How Will Philadelphia Eagles Use Their Rookies in 2014?

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How Will Philadelphia Eagles Use Their Rookies in 2014?
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Chip Kelly's second NFL draft is finally complete. The reigning NFC East division champions started with six picks but added one more this year and one more next year through a couple of draft-day trades. 

The Eagles' seven picks are outside linebacker Marcus Smith, wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, defensive back Jaylen Watkins, defensive end Taylor Hart, safety Ed Reynolds and nose tackle Beau Allen. 

Realistic expectations are that at least six will make the team, although even seventh-round Beau Allen has a legitimate chance based primarily on his ability to play nose tackle on a team that doesn't feature a true nose tackle. 

I'm going to analyze each player and predict how the Eagles will use him in 2014, as well as what type of success he will have. 

 

Marcus Smith, Outside Linebacker, Louisville

Count me among the many who thought that the Marcus Smith pick was a bit of a reach with the 26th overall pick. But that doesn't mean he can't turn into a good football player. He definitely could. 

After all, Marcus Smith is exactly what the Eagles want in an outside linebacker. He may not have the skill set of a Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr, but he was the next best player available, and the Eagles pulled the trigger before another team, like the Washington Redskins, could grab him. 

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Smith won't open the season as a starter at outside linebacker. Veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are still the starters, and I predict that's how they end the year. But Smith will push for playing time, especially as the season progresses and he learns his responsibilities in Billy Davis' 3-4 defense. 

Smith's biggest strength is his versatility. He put up monster stats as a pass-rusher during his senior year of college, but he also showed a unique tendency to stop the run and defend against the pass. The Eagles are all about versatility. That's why they grabbed Smith after trading down from pick No. 22 to 26.

 

Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver, Vanderbilt

The Jordan Matthews pick is easily my favorite from the draft. Easily. I think there's almost no chance that he becomes a bust and a very high chance that he becomes a star. 

The cousin of Jerry Rice, Jordan Matthews was a total playmaker in college. He finished his senior year by recording just under 50 percent of all his team's yards. That's higher than any other player in the nation, per Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com. That proves Matthews is ready to handle whatever workload the Eagles throw at him. 

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Matthews is a big, fast, strong and very intelligent football player. He is expected to start the season in the slot, as the Eagles will take advantage of his size and unique skill set against some of the smaller defensive backs in the league. But he's talented and versatile enough to move to the outside if the Eagles need him there. He was tremendous at making catches in space at Vanderbilt. He knows how to use his size and wingspan to his advantage. 

I expect Matthews to enter the season as the official third receiver, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see him emerge as the single most reliable receiving threat on the offense by the end of the year. I'm not selling Jeremy Maclin short. I think he'll have a bounce-back year. I just think Matthews will be better. And I'm far from sold on Riley Cooper

Jordan Matthews is the future of the Philadelphia Eagles at wide receiver. No question about it. 

 

Josh Huff, Wide Receiver, Oregon

I wasn't the biggest fan of the Josh Huff pick. I think the Eagles reached on a player that they probably could have grabbed a round or so later. But do I think Chip Kelly would bring in one of his own players if he didn't think he would be a good fit? No way. 

Will Josh Huff eventually turn into a starter?

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Huff is going to start the year as the Eagles' fourth receiver. I don't think anybody would deny that. He's clearly behind Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews on the depth chart. 

Huff says he played about 90 percent of his snaps in the slot during his time at college. Expect to see him in the slot a lot this year, especially when the Eagles run four-wide receiver sets. But he also has the ability to play outside, even though he didn't do it as much. And he's an underrated threat in the red zone, where he ranked in the top 10 in the nation in touchdowns as a senior. 

Like all fourth receivers, Huff will be asked to contribute on special teams. Expect him to be an asset there. He showed toughness and aggression as a receiver, which should translate nicely to special teams. Huff may finish the season with just 25 to 35 catches, but he'll only continue to get better. He's a bright part of the Eagles' future, even if he'll never be the focal point of the team's offense. 

 

Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback/Safety, Florida

I was a big fan of the Jaylen Watkins pick. Who doesn't like this selection? The half-brother of Sammy Watkins, Jaylen Watkins is another classic pick by Chip Kelly in the sense that he's extremely versatile. 

Watkins legitimately played both cornerback and safety in college. That's a tremendous asset to have, and it's going to translate well in the pros. It's perfect for the Eagles. The Eagles really don't have any stars in their defensive backfield. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are decent starters, Brandon Boykin is a playmaker at nickel corner and Nolan Carroll was just signed in free agency as the fourth corner.

At safety, Malcolm Jenkins is the veteran brought in to be one of the two starters, while Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will compete for the other starting spot. 

Jaylen Watkins' future in the NFL is as a...

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It's impossible for me to figure out how much Watkins is going to play as a rookie. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. He's definitely going to make the team, but he could play anywhere between 15 and 60 percent of snaps as a rookie. My guess is about 30 percent. The Eagles say he'll play cornerback initially, but it takes just one injury at safety for Watkins to slide back to the back middle of the field. That is, assuming he's good enough to play. 

 

Taylor Hart, Defensive End, Oregon

When you start getting to fifth-round picks, it's tough to have a strong opinion on them as a player. That's how I feel about Taylor Hart. I am concerned after hearing that Chip Kelly wanted to pick Hart in the third round and had to be talked into selecting the former Oregon player two rounds later. 

Hart is the first player the Eagles selected who I don't think is going to be a future starter. He's expected to compete for time at defensive end, likely behind Cedric Thornton, only because Fletcher Cox will be (hopefully) too good to come off the field. 

Hart isn't a pass-rusher, and he wouldn't project to be an outside linebacker on the Eagles. But he's solid against the run and should be a valuable rotational piece for the defense as a rookie. I'd expect him to play about 15 to 20 snaps per game. 

 

Ed Reynolds, Safety, Stanford

Here we go again. Another fifth-round safety. I admit that's initially what I thought when the Eagles drafted Ed Reynolds. Even now, a week later, the pick doesn't overwhelm me. I think he has the chance to become a solid starter one day, but right now, he's just a rotational player who likely won't play much as a rookie. 

Reynolds is clearly behind Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen and probably Earl Wolff on the depth chart. If Watkins moves to safety, Reynolds is probably behind him too. He's actually not even a guarantee to make the roster, as the Eagles also have special teams stud Chris Maragos, who they signed in free agency this offseason.

But I expect Reynolds to be one of the 53 men on the team in 2013. When he gets his chance to play, look for the versatile player who lined up everywhere on the field for Stanford to show that he has the tools to make it in the National Football League. 

 

Beau Allen, Nose Tackle, Wisconsin

If one player on the team doesn't make the roster in 2014, it'll obviously be Beau Allen. The seventh-round nose tackle is the only player on the team with significant experience at the position but even that may not be enough for him to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Practice squad is a possibility if he is cut. He'll have to beat out Damion Square to make the team. 

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