JORDAN MATTHEWS might have taken Marcus Smith off the hook.
Smith, the Eagles' surprise first-round draft pick, could very well prove to be able to carry the weight of the 26th overall NFL selection on his own, but the arrival of Matthews in last night's second round might relieve a bit of the pressure of personifying the Birds' 2014 draft.
Matthews is a 6-3, 212-pound wide receiver who ran a 4.46 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine and has a good chance to be the big, strong, sleek target fans have long coveted. The Birds traded up with Tennessee from 54th overall to 42nd to nab him, after the other second-round wideout they really liked, USC's Marqise Lee, went 39th overall to Jacksonville. They also gave the Titans their fourth-round pick at No. 122 overall in the deal.
The Eagles traded the 83rd selection in the third round to Houston for two picks today – 101st overall in the fourth round and 141st in the fifth. Houston took touted Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix. The 101st is the first pick today; last year the Eagles traded up to be able to pick first on the final day, and took quarterback Matt Barkley.
With their final selection last night, 86th overall, the Birds selected one of Chip Kelly's former Oregon Ducks, wideout Josh Huff (5-11, 206). The draft concludes with the final four rounds today.
"He said he was going to draft me, and he kept his word," Huff told reporters on a conference call. Huff amended that to say that Kelly had told an Oregon coach he would draft Huff, and that coach told Huff.
Huff said that he wants to prove he is worthy of the pick, that he isn't here just because he used to play for Kelly. The Eagles coach said he tries "to divorce myself" from the evaluation process with Oregon players, to not influence the personnel staff.
Kelly called Huff a "physical, nasty" player who offers position versatility, and can return kicks.
Huff survived a difficult upbringing in Houston. His mother has battled drug addiction and is in prison. He told the Oregonian last September that she swung a 2x4 at him in a fit of rage and might have killed him.
"He grew to trust everybody on the [Oregon] coaching staff and consider them family," Kelly said of Huff. "He's just a special young man in terms of what he's been able to accomplish. He's graduated … never used [his family's struggles] as an excuse … a real neat kid."
Earlier, Kelly lauded Matthews as the SEC's all-time leading receiver (262 catches for 3,759 yards), and said of the first and second rounds: "I think it played out the way we were hoping to play it out."
"We thought the pass-rusher [Smith] would go first, so we took him and kind of held our breath on what it would take for us to get up … we didn't think, at 54, he was going to be around," Kelly said.
Asked what set Matthews apart in what is said to be the strongest wide receiver class ever, Kelly returned to the theme he began at the NFL meetings in March – the importance of being able to beat man-press coverage.
"He can catch the ball in traffic," Kelly said. "He made an unbelievable amount of contested catches. He's got such a wingspan, and will go up and get it. Can play both inside and outside. We're probably going to start him inside – we've got Jeremy Maclin on one side and 'Coop' [Riley Cooper] on the other side, maybe throw him inside. He has experience … Only a couple of guys in the draft that we felt you could at least see on film that played both inside and outside. Some were exclusively inside receivers, some were exclusively outside receivers, but we felt that he was one of those guys that could do both."
Kelly said the relative toughness of SEC corners, and the fact that Matthews was the focal point of the Vanderbilt offense, gave evaluators an excellent chance to see Matthews fight for the ball. Kelly indicated he was more worried about replacing Jason Avant's physicality and blocking ability in the slot than he was about replacing DeSean Jackson outside; Kelly noted that he is getting back Jeremy Maclin from ACL surgery, to take Jackson's spot.
Matthews visited NovaCare, Kelly attended Vanderbilt's pro day, and the coach said he even talked to former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and assistants Herbie Hand and John Donovan about Matthews at Penn State, where those coaches now work, during the Nittany Lions' pro day.
"One of the things they said is that he's the most competitive guy they've ever been around, in terms of his confidence and his work ethic," Kelly said.
Kelly noted that Matthews graduated from Vanderbilt with an economics degree in 3-1/2 years. Matthews later told reporters on a conference call he did that so he could concentrate on football when he turned pro, and not have any distractions.
"I definitely had a feeling," about the Eagles, Matthews said.
Matthews spoke to the Daily News in January at the Senior Bowl about his love of film study. He had taken time before heading to Mobile, Ala., to hunt down film on the corners he was going to be facing.
"Getting cutups or watching film of guys you're going to go against the next week, I feel like that should be required," Matthews said that day. "Proper preparation prevents poor performance. That's one thing I like to live by . . . I don't want to ever be that person who comes out here blind."
Matthews said last night that Vanderbilt had four films of the Eagles' offense under Kelly, and he made sure to study them before coming to NovaCare for his interview. He said he's very comfortable in the slot.
"I played a lot of slot in college. I played the 'X' and the 'Y,' and I played the 'Y' primarily in '10' personnel [one back, four receivers], so I know how to run the seam and do the speed game and all those types of things. I can also play the outside," he said.
"My coaches always told me, 'If you want to be a big receiver, you have to play big.' That was always the mindset I took into my game."
Why does he thrive in the middle?
"Because I'm hungry," said Matthews, whose mother is a cousin of Jerry Rice. "Every opportunity I've ever had in football, I've had to go out and grind for it. Nothing was ever given to me, so when the ball is in the air, it's mine."
Matthews said that he feels no pressure to replace Jackson, that he wishes Jackson the best with the Redskins, but "I have to go in and be the best Jordan Matthews I can be and not worry about all that."
Matthews went to New York for the draft, then had to wait a day to hear his name called. He said he didn't mind, noted that he wasn't heavily recruited coming out of high school in Madison, Ala.
"I was made for this," he said. "I think God put me in that position and put that chip on my shoulder … it's just part of it, and I'm glad I landed in a great situation."
Chip Kelly said that special teams have been an Eagles focus this offseason, and that Josh Huff can excel there, not only as a returner … Kelly said the wideout group in this draft is so deep, he wouldn't be averse to taking another one today … The Eagles' wide receiving corps now features former Ducks Will Murphy, Jeff Maehl and Huff … The Birds have no sixth-round pick today, unless they trade again. Their final selection is scheduled to be No. 237, in the seventh. So that's 101 in the fourth, 141 and 162 in the fifth, then 237, if you're keeping score at home.