Outside Linebacker. Wide Receiver. Wide Receiver. Cornerback. Defensive End. Free Safety. Defensive Tackle. That’s the order, by position, of how the Eagles’ 2014 draft unfolded. Five total defensive players, and only two offensive additions. Adding in the loss of Running Back Bryce Brown in exchange for future draft picks, and you have the draft in a nutshell. The big question facing the team now – does this draft make the Eagles a better team? As we all know, the answer isn’t that simple, and any opinions at this point are just that.
Since the Birds made their first pick of Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith, fans and analysts alike have sounded off on how uninteresting the off-season has been. The only real noise came from the DeSean Jackson departure, and the Darren Sproles pickup. Fortunately, the latter helps address the loss of Brown mentioned above. From an offensive perspective, the Iggles were stacked in most skill positions, and didn’t need much help this season. Picks 2 and 3, both wide receivers, aim to fill the gap left by Jackson. Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews appears to be a change from a Jackson-type player. While fans may still get the occasional long bomb touchdown, the offense seems to be shifting away from relying on the “long ball” to score points or get a lead. Philadelphia Eagles head coach sChip Kelly really adapted his offense to what he had. Even at the original 22nd pick, before the Eagles traded back with the Browns to 26, chatter suggested Kelly might jump at quarterback Johnny Manziel. But over this past season, with the emergence of quarterback Nick Foles, not necessarily a quarterback that fit Kelly’s traditional mold, it was evident that this offense wasn’t going to be a mirror of Oregon.
The bulk of attention from this draft focused on the defense. While last season’s defense showed marked improvement throughout the year, there were still some holes that the team needs to fill. Aside from Smith, who would figure to contribute immediately, the rest of the drafted defensive players came in Rounds 4-7 (the Birds did not have a selection in Round 6). Cornerback Jaylin Watkins has a history of health issues, but if he can stay healthy, should provide good competition and potentially a chance to have an impact on an Eagles’ secondary that needs help. Defensive End Taylor Hart is another later-round choice that has the potential to contribute his rookie season on a solid defensive line. Free Safety Ed Reynolds returned from an ACL tear in 2012 and had a productive season, and should be able to bring that productivity to upgrade the secondary as well. Finally, Defensive Tackle Beau Allen played every game of his college career, and displayed durability. With Kelly’s sports conditioning program behind these players, the hope is that they can all stay healthy and help the Eagles roster across the defensive board.
When you look back and consider this draft, there’s nothing splashy about it. There’s no Johnny Football pick. There’s no quarterback controversy. Kelly and General Manager Howie Roseman went out and picked players that fit the system they are trying to build, and picked in many cases the best player available. They now have options on a defensive that needs to take a step forward this year to help the team move farther in the playoffs. The next step in this process are the rookie camps and organized team activities leading into July and the start of training camp. Two more months, and everyone will get to see the pads come on, and the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles begin their NFC East title defense, and hopefully more. How well this year’s draft class plays out is still a question, and will be for some time. But if the most common comment is that this draft seems like the old days of Andy Reid before the “Dream Team” years, considering that period of Birds dominance in the division and the league, that’s a good sign of things to come.