Yale's Bannon the ultimate sleeper pick

Posted May 03, 2011 @ 12:41 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Two days after Cam Newton, perhaps the most notorious selection of the 2011 NFL draft, was the first pick, came one of the most unlikely of selections. Perhaps the most unlikely pick we've seen in years.

The name, just as 222 had before his, rolled across the screen as we got deep into Round Seven: Shane Bannon, RB, Yale.

Anytime an Ivy League player is picked, I perk up. Anytime an Ivy running back goes, I am fascinated. Since Calvin Hill went in the first round to the Cowboys back in 1969, let's just say that the Ivy offensive skill-position till had run a tad dry.

My first stop was the Pro Football Weekly 2011 Draft Preview, our bible on these sorts of obscure players. Nothing. Not a mention. I later would find out why.

A quick stats check on Yale's 2010 season appeared to show a discrepancy: No one named Bannon had carried the ball for the Bulldogs last season.

What in the name of Carl Peterson was Scott Pioli doing here?!

Then came my first hint on Twitter. Several draftniks said Bannon was a fullback and that he was a late riser. I checked and saw that Bannon had a Twitter account, and at that moment he was furiously thanking everyone from New Haven to Kansas City for his newfound fame and fortune.

But still I was baffled: How could a kid who had nearly as many exclamation marks in his first three tweets after being picked (nine) as he had receptions as a senior (13) be an NFL draft selection?

Slowly, his story came to light. The Wall  Street Journal recently profiled Bannon, who was discovered by relative accident about six weeks before the draft. Agent Joe Linta, who represents players such as Joe Flacco, was asked a favor by a Yale coach: Could he look at the blocking specialist?

Linta hadn't heard of him but was willing. What he saw was a legitimate athlete who appeared too good to be true. Even Bannon really had no designs on an NFL career, prepping for law school. But he wanted one more shot to make it in football, and Linta had seen enough. Law school could wait.

He hurriedly sent highlight tapes to teams in the weeks leading up to the draft, and several clubs — including the Chiefs — set up hasty visits. Still, the idea of being drafted after being on no one's radar as recently as February, was stranger than fiction.

As the draft ran into its final hour, the Chiefs pulled the trigger. This was no feel-good pick, either; they believe he has a chance. But how did Bannon slip through the cracks so long? NFL teams spend millions of dollars and tens of thousands of manhours scouring the country for talent.

"You think you have done all this work and you have so many things figured out, and then this guy pops up," Pioli, the Chiefs' general manager, said.

"He can play. He is a very intriguing player. (Chiefs assistant head coach) Maurice Carthon, who is a really tough grader, really liked (Bannon). That said a lot to me."

For Bannon, his world has changed. The fullback/H-back/tight end knows that blocking is his calling card and that he still faces long odds to make an NFL roster, especially with fullbacks becoming something of a rare species. But for now, all he is doing is basking in the glow — especially with the lockout making getting drafted all the more significant.

"It just takes that load off your back," Bannon told the Kansas City media. "I just couldn't be more excited."

Nor could I. What a great draft story.