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Draft parallels between Chip Kelly, Jimmy Johnson

When Jimmy Johnson ran his first few NFL drafts, he used his institutional knowledge of the college game to select the building blocks for Cowboys teams that eventually won back-to-back Super Bowls.

(AP photos)
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When Jimmy Johnson ran his first few NFL drafts, he used his institutional knowledge of the college game to select the building blocks for Cowboys teams that eventually won back-to-back Super Bowls.

The league has changed significantly in the 25-plus years since Johnson made the jump to the NFL, and Chip Kelly is a long way from being mentioned in the same breath. But there are parallels between how the new Eagles coach and former Dallas coach approached their first drafts.

Heading into the process, Kelly said he did not do any research on how successful college-to-NFL coaches such as Johnson approached the draft. But he did reach out to former UCLA and Eagles coach Dick Vermeil.

"I actually talked to him just before the draft started," Kelly said. "He's been a great resource."

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it's important to note that the dustbin of the NFL is full of ex-college coaches such as Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino who thought their knowledge of prospects would help them in the draft. But Kelly's philosophy seemed to mirror Johnson's.

They took players they were familiar with, with the majority of them coming from power conferences. In some instances, they coached against them - four of Kelly's eight draft picks played in the Pac-12. They recruited a few of them out of high school.

Kelly, it seems, went the "If you can't beat them, draft them" route by selecting three players from the only three teams he lost to during his last two seasons at Oregon. He drafted Stanford tight end Zach Ertz in the second round, LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the third, and Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley in the fourth.

Kelly called it "a unique coincidence," but those players obviously made an impression. Ertz caught 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in the Ducks' lone defeat last season. Logan was part of a dominating defensive line that kept Kelly's up-tempo offense in check in 2011.

And Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns in the Trojans' upset of Oregon.

Johnson lost as infrequently as Kelly during his five seasons at Miami. So there weren't many opportunities for him to draft players that beat him in college. But some of his most important early selections were players he faced who left a mark.

Troy Aikman - Johnson's first pick and the No. 1 overall selection in 1989 - faced the Hurricanes four years earlier during his first season as a starter at Oklahoma. He was 6 of 8 for 131 yards before Miami's Jerome Brown broke through the Sooners line and broke Aikman's ankle. He eventually recovered and transferred to UCLA.

Two rounds later, Johnson took guard Mark Stepnoski from Pittsburgh. Miami had trounced the Panthers in 1986, but Johnson had remembered the plucky guard and turned him into a center who earned repeated Pro-Bowl honors in Dallas.

In the 1990 draft, Johnson selected running back Emmitt Smith in the first round. He had tried to recruit the Pensacola, Fla., native out of high school, but Smith went to Florida. The Gators opened Smith's freshman year against Miami and lost, but he went on to set school records.

Kelly attempted to lure Ertz to Oregon. He would have likely chased Barkley, but the quarterback committed early to Southern Cal, which his father attended. He said he also offered a scholarship to seventh round defensive end Paul Kruger and tried to get seventh-round cornerback Jordan Poyer to walk on.

With the Eagles' top pick and some of their late-round ones, Kelly mentioned the role conversations with those from the coaching fraternity played in the selections. He leaned on Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops before taking tackle Lane Johnson fourth overall. He dialed up North Carolina State offensive coordinator and former Eagles assistant Dana Bible prior to poaching safety Earl Wolff in the fifth round.

Johnson took two of his former players in the latter rounds of what was then a longer draft. Two years later, he made Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland the Cowboys' top pick.

Kelly said he wished he had the opportunity to draft some of his former players. He essentially conceded that the Eagles rated Dion Jordan ahead of Johnson. Miami traded into the No. 3 spot and snatched the Oregon pass-rusher before the Birds picked.

There are plenty of differences between Kelly's and Johnson's situations, many of which could make Kelly's situation more challenging.

But following Johnson's template, consciously or not, was a good start.