On Thursday night's opening round of the NFL Draft, the Eagles traded down from the 22nd-overall pick to 26th overall, adding to their arsenal a third-round pick (83rd overall) from the Cleveland Browns in the process. Then, with the 26th selection, the Eagles addressed the defensive side of the ball by taking
"I think he's an outstanding athlete," Chip Kelly said after the selection. "He actually got recruited to Louisville as a quarterback. [Louisville head coach Charlie] Strong had seen him in a football camp, and he went to Louisville. I talked to Charlie the other week about him and he just gave us rave reviews. He's a big kid. He transitioned to the outside linebacker position. I think he has a huge upside. He's a very, very good athlete. He's over (6-foot-3), in the 250-, 255-pound range, ran 4.68 (40-yard dash). He's got speed coming off the edge. We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us. I think a young kid to bring in behind Trent [Cole] and Connor [Barwin] and those guys can teach him the ropes and bring him along and show him what we can do. But I think his ceiling is very, very high. We're excited. He's a tough, hard nosed football player. A little bit new to the position. Maybe a similar situation to Lane [Johnson] in terms of you're getting a guy that is a huge upside because he hasn't played the position that long. They played multiple defenses there. He's played with his hand on the ground, he's played standing up. He can drop into coverage, he can rush the quarterback. We're excited about adding him. The fact that we could move back a little bit and pick up another pick because we were short in what we think is a good draft, we felt is a great situation for us."
Going into the draft, pundits and fans agreed that the Eagles had three primary needs: pass rush, coverage and wide receiver. Whether or not the team agreed with those assessments, Smith addresses two of the needs since he can rush the quarterback and drop into coverage, showing in college the ability to play zone and run stride-for-stride with tight ends.
Kelly acknowledged that the Eagles had their eyes on a number of other prospects at the 22nd-overall pick, but that once each player was off the board, they turned their attention to trading down because they felt they could acquire another asset and still acquire the versatile Smith. It turned into a win-win situation since general manager Howie Roseman previously admitted he would like to have more picks in this draft.
"It just kind of happened," Kelly said. "There were about six guys that we felt if they were there at 22, we would have taken them. I guess unfortunately for us there are other people in the league that liked the same six guys we did. So when we got there, a lot of people called. I think the quarterback situation made the 22 spot, just because one quarterback had gone and people were kind of jockeying around to see if they could get up to get the next pick. So we just felt it was the best thing to do, because we felt we could get him at 26."
The Eagles had coaches, including Kelly, attend Louisville's pro day and brought Smith in for a pre-draft visit. They are intimately familiar with the player and have been for a while, dating back to when they were scouting last year's draft.
Smith has the body type, athleticism and length (34-inch arms) the Eagles covet in defenders. Put the body with the skill set and potential, and you get a player who appealed greatly to the coaches and personnel staff.
"Long levers are strong levers," Kelly said. "You know our motto on that. Again, he fits the mold for what we're looking for. I think kind of that ceiling I talked about, because there is such an upside to him. How many guys are that size, 250 plus pounds, running the 4.6 range, have the long arms? I think we just thought it was a positive, and obviously this league is turning into a throwing league, and you've got to be able to rush the quarterback and we're aware of that. You know, we were excited when we had the opportunity not only to get him but to back up. I think it was a positive for us."
Perhaps the most comforting aspect of selecting Smith is that the Eagles do not have to do a lot of projecting about how he will fit in the 3-4 defense. Roseman has said before that trying to project how an athletic 4-3 defensive end who has played with his hand in the ground will transition to standing up as a 3-4 outside linebacker is one of the hardest aspects of talent evaluation. Smith, however, has experience playing both 4-3 end and 3-4 outside linebacker.
"Louisville played a multiple defense," Kelly said. "They played a 4-3 one year and moved to a 3-4, so he's done both. There is film of him playing defensive end and film of him playing as a standup outside linebacker. It's not a projection like you do sometimes. Hey, let's take this defensive end who may be a little undersized to be an NFL defensive end, but he has the skill set to be an outside linebacker. He's actually played the position."
The first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is over, and the Eagles selected a player they feel can become a cornerstone on defense. In addition, they added an extra third-round pick for Day 2. The Eagles now have three picks (54, 83, 86) on Friday as they continue to build for next season and beyond.