The Andy Reid All-Stars
This summer we picked back up on our "Coaching All-Stars" series, where we go through and name an all-star team of the best historical performances at every position under a specific coach. It's time to finish up our 2020 batch of coaches, and who else do we end with than the defending champion. Let's talk about the history of Andy Reid.
Andrew Walter Reid played for three years at Brigham Young University from 1978 to 1980, then served as a graduate assistant for a year before beginning a decade of wandering through the college football world coaching offensive line at four different schools. He finally arrived in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1992. He's not listed with a position for the first three years there, so I assume he did something along the lines of quality control. He was assistant offensive line and tight ends coach for two years in 1995 and 1996, then held the title of assistant head coach along with being Brett Favre's quarterback coach in 1997 and 1998.
The Philadelphia Eagles brought Reid aboard as head coach in 1999 even though he had no coordinator experience. The Eagles went just 5-11 in his first season but by his second season they had improved to 11-5 and made the playoffs (and won a playoff game). From 2001 through 2004, the Eagles went to four consecutive NFC Championship Games. They lost the first three but finally advanced to the Super Bowl during the 2004 season, Reid's best season in Philadelphia. The Eagles that year finished sixth in DVOA despite sitting most of their starters for not one but two games at the end of the regular season. They dominated the NFC in a particularly strong year for conference imbalance; no other NFC team finished the season in the DVOA top ten. However, the Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX by a final 24-21 score. Until last year, that was Reid's only trip to a Super Bowl as head coach.
The rest of Reid's time in Philadephia was up and down. The Eagles won a couple of NFC East titles but with lower records such as 10-6 and 9-6-1. After a 4-12 record in 2012, the Eagles and Reid parted ways. Technically he wasn't fired, since his contract ended at the end of that season. Kansas City very quickly hired Reid as their new head coach and he coached them to a dramatic improvement in 2013. The Chiefs went from 2-14 and dead last in DVOA in 2012 to sixth in DVOA and an 11-5 playoff season in 2013. Their total DVOA improvement of 57.6% is the biggest year-to-year improvement in overall DVOA ever measured. The Chiefs fell back to 9-7 in 2014 and missed the playoffs, but in the last five seasons the Chiefs have won at least 10 games each year and made the postseason five straight times. Last year, of course, they finally reached the pinnacle by dispatching the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, 31-20.
Andy Reid has had a long career and a lot of great players have taken the field for him. To pick a team of the best players who ever played for Reid, I used advanced stats where I could, and I also considered Pro Bowls and All-Pro appearances and overall player reputation. Thanks to our resident Andy Reid expert, Mike Tanier, for sharing some insight with me on some of those Eagles teams from the mid-2000s.
QB: Patrick Mahomes, 2018 Chiefs
RB: Brian Westbrook, 2007 Eagles
WR: Terrell Owens, 2004 Eagles
WR: Tyreek Hill, 2018 Chiefs
WR: Jeremy Maclin, 2010 Eagles
TE: Travis Kelce, 2016 Chiefs
With all due respect to Donovan McNabb, picking the quarterback season was the easiest choice for this entire team. Mahomes' 2018 season is one of only nine seasons since 1985 where a quarterback recorded at least 2,000 passing DYAR. He was near the top of the league in almost every standard stat except interceptions (12 was fairly average) and of course he had one of only three seasons in NFL history with 50 touchdowns.
The second-best season by a Reid quarterback, based on passing DYAR, was also Mahomes, this time in 2019. Third is McNabb for the 2004 Eagles, when McNabb ranked sixth in both DYAR and DVOA, easily his best season. The fourth best season by a Reid quarterback may surprise you: it was Alex Smith for the 2017 Chiefs. McNabb's 2008 season is fifth.
Brian Westbrook is also a fairly easy choice at running back; in 2007, he was one of only three running backs to lead the NFL in both rushing and receiving DYAR in the same season. (The other two: Marshall Faulk in 2000 and Thurman Thomas in 1991.) Obviously, what jumps out about Reid's running backs is how often he has employed a double threat, running and receiving. That started early on with Duce Staley, whose receiving usage peaked with 89 targets in 2001. Westbrook was a rookie the next year and helped anchor Reid's top Philadelphia offenses. Five times, a Reid running back has finished in the top ten for DYAR both rushing and receiving: Westbrook in both 2006 and 2007, LeSean McCoy in 2010, Jamaal Charles in 2013, and Kareem Hunt in 2017. Obviously, Clyde Edwards-Helaire fits the mold quite well.
Terrell Owens' 2004 season is an easy choice for our first wide receiver spot. Owens caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in only 14 games due to a broken leg and torn ankle ligament. He finished tenth in receiving DYAR but his season pro-rated to sixth if he had played 16 games. Extra bonus credit of course for coming back from his injury remarkably early and playing -- as a star, not just a decoy -- in the Super Bowl against New England. It's too bad he went kind of nutty and started doing push-ups in his driveway the season afterwards.
Even given the adjustments for era and the higher overall offensive numbers in the current NFL, the best wide receiver season under Reid (by DYAR) does not belong to Owens but to Tyreek Hill for his 2018 season. Hill caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns, then added on 151 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Hill finished fifth among wide receivers in both receiving DYAR and DVOA that season. When you add in his rushing value, he was second behind only Tyler Lockett.
I considered going with a fullback for Reid's all-star team. After all, Reid started out as a West Coast Offense guy, still using the old pro set. We could have gone with Jon Ritchie in 2003 or Anthony Sherman in 2013. But in the end, when you think about Reid, you think about spreading it out and throwing it down the field, so it seems more appropriate to go with his best slot receiver: Jeremy Maclin. Maclin had his best year in 2010, ranking 11th in DYAR and eighth in DVOA with 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns.
For tight end, it's simply a question of which Travis Kelce season you want. The top five seasons by Reid tight ends are all Kelce. In DYAR order, they go: 2016, 2019, 2017, 2018, and 2014. Brent Celek's 2009 season ranks sixth. Kelce's 2016 season had only four touchdowns but it's the only season where he ever led the league in DYAR because of a career-high 13.2 yards per reception plus a pretty hefty opponent adjustment. (He goes from 21.0% VOA to 26.0% DVOA.)
LT: Jason Peters, 2009 Eagles
LG: Todd Herremans, 2007 Eagles
C: Rodney Hudson, 2013 Chiefs
RG: Shawn Andrews, 2006 Eagles
RT: Mitchell Schwartz, 2018 Chiefs
In over 20 years of coaching, only seven Andy Reid offensive linemen have ever been chosen for the Pro Bowl at least one time. Famously, Mitchell Schwartz is not among them: Schwartz was elected All-Pro in 2018 but somehow didn't make the Pro Bowl roster that same season. The Reid linemen who have made the Pro Bowl include four left tackles (Branden Albert, Eric Fisher, Jason Peters, and Tra Thomas), one right tackle (Jon Runyan), and two right guards (Shawn Andrews and Jermane Mayberry). No left guard or center on a Reid team has ever made a Pro Bowl, although there are players who became Pro Bowl regulars after leaving Reid (Rodney Hudson) and those who became Pro Bowl regulars after Reid left the Eagles (Jason Kelce).
Only one of the Reid left tackles has ever been chosen as All-Pro, Peters in 2011. However, Football Outsiders stats suggest a different year for Peters to make our team: 2009, when the Eagles ranked eighth in adjusted line yards including third in runs listed as "left tackle." I chose Peters over Tra Thomas even though the Eagles in 2007 had even better ALY numbers running to the left side. However, we will take our left guard from that 2007 season: Todd Herremans, who started at left guard for Reid's Eagles teams from the end of 2005 until 2010 and then started at right tackle in 2011 and 2012.
At center, Hudson wasn't chosen for the Pro Bowl yet by 2013 but had certainly reached that quality. That's one of the first years for which we have blown block data, and Hudson had only eight all season. We'll choose Hudson over Eagles centers Hank Fraley and Jamaal Jackson. For the right side of the offensive line, I'm going to depend on the All-Pro voters and what they saw in a given year. That means choosing Andrews at the right guard position and Schwartz at right tackle.
DE: Hugh Douglas, 2000 Eagles
DT (DE): Chris Jones, 2018 Chiefs
DT: Corey Simon, 2003 Eagles
DE (OLB): Justin Houston, 2014 Chiefs
LB: Derrick Johnson, 2015 Chiefs
LB: Jeremiah Trotter, 2005 Eagles
Although Reid had a 3-4 defense during his first few years in Kansas City, most of his defenses have had a four-man defensive line and that's what we're going to use here. That does mean moving a couple of Chiefs players over to new positions so they better fit into our 4-3 scheme, starting with Justin Houston and his awesome 22-sack season in 2014. Houston is tied for second all-time for sacks in a single season, right behind Michael Strahan's 22.5 in 2001. Houston was also third in the league with 33 hurries that season, trailing only J.J. Watt and Von Miller.
At the other defensive end position, we have to choose between Trent Cole's best season, peaking at 12.5 sacks; Hugh Douglas' best season, when he had 15 sacks and made All-Pro in 2000; and Jason Babin's 18-sack season in 2011, his only full year in Philadelphia. Cole had a great career but his best years don't match up to the best years from Douglas or Babin's one big Philadelphia season. We don't have hurry or hit data for Douglas, but we do have run tackle data, and Douglas was much stronger against the run than Babin. Douglas in 2000 had 33 run tackles, including 11 defeats. Babin in 2011 had just 17 run tackles with only three defeats. Let's go with my former TV running mate on Numbers Never Lie, Mr. Hugh Douglas.
One spot on the interior defensive line is easy. It's not a stretch to say that Chris Jones is the best interior defensive lineman that has ever played for Andy Reid. Technically he played defensive end in his first three seasons since the Chiefs were in a 3-4 alignment, but we'll move him to defensive tackle in our 4-3 just like he moved to defensive tackle when the Chiefs went to 4-3 this past season. We're choosing his 2018 season over his 2019 season because it had more sacks (15.5 to 9.0) and more total defeats (27 to 16) although the same number of hurries (35 each year).
The other defensive tackle is a harder choice. We've got a couple of years of Dontari Poe making the Pro Bowl for Kansas City, 2013 and 2014. For the Eagles, we've got Corey Simon making the Pro Bowl for the 2003 team. Mike Tanier suggested the other defensive tackle who played alongside Simon, Darwin Walker. And there's also Hollis Thomas, who is beloved by Eagles fans but never had more than four sacks when playing for Reid. In the end, I'm going with Simon's Pro Bowl year, because he had 7.5 sacks but also had a better record against the run than Walker or Poe in their best years. Simon made his average run tackle after a gain of just 1.8 yards in 2003.
Only two Andy Reid off-ball linebackers have ever made the Pro Bowl and those are the two we're going with. We start wth Jeremiah Trotter, but which year do we go with? In 2000, he made not just the Pro Bowl but also All-Pro, so I started with that. But his best season may have been 2005, after he returned from a two-year sojourn in Washington. That was the year he made the most plays listed in the play-by-play, slightly ahead of his other seasons. He had a career-high 32 defeats, compared to just 24 defeats in 2000. And the Eagles as a team ranked in the top eight of defenses covering both tight ends and running backs that year.
Our other linebacker spot goes to Derrick Johnson. We want to pick between two Pro Bowl years, 2013 or 2015, and narrowly I'm going with 2015. He was involved in a slightly higher percentage of Kansas City's defensive plays (15.1% to 14.2%) and had slightly better charting coverage stats, finishing 12th among linebackers with a 67% success rate and 13th with 4.5 yards allowed per pass.
If we need a third linebacker for a front seven, my choice is probably Dhani Jones in 2004.
CB: Troy Vincent, 1999 Eagles
CB: Lito Sheppard, 2004 Eagles
NB: Tyrann Mathieu, 2019 Chiefs
SS: Eric Berry, 2013 Chiefs
FS: Brian Dawkins, 2006 Eagles
There are a lot of great Troy Vincent years we could choose, and Vincent made the Pro Bowl five straight seasons between 1999 and 2003. We're going to go with 1999 because the Eagles as a team had the most outstanding advanced stats. The Eagles' pass defense was third in the league that year, and ranked second in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. Vincent also led the league with seven interceptions that season.
At the other spot, based on Mr. Tanier's recommendation, I'm going with Lito Sheppard's 2004 All-Pro season over Marcus Peters and his 2016 All-Pro season. Peters had six interceptions, but Sheppard had five himself, and returned two of those for touchdowns. Unfortunately I don't have any way to break down coverage stats for him. Defense vs. types of receivers doesn't really work since Sheppard played on the left side instead of following No. 1 receivers. We didn't start charting until 2005, and the league did not start notating the direction of passes until 2005.
If we need a true cornerback to play the nickel position, we're happy to have Mr. Peters on the team. But let's go a different direction for a slot defender and choose Tyrann Mathieu. Many observers considered him a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2019. This is one position on the team where we're going with a player's reputation over advanced stats. Not that advanced stats for Mathieu in 2019 were bad, they just weren't spectacular. He ranked 13th among safeties in yards allowed per pass, and 27th in success rate in coverage. He was of course a big reason the Chiefs ranked No. 1 in safety/cornerback coverage ratio (see the Strategic Tendencies tables in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020). Kansas City ranked 12th in DVOA against wide receivers in the slot and fourth in DVOA againt tight ends.
Mathieu is one of a number of very good strong safeties who have played for Reid. Michael Lewis was a second-round pick in 2002 and made the 2004 Pro Bowl. Quintin Mikell made the Pro Bowl in 2009. But the best strong safety Reid has ever had was Eric Berry right in the peak of his career, when Berry was chosen as a first-team All-Pro in three out of four years. We'll go with Berry's season from 2013, Reid's first year in Kansas City. Berry was tied for second among safeties with 23 defeats. He had 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three picks, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Berry also ranked 11th among safeties in yards allowed per pass, and 13th in success rate in coverage.
For free safety, the choice of player is obvious, and there are a lot of Brian Dawkins seasons we can choose from. Dawkins played the entire peak of his career for Reid, from 1999 through 2008, and was elected a first-team All-Pro four different times. Without charting stats for most of his career, it's hard to pick which Dawkins year should make our Reid all-star team. Even the standard stats are a little questionable: Eagles passes defensed numbers from the mid-00s are a little weird because their official scorer used to assign a pass defensed every time a pass went over some guy's head. We'll go with 2006, when Dawkins was second among safeties with 26 defeats and had a career-high 98 total tackles.
K: David Akers, 2004 Eagles
P: Dustin Colquitt, 2015 Chiefs
RET: Tyreek Hill, 2016 Chiefs
Reid's teams have almost always been strong on special teams, with distinguished coordinators including John Harbaugh, Bobby April, and Dave Toub. Kicker David Akers was a bit of an FO binky in our early days, one of those underrated players we tried to bring more attention to. He doesn't have the best placekicking season on a Reid team by our metrics; that belongs to rookie Harrison Butker for the 2017 Chiefs, worth an estimated 11.8 points above average. However, Akers was one of the league's top kickoff men in an era when the kickoff mattered more, so we'll go with him. Akers' numbers are almost identical in 2002 and 2004, as the Eagles were second in FG/XP value (10.1 points) and third in net kickoff value (12.1 points), but Akers had better gross kickoff value in 2004 so that's the year that is represented on our Reid all-star team.
For the punter position I considered both Sean Landeta (2000-2001) and Dirk Johnson (2004) from the Eagles, but three of the top four net punting seasons by Reid teams belong to Dustin Colquitt. Kansas City's punting in 2015 comes out as being worth 16.2 estimated points of field position above average, and 19 of Colquitt's 75 punts started the next drive at the 10 or closer. (That's 25%, compared to a league average of 14%.)
Picking a single return man is tough because Reid doesn't tend to use the same player for kickoff and punt returns. In fact, in the best Reid year for total returns, there were three return men. The 2013 Chiefs had Dexter McCluster with two touchdowns on punt returns (17.2 points above average) but split the kick return job between Knile Davis and Quintin Demps who each had a return touchdown (19.8 points above average, combined). Meanwhile, the best single season at either return job was Tyreek Hill in his rookie season of 2016. He was selected to the All-Pro team and had two touchdowns with 15.2 yards per punt return, plus he shared the kick return job and returned one of those for a touchdown too. By our metrics, Hill was worth 20.6 points above average on punts and another 6.1 points on kickoffs. So even though it means putting the same player on our team twice in two different years, we're giving the return position to Hill.
What did I learn about the type of players who make an Andy Reid team? Reid has coached for so long and has coached so many players that it's hard to find roster-building strategies that are obvious throughout his entire career, or most of it. There is one very obvious one, however: Andy Reid loves running backs who have value in the passing game. It's been that way since the 1999 Eagles, when Duce Staley finished second on the team in receptions. Andy Reid teams also have always been very strong in the secondary. That starts with Philadelphia's Troy Vincent-Bobby Taylor-Brian Dawkins secondaries, continues through the young cornerbacks of 2004 (Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown) and then Reid signing players such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel in free agency. Reid inherited a strong secondary led by Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers when he came to the Chiefs. With his current secondary, the advanced charting stats are certainly better than the reputation for cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward.
As for trends that weren't as strong and obivous: Reid's teams were generally stronger at the tackles than the interior offensive line. Although he's employed some great pass-rushers such as Justin Houston, he generally hasn't drafted them himself with the exception of Trent Cole, a fantastic find in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. And like the current Chiefs, a lot of Reid's defenses have been a bit weaker at linebacker than they were in the defensive line or the secondary.
Previous coaching All-Star Teams: