Less than a year ago, Shane Bannon ’11 was contemplating sitting out his senior football season because of a nagging shoulder injury.
Saturday, he heard his name called in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. The 6’2”, 265-pound fullback, who many draft analysts knew nothing about even on the day of the draft, was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 223rd overall pick.
Bannon, who watched the third day of the draft at home with family and friends, said he “basically collapsed” when he received the phone call from the Chiefs.
“I’m surprised, excited, overjoyed, honored, and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this organization,” he said.
Bannon’s place in the Chiefs organization, and the fact that he was drafted at all, is something of a minor miracle. Although he started every game of the season for Yale last fall, and although he began an intense training regimen in January, he was not listed on any major scouting reports until the week before the draft.
But Bannon’s stock began to rise after he worked out at a pro day in Tolland, Conn. in March and impressed scouts with a strong mix of speed and size. Soon afterward, Bannon went through drills for agent Joe Linta in what Linta called a random workout.
“He introduced himself and seemed like a nice kid,” Linta said. “Then he ran a 4.7 40 [yard dash] and did all the drills. I watched the film and said to myself, ‘This guy is a draft pick.’”
Linta, who praised Bannon’s athleticism and ball-catching skills, shopped his client to a number of NFL teams. Bannon was involved in the process — in December, he compiled a highlight video of his games at Yale to send around. The video and Linta’s work paid off —at least eight teams, including Kansas City, ran Bannon through workouts before draft day.
“I just had to get teams to look,” Linta said. “Once they did, [Bannon] sold himself.”
Though Linta and head football coach Tom Williams said they had expected that Bannon would be drafted, the senior from Southbury, Conn. was never guaranteed to hear his name called. Yale is far from a football powerhouse, and Bannon’s fullback position is a dying one in the increasingly pass-first NFL.
But, Williams said, Bannon has the advantage of versatility, a trait professional teams covet in their draft picks. Last fall, the senior lined up alternatively as a tight end on the line, a tight end in motion off the ball, and a fullback in the backfield. He also played special teams.
Then there’s the advantage that Bannon can hit. Hard.
“He would kill people,” Ross Tucker, a broadcaster, told Sports Illustrated in reference to Bannon’s play at the Yale Bowl last fall.
Bannon’s skills should match well with Kansas City’s style of football. The Chiefs led the NFL in rushing last year, and are known as a hard-nosed team.
But Bannon is not a Chief quite yet. Because of a labor dispute in the NFL, the league’s players are currently locked out of their team’s facilities and cannot negotiate new contracts. Although Kansas City now owns the rights to sign a contract with Bannon, the team cannot yet do so.
“The next step is celebrating tonight, and enjoying the lockout starting tomorrow,” Linta said on the day of the draft. “Monday morning, [Bannon] and I, we’ll probably go look for work.”
Bannon said that all he can do until the lockout is over is stay in shape — and take the two finals he has scheduled before the end of the school year.
Once the lockout ends, Bannon is not the only Eli who is expected to sign a professional football contract. Lineman Tom McCarthy ’11 and tight end Chris Blohm ’11 are both expected to sign with teams as free agents, according to their scouting reports on SportsIllustrated.com and CBSsports.com.
Williams said that Bannon’s selection in the draft and his two teammates’ potential contracts are enormously important for the Yale football program. No other Ivy League program had a player drafted this year, and as many Elis were picked as players from storied Notre Dame.
“This validates our program in terms of two things: coaching staff and ability to develop players,” Williams said, adding. “It also validates our offseason program and how we’ve changed it so that guys can get the training and preparation not only to succeed on the field, but also give themselves chance for an opportunity like [Bannon’s].”
Bannon has indeed developed in the Yale uniform — from a freshman who had only started playing football three years before to a senior whose name is suddenly being spoken all over Kansas City sports circles.
Much of that talk on the day of the draft was confused. Many Chiefs fans had no idea who Bannon was, and commenters on at least one online message board mistook him for a football player at a university in the Canadian province of Manitoba. But Bannon said he was too caught up in conversations with members of the Kansas City organization to hear anybody bashing his name.
“I’m grateful just to be in running,” he said. “I’m excited to strap on the pads.”
Depending on how negotiations between the NFL and the players’ union progress, Bannon might have to wait to take the field again. But, when he does, Williams and Linta said they have faith that he will excel.
“My advice to him when we talked after he was picked was to shut his mouth and just work,” Williams said. “Don’t go into a camp and talk a lot. Let your actions speak loud. I think he’ll do just that.”
Bannon is the first Yale player to be selected in the NFL draft since Nate Lawrie ’04, seven years ago.