Philadelphia Eagles: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
Despite general manager Howie Roseman’s insistence in the months leading up to the draft that the Eagles would take the best-player approach, it seems like a legitimate question.
After all, could it really be a coincidence the front office exclusively addressed each one of the roster’s most immediate question marks—practically in order—and not a single thing else? Not even one or two areas that were only a need based on future consideration?
Not that it’s bad that the front office is trying to fix the problems or for that matter that the players the Birds ultimately decided on were the wrong ones. Quite the contrary, this has all the appearances of a very solid draft class.
It’s also true that by possibly going out of their way to fill specific holes, they didn’t necessarily get the most value at every pick.
So what does it all mean? For starters, let’s take a look at the class as a whole, from best selection to worst, to the undrafted free agents who were signed in the draft’s aftermath. Then we can attempt to decipher what it all means for the future of the Eagles franchise.
Round 1, Pick No. 26: Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
Round 2, Pick No. 42: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 3, Pick No. 86: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
Round 4, Pick No. 101: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
Round 5, Pick No. 141: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
Round 5, Pick No. 162: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Round 7, Pick No. 224: Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin
There was a lot of confusion in the moments that followed the announcement the Eagles had chosen Marcus Smith. Most predraft rankings had the AAC 2013 Defensive Player of the Year listed as a second- or third-round pick, prompting many to conclude he was a reach.
While it’s true Philadelphia’s greatest need was probably at outside linebacker, where Trent Cole, nearing age 32, is a likely cap casualty in 2015, calling Smith a reach probably isn’t accurate. With so few quality pass-rushers in the draft, there’s no way he would’ve lasted to the club’s second pick, scheduled for No. 54 overall.
The rankings were not without merit. Smith only had one good season at Louisville, granted he racked up 14.5 sacks, but against subpar competition. That being said, Smith’s athleticism and versatility made him a perfect fit for 3-4 schemes, so somebody would’ve gambled on that if the Eagles hadn’t.
And in all honesty, after obtaining a third-round pick from the Cleveland Browns at No. 26—or even had the Eagles stayed put at No. 22—who was a can’t-miss prospect at that point?
Then the organization filled the crater left behind from the unorthodox release of DeSean Jackson by drafting consecutive receivers.
Jordan Matthews will operate out of the slot as a rookie, but his combination of size and speed projects well for a No. 1 receiver at some point in the young man’s future. Josh Huff doesn’t have near the upside—or much of a role, for now—yet if nothing else, his presence reduces the chances there will be a crisis at wideout should multiple players depart or succumb to injury.
Jaylen Watkins may be the most underrated selection of the draft in Philadelphia. Cary Williams will be 30 and could be a cap casualty in ’15, the final year of his deal. Bradley Fletcher is scheduled for free agency next offseason. With one or both starting cornerback jobs potentially vacant within one season, who was supposed to play there?
Watkins can also play safety, as can fifth-round pick Ed Reynolds. The Eagles owned the last-ranked pass defense in the NFL last season, so regardless of where they’re lining up, you can’t argue with adding competition to the mix.
The organization also seemingly solved its troubling depth issues along the defensive line. Taylor Hart will probably never be a star, but head coach Chip Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro know exactly what they’re getting, seeing as they coached the kid at Oregon. Meanwhile, Beau Allen theoretically solves the lack of any realistic option behind Bennie Logan at nose tackle.
Best Pick: Jordan Matthews
The Eagles could’ve taken Jordan Matthews with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, and few people would’ve batted an eye. Instead, they waited—then pounced on Day 2.
Philadelphia traded a fourth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans to move up 12 spots in the second to select Matthews. That might sound expensive, but the Eagles had already gained an extra pick in exchange for moving down in the first. Plus, it helps they picked up a very talented player in the process.
Matthews has the total package. At 6’3”, 212 pounds, he provides quarterback Nick Foles with a big, strong target on the outside. Matthews runs well for his size as well, clocking a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash.
The production backs up the measureables. Over the past two seasons alone, Matthews racked up 206 receptions for 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns. This is at Vanderbilt, in the SEC, going against some of the toughest competition college football has to offer.
Oh, and he doesn’t carry the same prima donna attitude that led to DeSean Jackson’s exodus out of Philadelphia. Scouting reports describe Matthews as a team captain and a professional.
Given that wide receiver was one of the club’s biggest needs, in conjunction with the fact that Matthews easily could’ve come off the board in Round 1, the value here was tremendous. He is a great pick by the Eagles who should be able to come in and begin contributing immediately.
Worst Pick: Josh Huff
It’s not that the Eagles couldn’t use two wide receivers. Entering the draft, there wasn’t a single dependable option behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the depth chart. Furthermore, only Cooper is under contract beyond 2014.
That being said, was the situation so dire it required two picks in the first three rounds to address it? Matthews is projected to become an eventual starter. Maclin can always re-sign. The roster is not completely devoid of talent behind them, plus running back Darren Sproles and tight end Zach Ertz often function as receivers.
Twenty more wideouts heard their names called after Josh Huff. Considering he could potentially wind up spending the first few years of his career as a reserve, why not wait?
Huff’s measureables are relatively ordinary as well. At 5’11”, 206 pounds, he has only adequate size. With a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, according to NFL.com, he has only adequate speed. And with 144 receptions for 2,366 yards and 24 touchdowns, he had only a mildly productive college career.
If Maclin is gone a year from now, taking Huff when they did might look a lot better. Yet even then, his upside at the next level is as a No. 2 or No. 3 at best. In a class of wide receivers as deep as this year’s, the Eagles could’ve found that later.
Undrafted Free Agents
Josh Andrews, OG, Oregon State
A three-year starter at Oregon State, Andrews has a legitimate shot to crack the 53-man roster as a developmental prospect seeing as the Eagles failed to come away with a guard in the draft. Starters Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are both into their 30s; their decline inevitable.
Blake Annen, TE, Cincinnati
Annen ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, which is out of this world for a tight end. He needs to bulk up a bit, but size (6’4”, 247 lbs) won’t be an issue after a year in an NFL conditioning program. He only recorded 19 career receptions at Cincinnati, though, so there’s really no telling what the Eagles have here.
Karim Barton, OG, Morgan State
Barton was a three-year starter at right tackle for Morgan State, but he is projected to play guard in the NFL. Aside from a position change, he must also prove he can handle the level of competition coming from a Division I-AA program. It's a bit of a long shot to make the team.
Kadron Boone, WR, LSU
LSU sent three wide receivers to the NFL in this year’s draft alone, including two in the first two rounds. Surrounded by all that talent, Boone saw little playing time in college. Climbing a depth chart in the pros won’t be any easier. He would have to really stand out on special teams to earn a roster spot.
Trey Burton, TE, Florida
At 6’2”, 224 pounds, Burton sounds less like a tight end and more like a slot receiver. He lined up all over the field at Florida, from tight end to wideout to running back—even at quarterback. Amassed 1,696 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in four seasons with the Gators. At some point, though, too much versatility becomes another way of saying a player lacks any position at all.
David Fluellen, RB, Toledo
A strong between-the-tackles runner, Fluellen is coming off of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Toledo. He has demonstrated the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well, but he won’t burn defenses with it. Chances of making the 53-man roster could be dependent upon how many backs the team carries.
John Fulton, CB, Alabama
Purely a reserve cornerback at Alabama, it’s hard to imagine Fulton has any chance at playing the position in the pros. More likely, he’s trying out exclusively for a role on special teams, which is a tough way to go about cracking any roster.
Kevin Graf, OT, USC
A three-year starter at USC, Graf’s scouting report indicates his only position in the NFL is right tackle. As of now, journeyman Allen Barbre is probably the Eagles’ primary reserve at close to every position along the offensive line. In the event there are multiple injuries, it would be helpful to develop options, even if they have limitations.
Donald Hawkins, OG, Texas
Hawkins was a two-year starter at left tackle with Texas, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior. At 6’4”, 295 pounds, he’s a little light to play on the outside at the next level. The Eagles will try him out at guard, because that’s where the need exists.
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
A back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher at Missouri, Josey led the nation in 2012 with 8.1 yards per carry. He only recorded 24 receptions in three seasons, though, which might make him a bit of a curious fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. There might be a roster spot available at running back, but only if the player is versatile.
Wade Keliikipi, NT, Oregon
Damion Square held the backup job to nose tackle Bennie Logan last season, which based on his limited playing time, would’ve been a disaster had Logan ever been unable to go. The drafting of Beau Allen and subsequent signing of Keliikipi suggests the front office understands just how thin the Eagles were.
Daytawion Lowe, S, Oklahoma State
The safety position is suddenly very crowded in Philadelphia. Fifth-round pick Ed Reynolds joined a group that consists of Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Chris Maragos has a roster spot based on special teams, but should Allen get beaten out for a starting job and Lowe impresses, there’s an in.
Frank Mays, DE, Florida A&M
He’s 6’9”, 291 pounds, and you get the feeling that’s the only reason he’s here. Mays has accomplished little, even by Division I-AA standards. At least, he’s the prospect we know the least about, so it’s difficult to see any other angle here.
Quron Pratt, WR, Rutgers
PhiladelphiaEagles.com notes Pratt was a special teams standout at Rutgers, notching a blocked punt and kick-return touchdown his senior season. He only had one career receiving touchdown as a receiver, though, so it seems unlikely he would ever carve out a role on offense.
Carey Spear, K, Vanderbilt
Of all the undrafted free agents the Eagles signed, Spear is the odds-on favorite to land a job. Alex Henery’s accuracy on field goals and all-around leg strength have come under scrutiny. There will be a competition, but from what we’ve seen of Henery, I like the rookie’s odds.
Signings courtesy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com.
What’s Next for the Philadelphia Eagles?
The Eagles didn’t come away with a ton of immediate help in the draft. But then that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
The Eagles didn’t have “holes,” per se. They had aging players filling key roles. They had starters who could stand to be upgraded. They had depth issues in several areas.
What they didn’t have were many—perhaps any—spots where a rookie would’ve been expected to start, and quite a few more where new contributions would be limited or almost nonexistent.
This draft wasn’t so much about acquiring immediate help, which can be hard to do with the No. 22 pick anyway, where the Birds were originally scheduled to select. It was about continuing to build for the future.
I know that isn’t what Philadelphia fans want to hear after a 10-6 in season, especially one where the team won an NFC East Championship and was a last-second field goal away from advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. But it is the truth.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t improve. Everybody the Eagles drafted looks the part of a football player with good potential. Most can play multiple positions and have extensive experience on special teams. Generally speaking, they’re some combination of big, strong, athletic, intelligent and hard-working leaders. More than one has NFL bloodlines.
In short order, those aging players I spoke of, they will be replaced. The ones who weren’t cutting it, they’ll be replaced, too. And improved depth means there’s less chance the coaching staff will ever be caught with their pants down in the event of an injury or somebody simply not working out.
This class should provide a lot of the foundation for that. A lot of needs were filled over the weekend. It could take a year or two for most of these players to see the field, but they’ll get there eventually. Give this class time and I believe it’s going to impress.
All scouting combine results via NFL.com's results tracker.
Undrafted free-agent signings are courtesy of CBSSports.com.
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