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The Spread (R)evolution and the Draft

From Leo Meyer to Chip Kelly and beyond

Will Chip Kelly's last college starting QB make an impact in the NFL?
Will Chip Kelly's last college starting QB make an impact in the NFL?

Hello again! I hope everyone enjoyed my 2013 Titans' draft class scouting report series. I've been hinting at this new project everywhere for a couple of weeks now but it's time to unleash it on the world. This ambitious post will take a deeper look into an offense that is increasing in popularity at the college level and the impact on the draft. Let's begin with a brief history lesson.

The History

TCU head coach Leo Meyer is often credited with being the first coach to author a book on the spread offense in 1952. Legendary high school coach Glenn Ellison has been known in some circles as the true father of the spread by implementing its forefather, the Run and Shoot (which long time Titans fans going back to the Oilers days should be familiar with). At the NFL level, the innovator of modern offenses could be attributed to one Don "Air" Coryell, who revolutionized the art of passing and spawned many coaches' careers. Coryell's impact is felt today with the fruits of the John Madden, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Walsh coaching trees still in the league. Although Coryell ran a "West Coast" offense, there were spread elements that were littered throughout the playbook in future generations.

The Philosophies

There are many versions of the spread offense but two vastly different versions that most people are familiar with. Most versions are somewhere in the middle ground of these two.

- The "Texas Tech Air Raid" Academy -

Mike Leach is considered to be the modern day "father" of the Air Raid offense he made famous while at Texas Tech. Many of the brightest minds on the college spread scene coached under him before getting head coaching jobs elsewhere. The latest being West Virginia head coach Dana Holgerson, who basically melded together concepts from Leach and former Mountaineers and current Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez into his own version. Another Leach disciple, Sonny Dykes parlayed his high flying offensive successes at Louisiana Tech into the Cal job, taking over for Jeff Tedford (who was a solid offensive coach in his own right). Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy of I'm a man, I'm 40 fame also runs a similar offense to Leach's. The Air Raid offense has featured mainly pocket passers who can throw it around the yard up to 70 times a game. Such system luminaries are Brandon Weeden, the bevy of TTU QBs, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Michael Crabtree, Dez Bryant, and Justin Blackmon.

- The receivers are (Option)al -

The triple option offense is an aging concept yet still useful for a lot of schools. It had its moment in the sun during the heydays of the Nebraska dynasty teams. Nebraska during the mid 90s were a force to be reckoned with under Tommie Frazier. The famed Cornhusker triple option offense came back after a brief yet misguided trial with a pro style offense under Bill Callahan. Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech has used the triple option at his various stops with varying degrees of success. The coaching jobs that he's held (Ga Southern, Navy, GT) makes the decision to go old school perfectly understandable due to the limited talent pools he can draw out of. NFL players that went to option schools: Demaryius Thomas and Johnathan Dwyer are the most well known in the bunch.

- Heisman time/Coaches -

Some say the postmodern era spread QB started with Florida State's Charlie Ward, who ran a simple version of Chip Kelly's hyper fast no huddle attack. In fact, if you take look at the last six Heisman winning quarterbacks, five are considered to be ideal for spread option offenses. It's definitely a new trend made popular by the likes of Kelly, Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles, Gus Malzhan, and Dan Mullen/Urban Meyer. Sumlin and Briles are definitely the most interesting to look at because they have had success with both pocket passers and mobile, fleet footed ones. Another spread attack that is quite interesting is the one at Missouri run by Gary Pinkel. He has sent a number of skill players to the league with varying degrees of pro success to date. The recently retired Chris Ault of Nevada gave us the Colin Kaepernick show via the in vogue Pistol offense.

Impact on the NFL

The proliferation of spread offenses from the college ranks has provided the league with fresh and innovative ideas. It also has made big body receivers obsolete but at the same time, more indispensable than ever. Smaller and explosive playmakers like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Kendall Wright, and Wes Welker are valuable commodities in an NFL world where quick strike short passing is the name of the game right now. As for the quarterbacks, this current crop of young ones (RG3, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson come to mind) has a chance to define generations to come with their abilities to move well. We've already seen spread concepts leak through via the Patriots' potent passing attack of recent years so the trend is there. It has also been seen through the wonders of Michael Vick's talents and for a brief spell in Nashville, Vince Young. Chip Kelly has the potential to be the yardstick/guinea pig that the success of spread offenses are measured by. Teams are also drafting linemen that can play in a zone blocking scheme in increasing numbers as well.

Impact on the 2014 Draft Class

If you're a team in search of a quarterback schooled in the spread offense/pro style concepts, you're in luck as the class is very deep. Prospects such as Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Brett Hundley (UCLA), James Franklin (Missouri), and Aaron Murray (Georgia) all have a chance to be drafted in the first four rounds. Marquise Lee (USC) and Sammy Watkins (Clemson) are the best two receivers in football and measure in shorter than 6'1.