The 2nd draft of the Chip Kelly era has come and gone. The past three days and the weeks leading up to it have brought along with it dozens of questions and a handful of answers. Especially considering the Eagles were not coming off a poor enough season that would slot them toward the top of the draft order like last season, the placement of the team in the selection process was inevitably going to show more about how Philadelphia would be drafting with Kelly on board. For better or for worse, there was a very specific feel to the Eagles approach to the draft. Here are some notable observations that I took from their picks and transactions.
1.) CHIP KELLY LOVED OREGON, PROBABLY MORE THAN HE COULD LOVE ANOTHER HUMAN BEING
“We’re going to take the best players, and that’s always the way we’ve looked at it. Just because we have a familiarity, if someone wants to say that’s a concern, that’s OK. You know when you’re going to take them, that’s what they’re going to do. But I’m not-not going to take one because I’m afraid someone is going to say something about them.”
This was a response by Kelly to a question about his penchant for bringing in players from the Oregon program. By the end of the draft, the Eagles had seven former Ducks on the roster. Michael Huff and Taylor Hart both excelled at Kelly’s former team and, though both were legitimate NFL prospects, the Eagles head coach appeared to beam at a different level about his new additions plucked from the Oregon family. Here are some specific instances of Kelly maintaining his relationships with former players months before they ended up re-joining their head coach at the NFL level.
“He said he was gonna draft me, and he kept his word…When that 2-1-5 popped up on my phone, I immediately started to cry,”
“He said we’re putting the family back together,”
Tough to get on Kelly for this approach. He clearly had a profound impact on both players and their excitement and emotional responses to being selected to the Eagles showed.
2.) CHARACTER AND COMMITMENT GOES A LONG WAY IN THE EAGLES SELECTION PROCESS
All seven of the Eagles draft picks are college graduates. In a class that saw a record number of early entries declare for the draft, the Eagles managed to pull off a feat that seemed almost impossible. Aside from the seasoning that each one of the Eagles new players went through over the course of a college career, all seven showed a commitment and persistence to achieve something before even reaching the NFL level. Even Jordan Matthews, who played just three seasons at Vanderbilt, managed to wrap up school in 3 1/2 years to earn his degree.
Chip Kelly on ESPN; all drafted players are college grads is a sign of intelligence and the ability to set and meet goals.
— zeusashtonx (@zeusashtonx) May 10, 2014
Whether or not it shows up on the field, Kelly appears to still be insistent upon putting together a sound locker room culture in addition to a talented product on the field.
3.) VERSATILITY, VERSATILITY, VERSATILITY
Since his arrival, Chip Kelly has skewed his preference toward bringing in players who can impact the game in a number of ways. Here are some reactions to their draft picks.
Rhule on Marcus Smith: “He’s fully versatile. He can rush the passer. He can defend the run. He can drop into coverage.”
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) May 9, 2014
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) May 10, 2014
Chip Kelly on Josh Huff: Versatile. Inside and out. Returner. Special teams.
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) May 10, 2014
Oooooh! Loooooove Jaylen Watkins. CB/S. Versatile. Great at the Senior Bowl. Had him in the 3rd in Eagles Mock 2.0. http://t.co/KzGujecf9r
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) May 10, 2014
Eagles get the versatile Taylor Hart for their DL..
— Daniel Jonsson (@HighDesertScout) May 10, 2014
Of course, Ed Reynolds and Beau Allen are a big more pigeon-holed in their position. For shame, Chip. For shame.
4.) THE EAGLES LIKE NICK FOLES, A LOT
The stage could not have set up any better for the marriage everyone wanted. Johnny Manziel had tumbled all the way down the first round of the draft and the Eagles, without having to move a muscle, found themselves with a franchise-altering decision staring them in the face. The mobile, confident quarterback who ‘broke Chip Kelly’s heart’ could be had with the simple jotting down of a name and the world could finally witness the fully-loaded Chip experience. For five minutes or so, it really felt like they were going to pull the trigger.
Instead, the script was flipped and Johnny Football’s arrival in Philadelphia was not to be. Instead, the Eagles organization showed perhaps their greatest vote of confidence in quarterback Nick Foles than they have to this point. More than letting Michael Vick walk, more than re-signing his favorite target Riley Cooper to a multi-year deal, and even more than the two wide receivers they would take later in the draft, Nick Foles became ‘the franchise’ this weekend.
Of course, this shifts some pressure on Foles. He has a bounty of weapons to work with and will be playing behind a line with all-pro talent sprinkled along it. He has an entire offseason as the unquestioned starter and every opportunity to continue entrenching himself at the top of the quarterback depth chart. Kelly might bring in a mobile quarterback someday as the coach of the Eagles. For now, Nick Foles has every chance to show the world that his coach doesn’t need speed at the position and a pocket passer can get the job done.
5.) GOOD HOWIE, BAD HOWIE
Entering the 2014 Draft, general manager Howie Roseman may have had his most challenging task ahead of him since taking over the decision-making duties when it came to the draft. The team did not have a particularly high pick and they possessed just six selections at the start of Thursday’s first round. The returns on Roseman and the Eagles front office? Some good, some bad.
Starting with the bad. When the Eagles pick arrived in the first round (22nd overall) all six targets they preferred with their pick were already off of the board. They traded back and collected great value for the pick from the Browns, but proceeded in an interesting direction. After months of hammering home the ‘best player available’ strategy to the fanbase, the Eagles made a ‘need’ pick and weren’t shy about doing so.
Howie Roseman: “Hard to think that a pass rusher with this production and athletic ability would be there when we picked in the 2nd round.”
— Eagles Nation (@GoEaglesNation) May 9, 2014
If you have six players that you want that badly, make the move to go get one. If none of them are available where you end up picking, take the best player or keep trading back. Drafting for need got the organization in big trouble in the past. Though I think most of the 2014 draft was a ‘best player’ approach, the first pick was not and that is where teams bring in elite talent.
As far as the good goes, Roseman continued to show an ability for engineering complex, bountiful trades. Getting a 2015 4th round pick for Bryce Brown that could even turn into a 3rd rounder in 2016 is exceptional for a player who did not have a prayer of impacting the Eagles in a big way moving forward. As talented as Brown is, he was never going to get the reps necessary to develop him into a feature back. They also snagged the first picks in the 4th and 5th rounds after a trade with the Texans that allowed them to collect a pair of very intriguing players in Jaylen Watkins and Taylor Hart.
6.) THE EAGLES BELIEVED IN THEIR ROSTER BEFORE THE DRAFT EVEN STARTED
Some may wonder why the Eagles did not bring in any sort of offensive line depth or inside linebacker help with any of their seven picks. Here are a few reasons why they did not: Matt Tobin, Emmanuel Acho, Michael Bamiro, Najee Goode, Travis Long, Joe Kruger.
There could be a few names missing from that list. That said, the Eagles organization appears extremely high on some players who barely saw the field in 2013, if at all. I expect most, if not all of these names to be in the mix as training camp comes closer as potential roster players who could find themselves into a rotation at their respective position.
7.) VINNY CURRY & BRANDON GRAHAM MIGHT NOT BE AS EXPENDABLE AS WE ONCE THOUGHT
It’s possible that both Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham could still be playing elsewhere at the start of the 2014 NFL season. That being said, for pass rushers with a bit of talent and production to their names, the fact that neither were moved by the Eagles for even a late-round pick was somewhat puzzling. In one sense, the general narrative regarding pass rushers is that a team can never have too much of it. Curry and Graham both can get after the passer despite lacking in other areas. It’s possible that the Eagles could not get the return they wanted for either player and they are waiting for injuries and roster cuts to create more need for pass-rush help around the NFL. However, it is also possible that the Eagles want to keep as many players who can get after the quarterback as possible to make up for the fact that they do not have an established threat coming off the edge.
8.) BILLY DAVIS EARNED A DEFENSIVE DRAFT
A lot of what the Eagles defense did in 2013 seemed like it was smoke & mirrors. Despite giving up huge chunks of yardage and being gashed by big plays on a consistent basis, Billy Davis’ unit was more than up to the task and a big reason the Eagles made the playoffs. Yet, when they were faced with a world-class offensive unit in the postseason, the imbalance as far as talent went was evident. The Saints blew Philadelphia off the ball and when the Eagles needed a stop, they did not have the horses to come up with it. The defensive coordinator was far from the reason to blame however and the Eagles showed their appreciation with their 2014 Draft haul.
1st round pick Marcus Smith will be groomed to play the most important position on the defense as the team’s edge linebacker. Jaylen Watkins can play cornerback or safety and had the unenviable task of locking down SEC receivers during his college career. Taylor Hart is a mammoth presence along the defensive line with the type of length that is crucial to the front on Davis’ 3-4 hybrid scheme. Ed Reynolds is a productive player with a nose for the ball who could end up being a sleeper in this draft class both on defense and special teams. Finally, the big-bodied nose tackle that the Eagles appeared in desperate need of was brought in during the 7th round in the form of Beau Allen.
The Eagles did not do much to address the cornerback position and apparently feel good having Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher as their starters along the outside heading into next season. Aside from that, however, Billy Davis has received a shiny new crop of toys to plug into his unit and try to continue to bring along a defensive unit that made great leaps over the course of 2013.
It is impossible to judge a draft until the players have seen the NFL field and adapted to their new lifestyle. This draft in particular brought along with it a lot of peaks and valleys when it came to being an Eagles fan. I still am not sure how I would have reacted if the team selected Johnny Manziel. However, another draft is in the books and as I am sure Chip Kelly would prefer, the countdown to the season can officially begin. The Eagles have already started bringing in undrafted free agents, which we will highlight later on. Here’s to hoping this class makes it three in a row of generally positive hauls for Philadelphia as they continue to try to build a Super Bowl contender.