Don't bet on the Eagles drafting Geno Smith

West Virginia's Geno Smith could be an elite player, but Chip Kelly may find better value elsewhere. Getty Images
West Virginia's Geno Smith could be an elite player, but Chip Kelly may find better value elsewhere. Getty Images
Posted: April 01, 2013

There may be plenty of reasons the Eagles won't draft Geno Smith with the No. 4 overall pick. But Chip Kelly's belief that his offense can thrive without a franchise quarterback suggests that a team with many needs will pass on the West Virginia prospect.

Perhaps Kelly views Smith as being worth the investment. The Eagles coach would prefer to have his quarterback of the future as soon as possible, and if he considers Smith that guy, then he might as well take him with the team's first pick.

But if Kelly doesn't - Smith would have been at best the fourth-best quarterback prospect last year - then he may see greater value later in the draft. In that case, E.J. Manuel or Matt Scott, two quarterbacks already linked to the Eagles, would make more sense.

Kelly stated two weeks ago at the NFL owners meetings that his system doesn't require a Tom Brady-like quarterback "because we didn't have a traditional marquee quarterback at Oregon."

While it may be a mistake to assume what worked at the collegiate level will work in the pros, in Kelly's eyes, the NFL is "still 11 on 11" football. Whether it's Michael Vick, Nick Foles, or a yet-to-be-drafted quarterback, Kelly said that his hurry-up spread offense will score points.

Kelly's preference, of course, is to have an elite quarterback, but "if you don't have a franchise quarterback," he said, "you just can't throw your hands up before the game and go, 'We don't have Tom Brady, so we're screwed today.' "

Finding the next Brady or a quarterback of comparable skill is a 10 on the degree-of-difficulty scale. Kelly knows he doesn't likely have one in Vick, Foles, or anyone available in the draft. So on he must go.

Kelly noted the obvious importance of the position, but he isn't going to mortgage the future and the next several years if he isn't completely sold on Smith. He wouldn't be the only one. Two NFL general managers recently said that they do not rank any of the quarterback prospects with a first-round grade.

That doesn't mean Smith or Southern California's Matt Barkley or several others won't be taken that early. Drafting quarterbacks in the first round doesn't handcuff teams as much as in the past because of the rookie salary structure, and those in need of starters generally reach for the position.

The Eagles, though, may be more apt to use the No. 4 pick to address needs on both their defensive and offensive lines. And Kelly should have enough of a grace period to draft a less-heralded quarterback and develop him as needed.

Manuel worked out for Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor in Tallahassee, Fla., on Thursday. Before opting to go to Florida State, Manuel was recruited by Oregon.

"I like E.J. I knew him coming out of high school," Kelly said. "I thought he had a really good career at Florida State. Big, tall, physical, athletic specimen."

The 6-foot-5, 237-pound Manuel has "risen" up draft boards, according to some draft analysts. Many predict he'll be drafted in the second round, possibly as early as the late first round. The Eagles hold the third pick (35th overall) in the second round.

Manuel put up solid passing numbers - he completed 263 of 387 passes for 3,397 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions - and ran for an additional 310 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He also helped guide the Seminoles to a 12-2 record as his mother underwent cancer treatments, something Manuel kept secret for most of the season.

If not Manuel, the Eagles could target Scott a few rounds later. The Arizona quarterback paid the team a visit earlier this month and could be the ideal candidate to play in Kelly's offense.

"I like him," Kelly said. "Good, athletic quarterback. Good kid, competitor."

The 6-2, 213-pound Scott, who followed Foles as the Wildcats' primary starter, completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 3,620 yards and tossed 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions last year. He also rushed for 506 yards and six touchdowns.

Kelly has warned against typecasting his offense and has insisted that he will suit his scheme to the best quarterback and his skill-set - as he said he did at Oregon.

"If you've got a good coaching staff, that's what you do," Kelly said. "The best example in the NFL is John Fox. A year ago he had Tim Tebow and went to the playoffs. Now he has Peyton Manning and runs an entirely different offense and went to the playoffs. When you're good, you adapt to who you have."

Much was made of the Eagles brass - with special guest Jeffrey Lurie along for the ride - working out Smith in Morgantown a few weeks back. But for a coach who keeps his cards close to his chest - Kelly won't even reveal what his defensive front seven will generally look like - the team's openness about the trip is suspicious.

Maybe Kelly genuinely likes Smith. More than likely the trip was a mirage, and the Eagles will pluck some nontraditional, non-marquee quarterback whom Kelly believes he can still win with.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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