Eagles make best of bad situation

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles president Don Smolenski and coach Chip Kelly flank first-round pick Marcus Smith.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles president Don Smolenski and coach Chip Kelly flank first-round pick Marcus Smith.
Posted: May 13, 2014

THE EAGLES showed us in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, and by the results Chip Kelly got in the 2013 season, that they have a decent handle on this personnel-evaluation business now. There is no reason to think they didn't take solid steps to improve their team with the seven selections made from Thursday to Saturday in the 2014 NFL draft, five of which were devoted to shoring up Bill Davis' defense.

Kelly was asked Saturday night about having said a year ago, when he arrived, that it would take time and effort to get all the pieces in place. How does that stand now, in the wake of his second draft?

"I know where we started. I know what we ultimately want to be. But I can't put a number, I don't know how to quantify it," Kelly said. "But we're closer than we were a year ago, I know that."

Kelly, to his credit, refused to do the usual "We couldn't believe those guys were still there, what an amazing job we did" postdraft crowing.

"Everybody says that. They do it in college after signing day. 'We had a great signing day.' Everybody after the draft - 'We got everybody we wanted, we had a great draft.' No one knows. Three, 4 years down the road, we're going to be, 'Hey, that guy turned out to be a good player.' There's going to be somebody that surprises everybody, us included," Kelly said. "It's an inexact science, and if someone thinks they have a formula or a metric that can get you there, I haven't seen it yet. We feel comfortable with the direction we're going and the guys we've brought in here, but I'm not a prediction guy nor can I say because I don't know. I don't think anybody can."

Biggest quibble from this corner: After hearing Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman talk at length about the way the draft went down, it's hard to shake the thought that they were trying to hit a first-round home run, and ended up settling for a sacrifice fly.

Odds are, 3-4 linebacker Marcus Smith, taken in the first round after the Birds moved back from 22 to 26, will not define this Eagles draft. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews has the ability to be a second-round star at least in the realm of Sheldon Brown in 2002, if not DeSean Jackson in 2008 or LeSean McCoy in 2009. The rationale about Smith still learning to be a pass rusher after coming to Louisville as a quarterback offers solid hope for his upside. And at least they didn't burn resources to trade up to take him, as the previous regime did for Jerome McDougle in 2003 and Brandon Graham in 2010.

It's clear, though, that the Eagles really wanted one of those six first-round guys they acknowledge they identified as prime targets going in. A good guess would be that they were linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, wideout Brandin Cooks, linebacker Anthony Barr, wideout Odell Beckham Jr., and corner Kyle Fuller. Maybe linebacker Ryan Shazier instead of Barr. Regardless, all went from the ninth to 21st slots, and any member of that group would have been an automatic Day 1 starter here, not a complement or a guy expected to start a year or 2 down the line.

"When you're picking later in the round, there's a lot more variables," Roseman said.

The Eagles really were stuck when, having entered Thursday evening with an all-time-low six picks, they declined to part with a third-rounder to move up to 20. (Buffalo earlier in the first round set an absurd market value for moving up, when the Bills traded first- and fifth-rounders next year to go from ninth to fourth.) New Orleans met Arizona's price, which meant the Saints moved ahead of the Eagles to take Cooks, and there was no way the Packers, drafting 21st and needing safety help as badly as the Birds did, were not going to take Clinton-Dix. Double whammy.

When the draft concluded Saturday night, Roseman talked about the point in every first round where you go from guys with first-round grades to guys with second-round grades - even in this draft, there were not 32 true first-round talents. What Roseman left unsaid was that this year, that line fell right across the Eagles' laps, at 22. They made the best of a bad situation by moving back to 26 and adding a third-round pick, 83rd overall, which they later traded for a fourth- and a fifth-rounder (101 and 141). They ended up getting Florida defensive back Jaylen Watkins and Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart with those picks.

So, basically, they got Watkins and Hart for moving back from 22 to 26 and taking Smith. Watkins and Hart ought to be factored into any future assessment of Smith, since if the Eagles had indeed moved up and nabbed one of their hoped-for half dozen, they almost certainly would not have been able to draft those two as well.

Overall, what did the Eagles glean from a draft that was said to be one of the richest ever?

In Smith (6-3, 251), they added a long, lean speed rusher, shoring up what looks like their weakest key position. In Matthews (6-3, 212) and third-round wideout Josh Huff (5-11, 206), they got two strong, physical receivers who will fight press coverage and block for the run game, two strengths Kelly considers paramount. In Watkins (5-11, 194) and fifth-round safety Ed Reynolds (6-1, 207), the Eagles got versatile, smart d-backs with good size. In fifth-round defensive end Hart (6-6, 281) and seventh-round nose tackle Beau Allen (6-2, 333), they gave defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro more size and strength, and a familiar face in Hart.

There's no doubt the Eagles feel they've upgraded their up-and-down special teams.

It is notable, though, that they didn't draft an offensive lineman, in a pretty good o-line draft, with left tackle Jason Peters (32), left guard Evan Mathis (33 in November) and right guard Todd Herremans (32 in October) all on the wrong side of 30. The Birds did sign four o-linemen among their 15 undrafted free agents announced yesterday.

"I thought we'd have some opportunities to get some o-linemen, but there was a run in the third round that was like nothing I've ever seen in my life," Roseman said. "All of a sudden we looked back up and our board was depleted, and we weren't going to reach. That hurt, because we went in thinking that we'd get some guys - I think the offensive linemen went earlier [than usual]."

Roseman said the Eagles will be looking for young 2013 o-line reserves such as Matt Tobin, Dennis Kelly and Julian Vandervelde to progress. "Especially what happened here, we need those guys to take a jump," he said.

It would have been nice to add an immediate difference-maker in the secondary, but Roseman prepared us for that, cautioning that it wasn't a good safety class after just a few names. It certainly was excruciating to see Clinton-Dix, the one guy that would have fit that bill, go one slot before the Eagles' first draft opportunity.

Though Kelly lauded Watkins' versatility, Roseman said it would be too much to ask even the most astute rookie to learn more than one position - he said the Eagles will start Watkins off as a corner, where he'll add depth behind Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin. Fletcher is only signed through the coming season.

On Saturday, all four selections were on defense, something Kelly said was "just the way it fell."

"We felt like probably it was going to [go that way], not by our design but just because of how this draft class kind of shaped up," Kelly said. "In our minds, I think there were more defensive players in it than offensive players."

Kelly talked to reporters after every selection, and the phrase "football I.Q." came up several times. Six of the seven draftees have either already graduated from college or are on schedule to graduate this spring.

"We have certain height and weight criteria that we're looking for and certain arm lengths we're looking for, and hand size we're looking for, when it comes to certain positions, and then obviously where is their football intelligence," Kelly said. "And then what is that character kind of component, in terms of what their work ethic is going to be, can you count on them every day? Are they reliable? All those other things . . . there's a lot that kind of goes into it, and then you hope that the ones you got, you'll figure out a year or 2 from now if it was a good [draft] or a bad one."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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