General manager Howie Roseman met with reporters after Eagles first round pick Marcus Smith was introduced at the NovaCare Complex on Friday afternoon. Here are some thoughts on the selection and whether the Birds actually reached to fill a need at outside linebacker:
1. The alarm many fans and some in the media had after the Eagles took Smith at No. 26 seemed to have stemmed from the Eagles’ insistence over the last few years that they would only take the best available player with each pick. Just because a number of draft analysts had Smith labeled as a second- or third-round pick, doesn’t mean that’s where the Eagles had him graded, though. Roseman said Smith was the best available at No. 26, and when pressed, said that he was their best available at No. 22, too.
“It would have been the same pick at 22,” he said.
If true, and I tend to believe him (more on that later), then the Eagles were able to get an additional third round pick by moving back to No. 26 in a trade with the Browns. The reason why I believe Roseman, or at least believe that Smith was on the Eagles’ next tier of best available players, is because the three players that went with picks 23-25 probably weren’t on the Eagles’ radar in the first place. Defensive end Dee Ford (No. 23) will probably play outside linebacker for the Chiefs, but he’s doesn’t have the length Chip Kelly looks for at edge rusher. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard also isn’t long (30-inch arms) and may not be versatile after playing mostly press-man at Michigan St. The Eagles weren’t going to take a slot cornerback like Jason Verrett (No. 25) with Brandon Boykin on the roster.
2. The Eagles have also been criticized for having targeted six players at 22, knowing full well that most of those players would have been gone by the time they picked. Roseman explained that approach with more detail on Friday.
“We had targeted six guys that [italic]we knew[/italic] we’re probably going to go higher than our pick and that we interested in possibly moving up for,” Roseman said. “And then our other plan was if any of those guys weren’t there, backing up, picking up a pick, and having a group of targeted guys, which Marcus was certainly the top of that last, to go get.”
Roseman said teams ahead of them were either asking too much in a trade or simply liked their options and didn’t want to trade out. The Eagles had only six picks entering the draft. The Bills’ trade up for Sammy Watkins cost them their first-round pick, and 2015 first-round and fourth-round picks and established a high price tag for trading up, Roseman added.
Roseman said the Eagles had hoped that a few players that ended up not being drafted ahead of them would have pushed one of those six to No. 22. It’s hard not to imagine that Johnny Manziel was one of those players. Many had the Texas A&M quarterback forecasted as a top ten pick. If he had been drafted prior to the Browns moving up to 22 to get him, then the Eagles likely would have gotten one of their six.
Who were the six? In talking around, those six players to the best of my knowledge were outside linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 9), wide receiver Odell Beckham (No. 12), cornerback Kyle Fuller (No. 14), linebacker Ryan Shazier (No. 15), receiver Brandin Cooks (No. 20) and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 21).
3. When all of those players were off the board, the Eagles were faced with their next tier of prospects. I’m not convinced Smith was at the top of that list, but of the players there he played a premium position of need and thus was moved to the front. It’s hard to say who in the next group would have made more sense. Southern Cal receiver Marqise Lee was available, but there was a reason he dropped out of the first round. Many teams had flagged him over medical concerns about his knee, according to sources. Ford, Dennard and Verrett, as explained above, weren’t ideal fits for the Eagles, among other reasons. Cornerback Bradley Roby was chosen at 31, but he also had character issues and a recent run-in with police.
Safety Deone Bucannon went at 27 to the Cardinals, but many evaluators viewed him strictly as a box safety and the Eagles need versatile safeties for their scheme. Safety Jimmie Ward went three picks later at 30. Both safeties were considered second-round talents by many analysts. Would fans have considered those guys reaches, too, had the Eagles selected them? The Eagles had shown interest in receivers Cody Latimer and Jordan Matthews, but those players were also graded as second rounders by many.
4. Roseman confirmed that the Eagles had teams call them looking to trade up and into the 26 spot, but that they declined because they were fearful Smith would be plucked within the next ten picks.
“When we were at 26 we weighed the fact of going back and we had a very short list of players that we would take at that spot and we were worried about going back too far and in just in the last 24 hours I’m certain about that, just talking to people and where Marcus was going and he was going in that range,” Roseman said.
He would not confirm that the Vikings, who exchanged picks with the Seahawks along with a fourth rounder to move to 32 and get quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, were one of those teams. If they were the Eagles would have held the No. 40 overall pick and eighth in the second round.
5. Of the teams drafting late in the first and early in the second round, the Patriots, 49ers, Broncos, Seahawks, Texans, Redskins and Browns run some variant of a 3-4 scheme and might have been inclined to draft Smith. I spoke to one senior scout from a team that runs a 3-4 (not one of the aforementioned) that said his team had Smith slated as a “solid second rounder. Figured he’d go earlier because edge rushers almost always do. He’ll help their rush, but needs a lot of work setting the edge and playing in space.”
Smith, when asked Friday what he needed to work on most, said that setting the edge was a priority.
A NFL executive from a 4-3 team that I spoke to said that they had Smith in the third-fourth round range. He had played some 4-3 defensive end as a junior, but transitioned to outside linebacker last season and recorded a second-best-in-the-nation 14-1/2 sacks.
6. Edge rushers, even first-round ones, hardly ever come into the NFL and dominate right away. Few earn starting spots off the bat and Smith will certainly play behind Trent Cole and Connor Barwin initially.
“We did a study of edge rushers over the last six or seven years – since ’08 actually – and looked at those guys and saw that it was a good situation because we do have some veterans on this football team,” Roseman said “It wasn’t a situation where he had to come in and go in and play 1,000 snaps this year, but at the same time go in and compete.”
Smith said he could play either “Jack” (Barwin) or “Predator” (Cole) outside linebacker spot, but it’s clear the Eagles brought him in to be Cole’s eventual replacement. Cole will be 32 in October and is slated to have his salary more than double in 2015.
7. As for Brandon Graham, the Eagles’ 2010 first-round pick, Roseman said he’s still an outside linebacker in their system. Many have wondered if the Eagles have him on the trade block. He has made it fairly clear that he wants to be dealt, but I’m not sure the Eagles would be able to get anything in return. He has only one year left on his deal, but teams know the Eagles don’t have a place for him now, so why would they give up something for a player they may be able to get off the waiver wire at some point?