Adjusting On The Fly




GORDONVILLE — The scene was the NFL Draft, 2014.

The Eagles sat at No. 22, the result of their mercurial rise from the outhouse to within one level of the penthouse.

Just as with property taxes, the change in address comes with a price.

The Eagles were just good enough to be picking post-20, but not good enough to mortgage the future to make a definitive move.

In a way, with more needs than the average 10-6 division winner, they were living in the slums of Beverly Hills.

All they could do was sit and waiting and listen to Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” on repeat play as others in front of them mulled their choices.

And their hopes and wishes and prayers could not help them, as the script could not have gone any more awry.

The only player they probably would have traded up for, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, went at No. 9 to the Vikings. If he had drifted into the middle of the round, they could have made a move. To get into the top 10, it would have cost this year’s and next year’s first-round picks.

No can do.

As Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly admitted, the six players they targeted at No. 22 were all good when their turn in the chow line came around.

When the same New Orleans Saints team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year moved to No. 20 and snatched Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, the Eagles knew they gambled and lost.

Six minus six equals zero.

To their credit, they made a decisive move to Plan B.

While the television talking heads babbled about them drafting Johnny Manziel, the obvious move was to hold the pick hostage for a team that truly hungered for Johnny Football. They found a willing dance partner in the Cleveland Browns, moving back to No. 26 and picking up a third-round pick while they danced in the streets of Cleveland.

When their new turn rolled around, the possibilities seemed endless. There were still receivers, corners, defensive linemen and safeties available. They could even move back a few more slots, or into the early second round, for more picks.

And then Roger Goodell  took to the podium.

“With 26th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia select “Mar …,” he said.

Thoughts immediately went through the permutations for the even the most casual observer. They were taking Marqise Lee, the USC wideout two years removed from finishing fourth in the Heisman balloting, and would come back in the second round – maybe packing one of their thirds with a second – for the coveted pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker.

And then Goodell continued.

“(Mar)cus Smith, linebacker, Louisville,” he said.


Eagles’ devotees who waited months for this moment probably grabbed their remote controls and wondered what happened, kind of like that final scene of the final episode of “The Sopranos.”

Not a bad player, all things considered, but it seemed like the panic button had been pushed. It seemed like a poorly played hand.

It seemed like if the word “reach” were four letters, it would fit.

But it is what it is.

In the interim, between picks 22 and 26, Auburn’s edge rusher, Dee Ford, went to Kansas City. There were rumors that the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were clamoring for Smith, albeit as a project.

For the Eagles, trading back too much further would leave them without him in midnight green.

While it takes a good three years to evaluate drafts, the early grade sits at a B-minus because the value chart shows they used a first-round pick on a guy rated as a late-second/early-third.

Some deft moves by GM Howie Roseman, like trading a third to Houston for fourth- (first pick of Day 3) and fifth-round picks, allowed them to add quality and avoid detention.

Aside from Smith, they did grab three other players – Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews (second round), Florida defensive back Jaylin Watkins (fourth round) and Stanford free safety Ed Reynolds (fifth) –  the consensus has as solid second-day picks.

That certainly helps the GPA, but not enough for the honor roll.

The Eagles, all told, seemed to have an uneven draft. The best-player-available format has seemingly morphed into the-best-player-available-for-our-scheme approach, which seems to be a trend around the league.

With the one third-round pick they kept, they made a slight reach for Oregon slot receiver Josh Huff, but you can almost issue a pass on it because he is a scheme fit, having played in Kelly’s offense in college.

That same could be said for fifth-rounder Taylor Hart, who will be reunited with defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. Hart, though, was rated as a seventh-rounder and could have likely been had there. Had they Eagles grabbed someone like Tennessee nose tackle Daniel McCullers in the fifth round and come back with Hart in the seventh, they would have gotten better value than Hart in the fifth and seventh-round nose guard Beau Allen of Wisconsin (moving up 13 slots after dealing running back Bryce Brown to Buffalo and getting back a mid-round pick either next year or in 2016).

There are no sure-fire immediate starters in this group, but we are talking about a 10-6 team that Kelly and Roseman are trying to build for the long haul.

The receivers – Matthews and Huff – are likely to make the most impact, but don’t discount the defensive backs, Watkins and Reynolds.

The reality is that NFL teams who miss on their first-round pick and nail all the rest do just fine, but we are talking about a fan base still haunted by the ghosts of Mike Mamula and Jon Harris.

Marcus Smith, for better or worse, has already been lumped into with Jerome McDougles and Danny Watkins.

He deserves more of a fair shake, because he is starting with an intense glare of naysayers on him. If you have any empathy in your football-lovin’ heart, you have to feel for Smith right now.

As the dust settles and the dawn rises on the aftermath of the 2014 NFL Draft, it will all be about him.

Free Birds

In the social media era, where undrafted players announce where they sign before teams can issue statements, the Eagles had no choice but to put out an official list of 15 undrafted players.

Perhaps because of the depth of the draft, or because of the scheme-fit trend around the league, the collection of players left undrafted was shocking.

Even more shocking was that the Eagles, usually one of the best at aggressively pursuing undrafted players, really didn’t rock the world here.

For example, Kelly singled out inside linebacker depth as a need. They didn’t draft one, but some big names – Stanford’s Shayne Skov, Florida State’s Christian Jones, Michigan State’s Matt Bullough, Penn State’s Glenn Carson, etc.  – were out there to be had.

None came here.

With Brown gone, the Eagles did snare two running backs – Missouri’s Henry Josey and Toledo’s David Fluellen – that were generally graded as mid-round picks.

Daytawion Lowe, a hard-hitting safety from Oklahoma State who runs a 4.45 40, was also considered a late-rounder and is in the Bird house.

A kicker – Vanderbilt’s Casey Spear – was signed, but it seems they are trying to give Alex Henery token competition to placate a restless fan base.

The Eagles also brought in two tackles, USC’s Kevin Graf and Texas’ Donald Hawkins,  with starting experience at big schools to compete for backup jobs.

Florida’s Trey Burton, despite being 6-2 and 225, will get a look at tight end after playing multiple positions for the Gators.

The column originally appeared at

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