Did the Eagles draft Louisville OLB Marcus Smith a little early? Yes, they probably did. Unfortunately for the Birds, the draft did not play out as planned.
Talking on the WIP Morning Show on Friday, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman expressed that the first round didn't shake out the way they had hoped.
"When you're picking 22, you have to have some plans," said Roseman. "For us, we had a bunch of plans and you have to understand that it's not always going to go according to how you think it's going to go."
It turns out that the Eagles had their sights set on trading up in the first round, but the cost to move up was compromised by the Buffalo Bills.
"When you go into the first round, you normally don't have 32 first round grades, and certainly we did not have 32 first round grades in this draft," explained Roseman. "We had six guys that we were targeting, and we knew that some of them would not be at 22. That's why we were making calls throughout the week and spent a lot of time on the phone last night before we picked, in seeing if we could get up and get them.
"What happens in the draft is when the first trade is made, it kind of affects everyone's thoughts on the next trade. So I think when the Bills and Browns made that trade at the top of the first round, it kind of changed people's expectations for what they were going to get for trading down."
The Bills traded their 1st round pick (9th overall) in the 2014 draft, as well as their 1st and 4th round picks in 2015 to the Browns for the 4th overall pick. In other words, the cost to move higher in the first round escalated.
When the Eagles eventually were on the clock at 22 and the players they were targeting were gone, the Eagles looked to trade back.
"Once those six guys fell, our next plan was to try to trade back and get a pick," said Roseman. To move back a mere four spots from 22 to 26, the Eagles picked up an extra 3rd round pick, or the 83rd overall pick. As we explained early Friday morning, that was tremendous value.
At the 23rd pick, former Eagles head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs selected edge rusher Dee Ford of Auburn, which appeared to have made the Eagles nervous.
"Between 23 and 26, the dynamic changed for us a little bit," said Roseman, "because we knew there was a team looking to trade up for a pass rusher, and then when Andy took a pass rusher at 23 and where our board was for that, that was the next pass rusher for us."
At 26, the Eagles looked to trade back for the second time in the first round, but ultimately opted against it.
"We were looking at trading back again," explained Roseman. "I think our concern was that at that 26th pick we had just a couple of guys left with that same grade and we were worried that if we dropped down 10-14 picks and none of them would be there, we'd end up going back another tier and maybe not really getting any of the guys that we had targeted if we moved down. For us that was too big of a concern."
And so, the Eagles selected Marcus Smith. Roseman basically admitted that the Eagles do not truly always draft the 'best player available' on their board.
"I do believe totally in the best player available, but we've always talked about tiers, too," said Roseman. "If guys are in the same tier, we look at the harder to find position and then we look at the other positions we're looking at, how the draft board looks. We've said from Day 1 that we think this is a really good receiver draft, and we didn't think this was a great pass rusher draft, and if we have those guys in the same tier we're going to take the pass rusher."
When asked directly if Smith was the highest rated player still on the board, Roseman did not flatly say "Yes," which he likely would have done if indeed that were the case.
"If they have the same grade, that's the hard part for us. When you're grading one by one, we basically give the definition of what we what we think those players are in that tier. We do rank those guys. To us, it's more important that they're in the same tier. It's hard to know 'Who's the 23rd guy? Who's the 24th guy?' It's where the drop-offs are."
A common sentiment in analyzing what the Eagles did in the first round is that Smith was a '2nd or 3rd round pick.' To draft a 3rd round pick in the 1st round of course would be an egregious reach. However, leading up to the draft, Philly.com published 50 prospects who could be of interest to the Eagles. Those players spread across the following tiers:
• Trade-up targets
• 1st round targets
• Trade back targets, as in, players who could be available somewhere after 22 , but likely won't still be there when the Eagles pick at 54.
• 2nd round targets
• 3rd round targets
• 4th round targets
• 5th round targets
• 7th round targets
Marcus Smith fell into the "trade back target" list.
The following are players who could be available somewhere after 22 , but likely won't still be there when the Eagles pick at 54. These players fall in the "trade-back range."
• Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: Violent WR with impressive size/speed measurables.
• Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville: Played a variety of spots in Louisville's defense, who has the athletic ability to play 3-4 OLB in the Eagles' defensive scheme.
• Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech: Physically gifted pass rusher, but raw. Doesn't have a polished repertoire of pass rush moves, but could be groomed under Trent Cole for a year.
• Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: 6'6, 310 pound monster with athleticism who fits the "bigger people" mold. Likely at DE in the Eagles' defense.
• Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: Huge WR (6'5, 240), but lacks speed, quickness.
• Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Not a need, but a huge TE target (6'5, 262) with impressive speed (4.56 40).
When it comes to the NFL Draft, good edge rushers are like quarterbacks. They are hard to find, and if you want to draft one, you either have to over-draft them, or finish 3-13 so you end up with a top 3 pick.
Did the Eagles make an absurd pick? Absolutely not. But did they reach a little bit for a position of need that is hard to fill? It appears that they did.