Philadelphia Eagles fans expecting a wide receiver or defensive back with their first-round selection were certainly thrown for a loop. General manager Howie Roseman traded out of the 22nd overall spot, opting not to reunite Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with his almost-collegiate coach, Chip Kelly.
The Eagles moved back to the 26th spot, but then they pulled off arguably the shocker of the draft so far by taking Louisville pass-rushing outside linebacker Marcus Smith. Smith was seen by most experts as a second- or even third-round prospect (or fourth-round player, per NFL.com), and it’s surprising Philadelphia didn’t think Smith would be available later in the draft.
By taking Smith, the Eagles definitely fulfilled a position of need. Trent Cole is due to make $11.6 million in base salary in 2015, and Connor Barwin can be released after this season at little cap penalty. Brandon Graham has underachieved since being selected in the first round back in ’10, and he’s been the subject of trade rumors all offseason.
What’s interesting is that Roseman has always emphasized a best-player-available philosophy, and it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Philly had Smith as the top player on its draft board. ESPN.com graded Smith as clearly the worst of the first-round picks, finishing a distant last to Kelvin Benjamin.
Notable wide receivers still on the board included Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Cody Latimer and Jordan Matthews.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles lost out on Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett by moving back several spots. Anthony Barr was long gone. Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor were off the board, as was C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier and the top two corners, Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller.
Did the Eagles really have Smith higher than Louis Nix or Stephon Tuitt or Demarcus Lawrence or Bradley Roby or Jimmie Ward or Ra’Shede Hageman? It’s difficult to envision that was the case.
Per Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly, Kelly said there were six players the Eagles really wanted, and all were gone.
Chip said they had 6 guys in mind at 22, all were taken.— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherCSN) May 9, 2014
The problem is that it’s highly unlikely any other NFL team coveted Smith nearly as much as the Eagles.
Didinger- "I think you could have traded back 20 spots and not lost Marcus Smith."— Michael Barkann (@MBarkannCSN) May 9, 2014
Kelly deserves credit for addressing the defensive side of the ball, which was clearly the biggest need. Smith could be a good player. He’s more of an unheralded prospect who will work his way into the lineup as a rotational pass-rusher.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was a big fan of Smith, saying the following about him:
Marcus Smith is a pretty exciting edge player. The important thing ultimately is 'can this kid play?' They have Connor Barwin on one side and Trent Cole, who will turn 32 years old, on the other. In that scheme he's a perfect fit. The pick attacks an area of need for the Eagles, and they got some extra picks in the process.
Smith may be a good player. He seems to be an ideal fit for Billy Davis’ defense, and he certainly had the production at Louisville last year. It’s just difficult to think that he couldn’t have been there in the second round, probably even at pick 54.
The grade for Smith obviously does not factor in his performance because he hasn’t played. It’s an instantaneous analysis of the available players and whether Roseman reached too far. Sometimes a player of need works really well; Travis Frederick was a stretch as the 31st overall selection, but he had a really fine rookie season at center.
This grade does factor in the compensation the Eagles received from the Browns, which amounts to an extra third-round pick.