Eagles go all defense on draft's final day

Jaylen Watkins. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Jaylen Watkins. (AP Photo/James Crisp) (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Posted: May 12, 2014

The Eagles spent much of the NFL draft retooling their defense, spending all four of their draft picks Saturday on defensive players to bookend a three-day process that started with Thursday's selection of linebacker Marcus Smith in the first round.

None of the picks was a head-scratcher, considering coach Chip Kelly's preference in players.

The Eagles selected Florida defensive back Jaylen Watkins to begin the fourth round, and Watkins brings the versatility that Kelly craves.

The first of two fifth-round picks was Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart, who played for Kelly in college and has the long body that Kelly likes at the position. The second fifth-rounder was Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, a big player with good instincts whom Kelly coached against in college.

The Eagles used their seventh-round pick on nose tackle Beau Allen to help fill the middle of the Eagles' 3-4 defensive alignment.

"Our board, even when we started on Thursday, when we looked at it, there were more defensive guys we had graded as draftable guys than offensive guys," Kelly said. "That's kind of how it fell."

After a third-round trade Friday, the Eagles were afforded all of Saturday morning to ponder what to do with the top pick in the fourth round. They considered making a move, but ultimately decided on Watkins.

A former top recruit who is the half-brother of No. 4 pick Sammy Watkins, Watkins can play both cornerback and safety but will start his career at cornerback. He is 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, and ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the combine. General manager Howie Roseman believed Watkins would have been drafted higher had he been fully healthy.

"I'm more comfortable at corner, but over the years, I've gotten very comfortable at safety . . .," Watkins said. "I'm very knowledgeable. I'm one of the few that can handle playing both [positions]. I did it in college, so that proves I can handle a lot of information at once."

Watkins injured his Achilles tendon at the Senior Bowl, and kept him out of positional drills at the combine and affected his pro day. Watkins insisted he would have run the fastest 40 had he been fully healthy. He impressed the Eagles, who brought Watkins to Philadelphia for a visit that included Watkins' studying of film.

The Eagles also flew Hart in for a visit, but they did not need to determine his aptitude. Since he played for Kelly at Oregon, the coach already had a good understanding of Hart and how he would fit.

"I guarantee he's going to be a step above some guys in terms of his knowledge of what we're doing already," Kelly said.

At 6-foot-6 and 281 pounds, Hart fits the prototype that the Eagles desire at defensive end. He was recruited by Kelly's staff and started three years for the Ducks, including two seasons for Kelly.

"I'm a bigger, longer kind of guy who fits a 3-4 defense," Hart said. "It's a lot of technique that goes into playing this position, and I think that's a pretty good advantage for me."

Reynolds, who is the son of the former Giants and Patriots linebacker by the same name, is 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds and was named first-team all-Pac-12 the last two seasons. Reynolds went fromsix interceptions in 2012 to one interception in 2013 while adding 40 more tackles.

"A lot of quarterbacks tried to play away from me," Reynolds said. "They tried to attack our corners, but in the end, I felt like I became a more productive overall player this past year."

Reynolds had one more year of eligibility, and the Eagles believed he would have been a higher pick had he returned to Stanford. But Reynolds, who is due to graduate this spring with a degree in political science, believed he was ready to handle the NFL.

The Eagles saw a run of nose tackles late in the draft and were hoping Allen would fall. Kelly called the 6-foot-3, 333-pound Allen a "true nose tackle" who is "cut in the same style we teach." Allen played in a 3-4 defense last season.

Kelly's second draft offered a chance to add players who fit the specifications he wants at different positions. But Kelly was sensible enough to admit it's too soon to consider the last three days a success.

"No one knows," Kelly said. "It's an inexact science. And if somebody thinks they have a formula or a metric that can get you there, I haven't seen it yet. But we feel comfortable with the direction we're going and the guys we brought in here."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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