1. Marcus Smith, DE/OLB Louisville 1. Marcus Smith, DE/OLB Louisville 1. Marcus Smith, DE/OLB Louisville

2014 NFL Draft Review: Philadelphia Eagles


Jan 17, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; A Philadelphia Eagles helmet rests on a table prior to a press conference to announce Chip Kelly (not pictured) as the new Eagles head coach at the Philadelphia Eagles NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

1. Marcus Smith, DE/OLB Louisville
2. Jordan Matthews, WR Vanderbilt
3. Josh Huff, WR Oregon
4. Jaylen Watkins, CB Florida
5. Taylor Hart, DL Oregon
5. Ed Reynolds, S Stanford
7. Beau Allen, DT Wisconsin

The Philadelphia Eagles came into the 2014 NFL Draft with some  momentum after a 10-6 debut by Chip Kelly as head coach and belief they have their quarterback in Nick Foles.  Despite the success, the Eagles had needs, especially on defense but also in needing to replace DeSean Jackson, who was let go because of his contract.  The Eagles made some great picks on offense, but the defensive picks were up and down with the makings of a pattern that could do more harm than good for Kelly.

The Eagles scrambled to sign free agent pass rushers and corners last year to fill their defense and almost none of it was fruitful.  Attacking pass rusher first, the Eagles picked Marcus Smith in the first round.  There was some rumbling that Smith might go in round one late in the process, but it was still a surprise to see him go there.

On tape, Smith showed a ton of ability and promise at Louisville.  He had a nice combination of size and more bulk than most of the rush backers that were available.  Smith was almost nonexistent at the Reese’s Senior Bowl raising questions how much of Smith’s big year was scheme and how much was Smith.  The Eagles bet on the player and grabbed him.  They did mitigate some of the hit in value by picking up an extra third round pick in a move down from 22 in a deal with the Cleveland Browns, who selected Johnny Manziel.

The expectation is that Smith will compete with the mediocre Connor Barwin for the ability to start opposite of Trent Cole.  In either case, the Eagles want more production from their pass rush, especially with their ability to put points on the board and play with a lead.

There is no avoiding the raised eye brows that come with this pick for the Eagles.  I had Smith graded as a second round pick, but there plenty of other analysts who were much lower on Smith.  More than likely, Smith will use the scrutiny as fuel and work to show everyone the Eagles were right to believe in him.

The Eagles made a great pick in the second round when they selected Jordan Matthews.  In another move that works to kill off some of the preconceived notions about what Kelly looks for in players in the NFL as opposed to college, he opted for size and strength in Matthews.  Matthews has underrated speed and quickness as well and does a great job of setting his feet before the catch, so he can make a quick move and work to maximize the catch.

To me, this pick is a steal.  I had Matthews rated as my third overall receiver.  He is a good, technical receiver that runs routes well and knows how to use his body to shield opponents from catches.  Matthews has some drops that need to be eliminated, but will also make some spectacular catches that few can.

Early reports are that Matthews is working mostly in the slot, which is something he did quite a bit at Vanderbilt.  Personally, I think he can offer that, but he does have the ability to play on the outside and may be better there.  In either case, the Eagles got someone that should be able to make an impact early, with some already talking about him as a potential offensive rookie of the year.

The Eagles went back to wide receiver in the third round and went with the first of two former players Kelly coached at Oregon in Josh Huff.  Huff, like Smith, was a reach to me, but obviously he knows what Kelly likes to do and can execute it.

Huff was inconsistent as a route runner in Eugene and was never the player he maybe could have or should have been.  At the Senior Bowl, Huff was outstanding and had a great week, competing about as hard as anyone there.  He did a fantastic job of tracking the football and making big plays.

Huff also carries the ball after the catch like a running back and shows strength and power as he fights through contact with a nose for the end zone.  He is also a terrific blocker, which is something that is critical for what Kelly wants to do, both in running the football as well as maximizing the quick passing game.  The fit makes sense, but they definitely left some value on the table.

The Eagles went with Jaylen Watkins in the fourth round to compete with some underwhelming corner depth.  Brandon Boykin has been great for them but after him, it gets dicey and the starters they have did not set the world on fire either.  Watkins was the best of the group at Florida, but that is not really saying much.

In the fifth round, they went back to Oregon and picked up Taylor Hart, the defensive lineman.  The value here was perfectly reasonable.  Hart has terrific physical tools and potential, but he does such a poor job making the most of them.  In many ways, he was a coupon rate Stephon Tuitt and they have many of the same issues.

Hart struggles in part because he gives so much away with his stance.  Often falling into a frog stance, he gets little or no get off and stands up almost immediately.  As a result, despite his strength and speed, he gives up his leverage and power right off the bat.

Similarly, Hart can get a head of steam going, but ends up so high and struggles to use his power, his speed is largely ineffective.  If the Eagles can get Hart to bend and consistently play behind his hands, he can be not only a good player but a great player.  The problem for Hart is there has been little indication that will happen.  Perhaps he will make the changes he did not make at Oregon in Philadelphia.

Later in the round, the Eagles picked up safety Ed Reynolds.  The redshirt sophomore had a lot of hype going but went nowhere near as high as some thought he would earlier in the year.  He was productive for Stanford but there were concerns that his game simply would not translate that well into the NFL.

They finished the draft by picking up Beau Allen in round seven.  Allen was a big bodied interior lineman with size and strength, but mediocre game film.  Given the depth of the nose tackle position in Philadelphia, Allen may have trouble making the final 53 and may be slated for the practice squad.

Last year, the Eagles drafted every player, from Oklahoma or further west; four of them from the PAC-12.  This year, they took two players from Oregon and then one from Stanford.  There are plenty of people arguing that this is smart, because Kelly knew the players and the talent, but this type of drafting has not really worked all that well in the past.

Butch Davis, when he was given total control of the Cleveland Browns, drafted a bunch of his own players from Miami(FL) as well as players he tried to recruit.  The result was that he came in and went with his gut feeling and selected Gerard Warren, whom he tried to recruit, over Richard Seymour.  They selected Kellen Winslow, giving up a second round pick to move up one spot to do it.  Winslow promptly screwed his own career on a motorcycle.

Among the players that Davis coached against or had at his program included William Green, Gerard Warren, Kellen Winslow(1st round) Andre Davis (2nd round), James Jackson, Lee Suggs , Ben Taylor(4th round), Andra Davis (5th round) Joaquin Gonzalez, Paul Zukauskus, Andre King (7th round).

Chip Kelly could be dead on with these picks and this could all work out for them, but this strategy has been tried and failed miserably before.  In four years, Davis selected 11 players he was supposed to have better insight into than anyone else did and the most successful of the bunch may have been Kellen Winslow despite the career altering knee injury and Andra Davis.

So far in two years, Kelly and the Eagles have picked seven in two years.  It could all work out great and the Eagles could be a perennial contender, but if it does not and Kelly ultimately runs into issues, it could back to this strategy in the draft.  The value on their picks was up and down.  Matthews was far and away the best and they did fine with Reynolds and Hart, but the rest were debatable.  The overwhelming success of the Eagles in their first year worked to cover up a number of flaws.  It remains to be seen if that will still be the case or if the NFL will adjust and cause a drop off in his sophomore campaign, which could expose weak drafting, should it work out that way.