Eagles encouraged by their top pick's upside

"I feel like I can be a great player. . . . It's not all about what they project," said surprise Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith. The edge-rusher from Louisville was introduced by Birds CEO Don Smolenski (left) and head coach Chip Kelly.
"I feel like I can be a great player. . . . It's not all about what they project," said surprise Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith. The edge-rusher from Louisville was introduced by Birds CEO Don Smolenski (left) and head coach Chip Kelly. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 11, 2014

Howie Roseman had already traded down once in the first round, and he needed to determine if he would do it again. The Eagles sat at No. 26, and the Kansas City Chiefs took a pass rusher at No 23. Roseman, the Eagles' general manager, wanted a pass rusher and sensed that there would be a run on them early in the second round.

The Eagles wanted Louisville's Marcus Smith, who was the highest pass rusher remaining on their board. Smith was not one of the six players the Eagles originally targeted for the No. 22 overall pick, but the Eagles believed he was the best player left at that point and they thought they could take him at No. 26. Roseman did not think Smith would last much longer, so the team felt comfortable submitting Smith as the pick.

"We didn't want to get too greedy," Roseman said. "We didn't want to get to no man's [land] where . . . all the players that we're targeting are gone, and we're picking from the next tier."

Roseman said conversations with personnel executives around the league late Thursday night and into Friday confirmed his opinion that Smith would not have lasted another 10 picks. But that still might not assuage the perception among fans that the Eagles reached for Smith.

"I would tell them just sit back and relax," Smith said Friday. "I feel like I can be a great player. So I can come in and contribute to the team; even though I wasn't projected that high. It's not all about what they project. It's about what the coaches and [general managers] think of you. So I'll try not to let anybody down, but I just want to come in, work hard, be successful, and just help this team win."

The Eagles said they are encouraged by Smith's upside. A converted quarterback, the 6-foot-3, 251-pound linebacker is still developing at the position. Decision-makers compared it with the selection of Lane Johnson last season, when the eventual product appears considerably more promising than the current product.

"Once he learns what to do, because he's going to give you the effort and he plays with good fundamentals and techniques, he's only going to get better," said Texas coach Charlie Strong, who was Smith's coach at Louisville. "The guy's just going to get better and better. It's not that the position is new to him, but he's willing to learn and take his game to the next level."

Smith said he's not sure of what it will take before he becomes a significant performer, pledging to learn from the veterans on the roster. The Eagles need pass-rush help, but the Smith selection was not necessarily made with the intention of Smith being a major contributor in his first season.

"It's not a situation where he has to go in and play a thousand snaps this year," Roseman said. "But at the same time, [he will] have an opportunity to go compete."

The Eagles knew the risk that the six players they targeted for No. 22 could be gone. They considered moving up, but prices were too steep in certain situations, and other teams wanted to stick at their pick.

The Eagles added a third-round pick after they were left without one of their targeted players, but still drafted the player at No. 26 that they would have picked at No. 22, Roseman said. He said the Eagles like Smith more than the players who went Nos. 23, 24, and 25.

"That's one of the things that happens when you're in twenties, it's a different ball game," Roseman said. "But hopefully we'll continue to pick there and later."

The Eagles welcomed Smith on Friday and introduced him to select fans at the NovaCare Complex. Smith flew to Philadelphia without luggage - the only belongings he brought were his wallet and cellphone - and immediately flew back to Louisville, where he was set to graduate on Saturday.

He called the previous 24 hours a "dream come true," and will return to Philadelphia at the end of the week with the burden of being a first-round pick.

"We really like this player," Roseman said, "and we really like this fit for our defense."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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