The expert analysts have been busy handing out grades in the wake of the NFL draft – the Eagles got a B-plus from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. – even though they have no idea how any of the college players selected in the draft will fare in the NFL. History is filled with high-round busts and low-round bonanzas and we won’t really know which is which for at least a couple of seasons.
If nothing else, we can stick a pin into the Eagles’ take-the-best-player-available balloon. General manager Howie Roseman has always made it a point of pride to say that he sticks to his big board regardless of positional need, and then the Eagles went out and took a player that most experts had rated much lower, but a player who mans a position where they need help.
Not that we’re ripping the selection, outside linebacker Marcus Smith, because, as stated previously, we have no idea how he’ll play in the NFL. He could be a perennial Pro Bowl player or he could be Brandon Graham. Talk to me in a year or two and we’ll figure it out then. Maybe Chip Kelly really is smarter than the rest of us.
Of course, if quarterback Johnny Manziel – who was selected by Cleveland with the 22nd overall pick the Browns acquired from the Eagles – ends up being a Hall-of-Famer and Nick Foles ends up a journeyman, then this will go down as one of the worst trades in Eagles history. Again, let’s talk in a couple of years.
But there is one draft-day trade the Eagles made that I don’t mind criticizing right now. I felt going into the draft that defensive tackle was a primary need because the Eagles got little or no pressure on the quarterback up the middle last season, and the Eagles did take a DT, Beau Allen of Wisconsin, in the seventh round. But it’s just a fact that seventh-round picks rarely make it big if they make it at all, and the Eagles had a chance to take one of the highest-rated defensive tackles on the board, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix, in the third round. Instead, they swapped that pick to Houston – which immediately grabbed Nix – for the Texans’ fourth- and fifth-round selections, which they used on cornerback Jaylen Watkins of Florida and defensive end Taylor Hart of Oregon, respectively.
If Watkins and Hart end up becoming long-time starters or even solid contributors, then the Eagles got two players for the price of one. But I’ve always been of the opinion that I would rather have one great player than two good players, and even though Nix probably won’t be a great player, he has a better chance of being a franchise-type foundation.
The Eagles are fortunate they don’t have to throw Marcus Smith right into the fire. It will take him time to learn to play the NFL game and the Eagles rotate their defensive players a lot, so he will get playing time without having to be a starter.
And that means the Eagles’ 2014 draft pick who will probably have the biggest impact as a rookie is their second-round selection, wide receiver Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt, the leading receiver in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
The starting wide receivers will be Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but everything else is up for grabs. Other than Matthews, the other wide receivers on the Eagles roster include Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn and Brad Smith. They were all low draft picks or rejects from other teams and Matthews will be given every opportunity to win the job as the No. 3 receiver. And for a team that passes as much as the Eagles do, the No. 3 receiver is an important job.
The Eagles also took a wide receiver in the next round, Jeff Huff or Oregon. Whereas Matthews is a big, physical receiver, Huff is a smaller, quicker player. How that translates to the NFL remains to be seen.
As for the rest of the draft picks, well, nobody knows. Some may find roles on the varsity, some will end up on the practice squad and some will be looking for work elsewhere. There are always some unknowns who sneak onto the roster and sometimes they even become stars, but for the most part they were drafted in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds for a reason. The Eagles current unofficial depth chart has seven starters who were taken in those rounds or not drafted at all, but the bulk of the lineup is filled with blue-chippers – 14 of the 22 starters were selected in the first three rounds.
In the 2013 draft – the first with Kelly as coach – four of the top five picks ended up playing significant roles – tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and safety Earl Wolff.
If the Eagles get the same kind of production and contribution from the first three or four players in this year’s draft, then it will be a success and it won’t matter what grade Mel Kiper gives them.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.