to afford two high-priced quarterbacks.

  • Wade Phillips, DAL - Tony Romo.

  • Mike Tomlin, PIT - Ben Roethlisberger.

  • Dick Jauron, BUF - First-round pick J.P. Losman was surprisingly coming off a good year (3,049 yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs, 62.5%, 7.1 YPA).

  • Eric Mangini, NYJ - Chad Pennington.

  • Rod Marinelli, DET - Jon Kitna signed a 4-year deal a month before the 2006 NFL Draft. The Lions could have drafted Jay Cutler instead. Nice job, Matt Millen.

  • Herm Edwards, KC - Trent Green.

  • Jim Mora Jr., ATL - Michael Vick.

  • Lovie Smith, CHI - Rex Grossman drafted in the first round the year before.

  • Tony Dungy, IND - Peyton Manning.

  • Marty Schottenheimer, SD - Drew Brees.

  • Bill Belichick, NE - Drew Bledsoe.




    We've eliminated 15 defensive head coaches who didn't have the opportunity to draft a quarterback because they had a guy they already dedicated their resources to. That leaves us with 14 defensive coaches who had the luxury of drafting a franchise signal-caller. Let's see if they took a quarterback or not.


    Defensive NFL Head Coach
    QB Taken?
    Name of Quarterback
    Year QB Taken
    Raheem Morris
    Yes
    Josh Freeman
    1st
    Rex Ryan
    Yes
    Mark Sanchez
    1st
    Jim Schwartz
    Yes
    Matthew Stafford
    1st
    John Harbaugh
    Yes
    Joe Flacco
    1st
    Mike Smith
    Yes
    Matt Ryan
    1st
    Romeo Crennel
    Yes
    Brady Quinn
    3rd
    Mike Nolan
    Yes
    Alex Smith
    1st
    Nick Saban
    No
    --
    --
    Jack Del Rio
    Yes
    Byron Leftwich
    1st
    Marvin Lewis
    Yes
    Carson Palmer
    1st
    Bill Parcells
    No
    --
    --
    Dom Capers
    Yes
    David Carr
    1st
    John Fox
    No
    --
    --
    Jeff Fisher
    Yes
    Steve McNair
    2nd


    In summary, 11 of the 14 defensive head coaches who had the opportunity to draft a quarterback in the first round did so - and nine of them did it in their first year.

    Of course, Marc Bulger's massive salary prohibited the Rams from selecting Mark Sanchez last year - though the Rams were reportedly intrigued with Sanchez.

    Now, without a salary cap, St. Louis has the luxury of cutting Bulger and drafting either Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford atop the 2010 NFL Draft.

    And as this research has shown, whether they pass on Clausen and Bradford has absolutely nothing to do with Spagnuolo having a defensive background. On the contrary, Spagnuolo's defensive mindset makes a quarterback selection even more likely.

    Defensive head coaches shy away from taking quarterbacks in the first round because they value playing tough defense and running the ball: NFL Draft Myth Debunked.

    The next time you hear someone say, "Coach X is a defensive-minded guy. He'll take a defensive player with his first-round pick," please refer them to this page.





    NFL Draft History Archive:

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    Are Safeties Worth a Top Five Draft Pick? - 3/27/10
    Do Quarterbacks Bust More Than Other Positions? - 2/28/10
    Do Defensive Coaches Draft Offensive Players? - 2/15/10
    Top Three NFL Draft Pick History - 2/15/10
    New Regimes Mean New Quarterbacks - 2/15/10
    Andy Reid's NFL Draft History - 2/15/10
    NFL Draft Quarterback Busts: How to Spot Them
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