2024 NFL Draft

Sorry Nick Saban — Why Eagles' top draft pick was so loyal to Toledo

Eagles first-round pick Quinyon Mitchell had the opportunity to leave Toledo but he never even considered it.

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Eagles’ first-round pick Quinyon Mitchell is from Toledo  — but he didn’t have to be.

In the modern age of college athletics, where the transfer portal has changed all the rules, Mitchell could have left the MAC to join a Power Five school. Just about any of the top programs would have had him.

But Mitchell stayed at Toledo. It apparently wasn’t even a thought to leave, much to the dismay of recently retired Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

"He was our No. 1 guy in the portal last year to try to get him to come out of the portal,” Saban said on the NFL Draft broadcast Thursday night, “and he would never get in the portal.”

Why did Mitchell stay? 


“Money and other opportunities, they’re just not bigger than relationships,” Mitchell said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark on Thursday night in Detroit after he was drafted. “The relationships I had at Toledo were so strong. That’s why I stayed. I love those guys, I love everybody in the organization. It’s just the relationships.”

In Philadelphia, Mitchell will play for head coach Nick Sirianni, who values relationship more than most. One of Sirianni’s core values is connection so hearing a draft prospect say he passed up an opportunity to play at a major school because of relationships is probably music to his ears.

And in college, Mitchell played for Sirianni’s close friend Jason Candle, the head coach at Toledo. Candle didn’t seem too surprised to learn that Saban was after his top player.

“Well, I mean, tampering is not a new thing in college football, let’s put it that way. Apparently now we’re allowed to talk about it in the open,” Candle said with a smile in a Zoom interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia on Friday.

“Obviously, great players attract great attention from great people. No different in this case. Lucky for us, we have a very loyal guy and a guy who really is true to who he is at his core. That story should tell you a lot what you’re getting in Philadelphia. A guy that will stick to who he said he was going to be and be great where his feet are.”

Even without transferring to a major football program like Alabama, Mitchell still landed in the first round, becoming the first Toledo player to do so since defensive end Dan Williams in 1993 and the first player from the MAC since receiver Corey Davis in 2017.

As Eagles GM Howie Roseman said on Thursday night, Mitchell checked every box in the pre-draft process, first dominating at the Senior Bowl and then acing the NFL Combine.

Mitchell was able to be a first-round pick while remaining loyal to his school, which says a lot about him.

“One hundred percent,” Candle said. “He is going to buy into everything that is right. He looks inward. He doesn’t look outward. There’s not a sense of his image is more important than his character. He is about his business, he is about his work.”

Candle said that during the pre-draft process, Mitchell flew back the morning after a “30 visit” with an NFL team to join a 10 a.m. workout group in Toledo. Not many first-rounders would have done that, Candle said.

But Mitchell has been loyal to Toledo because Toledo was loyal to him. Coming out of high school, Mitchell had some issues with his grades and grayshirted in 2019. During that time, Mitchell felt like a lot of people abandoned him but the Rockets didn’t.

“Toledo just stuck with me through the whole process,” he said. “Gave me a fair chance to play ball when nobody else wanted to.

“So when the time came around, it was a no-brainer. I wasn't going anywhere, I wasn't leaving, no matter how much money or who came to offer. That's why I went to Toledo and that's why I stayed.”

Some people will question the level of competition Mitchell faced in college, but it’s important to remember he didn’t stay in the MAC out of necessity. He did so because he wanted to.

Alabama is one of the perennial winners in college football and they really wanted Mitchell. They just couldn’t have him.

“Obviously, he's got a lot to prove as a small school player,” Roseman said. “The MAC is not the National Football League. We understand that. We've had tremendous success with big schools, so to take a player like this from the MAC, he has to be special. And we think he's a special person.”

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