Imagine it’s Christmas Day and you rush downstairs to open your presents, only to find wrapping paper and a lot empty boxes under the tree. Most of the highly anticipated toys were taken by someone else, however there are a few gifts with your name on them still waiting for you. When you open them, you find they aren’t the “hot”gifts of the season, but they are toys you will get usage out of none the less. This scenario might be a description of the Philadelphia Eagles 2014 draft so far.
The first round selection of Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith fills the dire need of an edge rusher for a defense that struggled to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In evaluating Smith I see a player that should be able to make the transition to outside linebacker in the Eagles 3-4 defensive scheme. At 6’3 and 251 pounds he has the size to play the position, and played as a stand up rusher at times during his college career. I really like his motor, as he is consistently relentless in his pursuit. Smith also has a good first step, with initial quickness that allows him to get the corner on offensive linemen. He has shown some versatility, both rushing from the edge and from an inside linebacker position off of twists and stunts. Although not asked to do much in coverage in college, Smith looks comfortable in his drops, and showed some ball skills at his pro day. I think there may be a learning curve, as he needs to improve his ability to hand fight, and work on an inside counter-move, but he should be the eventual replacement for current Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. Smith is not the sexy pick, but he does fill a need and should be a platoon player with Cole and add a dynamic to a much improved special teams unit in his rookie campaign.
In the second round the Eagles addressed another glaring need by taking Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Although I had two other receivers rated ahead of him that were still on the board, Matthews could be a perfect fit for Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. He has prototypical size at 6’3 and 212 pounds, and great hands in traffic. Matthews has what I call acrobatic hands, meaning he is able to make grabs with less than ideal hand placement when a defensive back is trying to deny him. This skill is vital for his success as he has decent speed, but is not a guy that will get a ton of separation. He is more of a possession receiver that is not afraid to go over the middle. Matthews is a long strider and not an explosive athlete. He is a willing blocker, and is a decisive runner after the catch. I would like to see more physicality when playing against smaller cornerbacks, as he can go down too easy at times. Although not a game breaker, he should project as a solid number two receiver eventually. He has pedigree as he is a cousin of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Chip Kelly then turned around and made a surprise pick in Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff. I call it a surprise pick but it could also be called a reach. However, Chip obviously had a goal of reinventing what his wide receiver corps consisted of, beginning with the dismissal of former Eagle Desean Jackson, and now the drafting of two young pass catchers early in the 2014 draft. And if anyone knows Chip Kelly’s offense, obviously Huff will be extremely comfortable making the transition as he was very productive under Coach Kelly at the University of Oregon. When I watched tape on him I saw a fast-twitch athlete with sudden explosion. Huff is a very good route runner with the ability to maintain his speed in and out of his breaks. What really impressed me was his understanding of coverages and the ability to alter his routes and stems based off his diagnosis on the fly. That is rare for a young receiver. Huff gets decent yards after the catch, and has a good feel for finding seams in zones. Even though he is not a tall receiver he can be a red zone threat as he has a great feel for getting open in tight quarters. He does seem to end up on the ground a lot though, as he dives for more balls than he needs to. This may be due to quarterback accuracy issues, but it is a concern as it could hamper his ability to maximize big plays. This pick by the Eagles further stamps Chip Kelly as the face of the franchise, and fulfills his promise to this determined young man that he has an obvious affinity for. He should be a solid contributor in the slot and on special teams as a return man as well.
All in all, these three picks could all be considered slight reaches depending on your perspective. However they addresses vital needs and really inject the Chip Kelly DNA into the future of this franchise. It will be interesting to see what comes next, as there are still holes to fill in the secondary, and possibly depth to add to the offensive line. So far though, you would be hard pressed to find too much fault with the selections, even though there were other toys on the wish list.