Eagles trade down, take linebacker Marcus Smith in draft

Posted: May 10, 2014

The Eagles surprised some by trading out of the No. 22 slot and back four spots in the first round of the NFL draft. But they saved the shocker for what came next, when they selected Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith with the 26th overall pick late Thursday night.

Defense was thought to be the more pressing need for the Eagles after they finished last season with the 29th-ranked unit. The Birds' pass rush ranked 31st in sacks per pass play, and Smith recorded 141/2 sacks last season.

But the 6-foot-3, 251-pound edge rusher was viewed by some scouts and draft analysts to be a second-round talent. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock had Smith rated as the 53d best overall prospect in the draft.

The Eagles, of course, may not see it that way. Asked if he thought he would be chosen in the first round, Smith said he wasn't sure.

"I had a feeling that I would, but I didn't know exactly," Smith said during a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters. "I thought that maybe I was looking at early second, maybe even the third round. But I'm just so happy the Eagles took a chance on me."

The Eagles passed on Southern Cal wide receiver Marqise Lee and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, two players many had ticketed for the Eagles. And when they were on the clock at 22, quarterback Johnny Manziel was available.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said the Eagles had narrowed it down to six prospects at their original spot and intimated that all were gone. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 12) and Brandin Cooks (No. 20), safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 21) and Calvin Pryor (No. 18), cornerback Kyle Fuller (No. 14), and outside linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 9) were believed to be on the Eagles' radar.

"I guess, unfortunately for us, there were other people in the league that liked the same six guys we did," Kelly said. "When we got there - a lot of people calling."

Kelly once recruited Manziel to Oregon (he backed out and eventually went to Texas A&M) and recently praised the smallish quarterback. But the Browns called - among other teams, according to Kelly - and the Eagles swapped picks with Cleveland and also picked up a third-round pick.

Lee and Roby were still around at 26, but Kelly said Smith was the Eagles' guy, especially after they moved from 22 to 26.

"I think he's an outstanding athlete," Kelly said of Smith. "He actually got recruited to Louisville as a quarterback. . . . He's a big kid. He's transitioned into the outside-linebacker position. I think he has a huge upside."

Smith played both as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end and a standup outside linebacker at Louisville. Kelly said he saw him up close last season when Louisville played Temple at Lincoln Financial Field.

Kelly has stressed having long defenders in his 3-4 defense. Smith isn't as tall as UCLA's Anthony Barr (6-5, 255 pounds), who went to the Vikings with the No. 9 pick, but he has long, 34-inch arms.

"Long levers are strong levers," Kelly said, repeating a motto he's often used when discussing the importance of arm length for defensive players.

Kelly added that Smith could drop into coverage, as well. The Eagles have Trent Cole and Connor Barwin returning at outside linebacker, but Cole will be 32 in October and Barwin is more of a jack-of-all-trades defender. There were several games last season when opposing quarterbacks had too much time in the pocket.

"We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us - a young kid to bring in behind Trent and Connor," Kelly said. "Those guys can teach him the ropes and bring him along and show him what we can do. I think his ceiling is very, very high."

Manziel was drafted with the No. 22 overall selection in the NFL draft, except it wasn't the Eagles who picked the freewheeling former Texas A&M quarterback. The Browns traded up from the No. 26 pick and into the Eagles' spot to get Manziel. Some thought that Kelly and the Eagles would pull the trigger and get the Texas native whom the coach once recruited to Oregon. But with Nick Foles in house, there was no need to add another quarterback.

The Eagles received a 2014 third-round pick (83d overall) from the Browns for the No. 22 selection. They had six picks - one in every round except for the sixth - before the trade.

The Eagles had several options at No. 22 that could have conceivably helped their offense or defense. Lee seemed like the most obvious choice. Kelly saw him up close in college.

Roby and Darqueze Dennard were also available. But the Eagles moved back and could have conceivably still landed any of those players.

Cooks had to be high on the Eagles' board, but the Saints moved up into the 20th spot after trading with the Cardinals and took the Oregon State wide receiver. Many looked at Cooks as a DeSean Jackson clone, but other than his size (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) and speed (4.33-second 40-yard dash), there were many differences.

Eagles fans who wanted their team to pick a safety in the first round lost out on that possibility when the Packers plucked Clinton-Dix of Alabama at No. 21.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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