Since the first NFL Draft was held in 1936, there have been 52 players from Penn selected to play in America’s top football league. The Daily Pennsylvanian has decided to take an in-depth look at these players and examine when they were selected and how successful their professional careers were.
This chart shows how many players have been selected in the NFL Draft after playing football for the Quakers. The first player ever selected was Francis "Franny" Murray, who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1937 NFL Draft.
Since the NFL was only made up of 10 teams at the time, he was a second-round pick despite being selected 11th overall. That same year, Bill Kurlish was selected in the fourth round by the Brooklyn Dodgers, making it the first of 12 drafts, all between 1937 and 1954, in which multiple Quakers were selected.
The most recent selection was current Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Justin Watson. After a wildly successful career at Penn from 2014 to 2017, including three consecutive first team All-Ivy honors, Watson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft by the Bucs.
There have also been two Quakers selected in the Draft's first round. In 1948, running back Anthony “Skippy” Minisi was selected second overall by the New York Giants. Despite being an early selection, Minisi retired after just a single season.
The other player selected in the first round was Chuck Bednarik. Bednarik became the first of only two Ivy League players to be selected first overall in their sport’s draft — the top pick in the 1974 MLB Draft was Brown's Bill Almon — when he was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the opening pick of the 1949 Draft.
The 1940s was the most successful decade in Penn football, with the Quakers going 57-21-4 from 1940 to 1949. The Red and Blue managed to crack the AP top 10 at some point during each of those seasons, and finished within the top 25 six times. This led to 31 Quakers being drafted over this 10-year period, with seven drafts seeing multiple players selected.
This chart shows the round that these players were selected, as well as which year they were chosen. The blue dots represent players who ended up having professional careers, while the players represented by the grey dots were selected but never played professionally. In addition, the size of the blue dots is representative of the length of the player’s career, with larger dots being the players with longer careers.
The player who was selected with the highest pick but did not play in the league was running back Bob Odell. Odell was selected in the second round of the 1944 NFL Draft with the 15th overall pick, after a historic season in which he won the Maxwell Award as college football’s best player. Odell served in the Navy immediately after he was selected, delaying the start of his career. While in the Navy, Odell injured his knee while playing basketball, ending his playing career before he even appeared in a single game.
The Quaker with the longest NFL career is Bednarik, who played 14 seasons, all with the Philadelphia Eagles, during his Hall of Fame career. Bednarik was named the 35th best player of all time in the NFL Network’s 2010 list of the top 100 NFL players of all time.
Another player drafted in this time period who enjoyed a long NFL career was Frank Reagan. Selected in the third round with the 22nd overall pick in the 1941 draft, Reagan went on to play seven seasons for the Eagles and Giants, and was a part of the Eagles' 1949 championship team. His seven NFL seasons played are the second-most of any Quaker, tied with Jim Finn and Brent Novoselsky.
The storied football program at Penn has produced great NFL players for decades. Despite having only two players selected in the draft this century, some Quakers have entered the league as undrafted free agents, including current NFL players Greg Van Roten and Brandon Copeland. The program looks to continue to produce NFL players in the future, whether they enter the league through the draftees or as undrafted free agents.
Daily Pennsylvanian Analytics staffers contributed research for this story.