Akron Zips football is relatively new to the MAC, at least in comparison to the majority of their companions in the league. In fact, the Zips have only been part of the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) for 27 years.
For this reason (among others), the Zips do not have a lengthy history of players selected in the NFL Draft. However, some of those who have been taken went on to make important impacts in the professional ranks.
The Zips celebrated their first draft selection in 1941 and did not have another for 26 years. They had four more in the late 1960s, but each of those first five players were selected very late in those drafts and never saw any real NFL action.
After Ken Delany in 1969, it took another 18 years before Akron had another player drafted. Finally, the drought ended in 1987, which was also their first year in the FBS. The Pittsburgh Steelers took tight end Chris Kelley in the seventh round that year. Kelley did not make it with the Steelers, but he did catch on briefly with the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns made the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year in 1987, and Kelley made a small contribution to that effort. In the Browns' fourth game of 1987, he caught a pass off a botched extra point attempt for a one-point conversion in Cleveland's 20-10 win over New England.
The Zips did not have another player selected for six years.
The next time an Akron name was called was in 1993, just one year after the Zips formally became a member of the Mid-American Conference. Kicker Daron Alcorn was drafted in the eighth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he never officially played in a game.
Another four years went by before Akron could claim another draftee, but that next player would prove to be their biggest NFL star. The Miami Dolphins took defensive end Jason Taylor with the 13th pick in the third round of the 1997 draft. When he entered the NFL, Taylor's height and weight combination (6-6, 255) made him small by pro standards for the defensive line, and many questioned whether Taylor could be successful.
Taylor was not just successful; he may ultimately be honored with enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played 15 seasons, including 13 for Miami. He appeared in 233 games and started 199, and in the eight years from 2000-2007, he played and started all 128 games.
During his 15 seasons, Taylor compiled some eye-popping numbers. He earned 139.5 sacks and had six seasons of at least 11. In 2002, he led the NFL with a monstrous 18.5 sacks. He forced 46 fumbles and recovered 29, and he produced eight career interceptions. Taylor scored nine touchdowns and also produced three safeties. He was named to six Pro Bowl squads and was the 2006 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the All-2000s second team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Taylor retired in 2011 and thus is not yet eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. However, once he is eligible, he ought to receive serious consideration. He was one of the best defensive players, regardless of position, of his generation.
Despite all his accolades, Taylor never made it to the NFL's pinnacle, the Super Bowl. Akron's next draft selection not only made it, he made one of the biggest impacts in the game's history. Dwight Smith, a defensive back, was selected in the third round of the 2001 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He ultimately played in eight seasons, but his whole career can be boiled down to one Super Bowl.
Smith played sparingly in 2001 and appeared primarily as a kick returner on special teams. During his second season, he was still unable to break into the starting lineup of an already-established strong defense. However, he saw much more action as a reserve defensive back in 2002 and ultimately produced four interceptions and 39 tackles. In the playoffs, he helped the Buccaneers advance with an interception during a 31-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bucs earned a spot in Super Bowl XXXVII, and Smith had his biggest game on the league's biggest stage. In the third quarter, Smith intercepted Oakland Raiders' quarterback Rich Gannon and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown and a 34-3 lead. At the end of the game, Smith picked off another Gannon pass and brought it back for a 50-yard touchdown. That return made Smith the only player in Super Bowl history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same Super Bowl.
Smith parlayed that success into a starting job that lasted five seasons. He played two more seasons in Tampa Bay, during which he started all 32 games and intercepted a total of eight passes. He was a starter for the New Orleans Saints in 2005 and then for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 and 2007. Smith wrapped up his NFL career by playing 10 games for the Detroit Lions in 2008. He finished his career with 22 interceptions.
|AKRON ZIPS DRAFT HISTORY|
|Daron Alcorn||K||1993||8||224||Tampa Bay|
|Dwight Smith||S||2001||3||84||Tampa Bay|
|Andy Alleman||G||2007||3||88||New Orleans|
The Tennessee Titans drafted wide receiver Jake Schifino in 2002 during the fifth round. Schifino was not active for the 2002 season but was one of the Titans' primary kick returners in 2003. He played one game in 2004 before bowing out of the NFL.
Akron has had only one quarterback drafted by an NFL team. Unfortunately, that quarterback has the dubious distinction of being among the long line of failures at the position by the Cleveland Browns. The Browns called the name of Charlie Frye during the third round of the 2005 draft.
Frye started the final five games of his rookie season and gave the team some glimpses of hope. His debut as a starter was a 20-14 loss to playoff-bound Jacksonville, but he threw for 226 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in that game. His other four starts included a road win over Oakland, a season-ending victory against Baltimore, and a three-point loss at 2005 AFC North champion Cincinnati.
Frye's journey as the Browns' starter continued in 2006. He was the lead signal-caller in the team's first 12 games, but he started 1-5 and never really recovered. He ultimately finished 4-9 as a starter that season. He completed over 64 percent of his passes, but he averaged just 6.24 yards per attempt and had a very poor touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10 to 17.
After that season, Frye's career went downhill fast. He started (and lost) one game for Cleveland in 2007 before he was let go. Frye caught on with Seattle and stayed with the Seahawks through 2008 before he moved on to the Oakland Raiders in 2009. His final three NFL games were starts in the final three games of that 2009 season. One of those included a 23-9 loss at Cleveland during which he threw three interceptions.
Akron produced another draftee in 2006 when wide receiver Domenik Hixon was taken by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round. Hixon stuck with the Broncos through the early part of the 2007 season but was released after four games. He immediately caught on with the New York Giants, and it immediately paid off for both parties.
Hixon played primarily on special teams in 2007 but had a kickoff return for a touchdown in the regular season finale. He returned five kickoffs for 121 yards in the NFC Championship and had a key fumble recovery late in that game. He returned two kickoffs in Super Bowl XLII as the Giants won their first championship in 17 years.
Hixon was never able to develop into a starter but has displayed enough talent to keep himself in the NFL. He caught 43 passes for 596 yards and two touchdowns in 2008. Hixon then suffered a torn ACL prior to the 2010 season and missed the entire year. He tore an ACL again after just two games of the 2011 season, but he received another Super Bowl ring when the Giants won the title again in Super Bowl XLVI. Hixon returned in 2012 and caught 39 passes for 567 yards and two touchdowns. He played for the Carolina Panthers in 2013 and is currently signed to play for the Chicago Bears in 2014.
Two other players from Akron have been drafted since Hixon. Andy Alleman, an offensive guard, was picked in the third round of the 2007 draft by New Orleans, while defensive back Reggie Corner was drafted in the fourth round by Buffalo in 2008. Alleman played in 24 games and started in seven for Miami and Kansas City over two seasons before leaving the NFL. Corner stayed in Buffalo for his entire four-year career. He had 13 career starts, including eight in 2009, and intercepted two passes with the Bills.
It's now been six years since the Zips have had a player taken in an NFL Draft. Will one of Terry Bowden's boys end that streak in 2014?