By Brad Wilson, LehighValleylive.com
How did Chip Kelly do in his second time around at the NFL Draft as head coach of the Eagles?
The easy way to respond is that he did very well at collecting Oregon Ducks (two of the Birds’ seven picks) — but perhaps that’s not really the point of the draft.
In the 2013 draft, Kelly added talent that became cornerstones of the Birds’ unexpected success in the fall: tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz, defensive tackle Benny Logan.
Eagles fans might be perfectly content with a similar harvest of athletes and accomplishments from this weekend’s activity.
But checking our evaluation, we think Kelly did a wee bit better last season.
Johnson, Ertz and Logan became starters very quickly and were solid players on a division-championship team by the end of the season.
Ertz, indeed, may well become one of the best tight ends in the NFL this fall. Logan, with another year under his belt at the most physically challenging position in the NFL, could rise to the elite level. Johnson may already be there.
It is hard, though, to see any of the Eagles’ picks making that kind of impact so quickly.
The one with the best chance is probably second-round choice Jordan Matthews at wide receiver. As is somewhat well-known at this point the Eagles have a gap or two at receiver, and they are counting on Matthews to fill the possession receiver/tough catch expert/blocking downfield role executed extraordinarily well by Jason Avant for years.
Matthews looks like a good fit for that role. And like Avant, brings brainpower to the task; “his (football) IQ is on another level,” said Eagles fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins, who while playing defensive back at Florida saw Matthews’ Vanderbilt team every year.
So Matthews may make the biggest immediate impact, but more than Ertz did? Doubtful.
Everywhere else in the draft class, 2014 contributions — aside from special teams, which is no small factor, given how poorly the Birds’ coverage units did, a unit Kelly said Saturday needs an upgrade — may well be limited.
First-round pick Marcus Smith will get every chance, of course, but that outside linebacker spot may be the toughest combination of brains and brawn in the entire Eagles’ defense and will take time to master. Players with much more NFL experience than Smith have struggled learning the position.
And even if Smith is the brightest student of the game ever, does he get on the field ahead of Connor Barwin and Trent Cole? Probably not.
Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff, the third-round pick, offers a deep threat, but does he see the ball that much ahead of Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Ertz, Matthews, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy, etc.? Probably not.
The two safeties/defensive backs, Florida’s Watkins and Stanford’s Ed Reynolds, will likely make more of an impact on special teams than on defense, though Reynolds’ familiarity with what the Birds do on defense could give him a head start. It’s certainly true that there are snaps to be won at safety, but Watkins and Reynolds have to battle past veterans to get on the field. And General Manager Howie Roseman’s record drafting safeties isn’t a pretty one.
The fifth-round pick, defensive end Taylor Hart, who played for Kelly and Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon, may have even more of a head start than Reynolds.
“(Taylor) has a great understanding of what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “He’s a true 3-4 defensive end two‑gapper, and that’s what we’re looking for. Him and (Azzinaro) have a great relationship, so I think that’s another positive with him coming in here, and his ability to not only understand what we do, but I guarantee he’s going to be a step above some guys in terms of his knowledge of what we’re doing already.”
Hart’s 6-6, 287-pound frame may be near-NFL ready. But does he get ahead of backup end Vinny Curry for time, much less Fletcher Cox or Cedric Thornton? Seems unlikely for a fifth-round pick.
Wisconsin nose tackle Beau Allen brings enormous size (6-3, 325), a hairdo worthy of Samson and nice durability (started 54 games in college and never missed a game) to the table but if he was ready to play over the center in the NFL he’d have been chosen along before No. 224.
We’re not saying this is a bad draft by the Eagles by any means. Long-term, most of these players appear to have high upsides and could be major contributors in 2015 and beyond (or not; even Kelly pointed out how often draft picks wash out). They can help in practice, on special teams, in case of injuries.
But what they won’t do, with the likely exception of Matthews, is make a major difference on the field in 2014. And that’s why this draft isn’t as good a one for Kelly and the Eagles as last year’s.
Give it a solid B-minus, though, with a regrade very possible around, oh, 2016.