Philadelphia Eagles Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville – Round 1
The Eagles’ draft overall was very solid. I liked what they did on the third day with the exception of Ed Reynolds. I think that Taylor Hart will turn into a solid starting five-technique and was a Day-3 steal. Many Philadelphia fans were critical of the team’s decision to select Marcus Smith in the first round, but I think he’ll develop into a quality starter for the Eagles.

Louisville had a tough defense in 2013, and Smith was the leader of the unit. He was the American Conference Defensive Player of the Year as he finished the season with 14.5 sacks for the Cardinals. Smith also had 42 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and three passes broken up. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder is fast off the edge and has a lot of upside to develop.

It shouldn’t be too long before Smith replaces Connor Barwin or Trent Cole as a starter for the Eagles. Barwin had only five sacks last year in his first year in Philadelphia, while Cole is turning 32 next season. Smith can develop behind them for a season, but in time, he should be a quality pass-rusher off the edge.

Most Likely To Bust

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon – Round 3
The Eagles were ripped like crazy for taking Huff in the third round. While I agree that he was drafted a round too early, I think Huff has the potential to be a good slot receiver. One reason I’m going with Huff as the potential bust is because Philadelphia has a lot of depth at receiver. Hr may not get much of an opportunity to validate a third-round pick.

In 2013, Huff collected 62 receptions for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the top receiver for Marcus Mariota and was often wide open as teams were quick to bite on play-action from the threat of Oregon’s devastating rushing attack. Huff is sudden and quick, but one has to question if his speed will be as much of a mismatch in the NFL. Huff (5-11, 206) doesn’t have size in his arsenal, so he has to be able to run to be successful.

In the long term, the Eagles starting receivers look likely to be Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper. Jeremy Maclin could factor in as well if he can put together a healthy and productive season that earns him a contract extension. Huff will have to earn his playing time in Philadelphia, but that could be a tall order.

Potential Boom Pick

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt – Round 2
The Eagles should have at least a quality starter in Matthews, but it wouldn’t be surprising to some if he develops into No.1 receiver. Matthews (6-3, 212) is a very polished receiver entering the NFL and obviously he has to be considering he owns the SEC record for career receiving yards. To go along with size, Matthews is an exceptional route-runner with great hands. Even with teams sending double coverage his way as a senior, Matthews collected 112 receptions for 1,477 yards with seven touchdowns in 2013.

Some teams questioned Matthews speed for the NFL and that’s why he wasn’t selected in the first round. However, plenty of good No.1 receivers with similar size were selected after the first round and they proved that the had enough speed to hurt defenses. Players like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Vincent Jackson come to mind. Matthews could have the potential to follow in their footsteps.

The Eagles will bring Matthews along behind Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Matthews is their most reliable receiver before long. Matthews is great on slants, digs and other routes in the short to intermediate part of the field. He runs well after the catch and could be very dependable to move the chains for the Philadelphia offense. Chip Kelly will always feature a running offense, and Matthews could end up being his No.1 receiver for many years to come.

Future Depth Player

Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida – Round 4
The Eagles had to upgrade their secondary this offseason, but waited until the fourth round to draft a defensive back. Watkins was an effective nickel corner and safety for Florida. He has a nice combination of size and speed, but didn’t beat out Marcus Roberson or Loucheiz Purifoy for a starting spot. Watkins may not end up being a difference-maker, but he could be a good role player and depth defender behind the starting cornerbacks. The Eagles could use Watkins in a variety of ways to help improve their vulnerable secondary.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

26. Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville: C Grade
This is a reach, as Marcus Smith was a second-round prospect. However, there are two things that save the Eagles from receiving a dreaded Millen grade: First, Smith is a very good fit for Chip Kelly’s defense and happens to fill a big need as a pass-rushing linebacker. Second, Philadelphia obtained a third-round selection while moving down for Smith, so they at least understood that they were overdrafting him.

42. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: B- Grade
This pick is interesting in that it’s the complete opposite of what the Eagles did in the first round. With Marcus Smith, they made a reach, but traded down while doing so. Here, they moved up and took a player who could have gone a bit earlier. I like Jordan Matthews – he has the size that Chip Kelly wants – but with all of the receiving talent available in the second round, why even move up? Philadelphia could have just sat there and still obtained a solid wideout.

86. Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: D Grade
Josh Huff isn’t even the best Huff in the draft. I had the Oregon wideout going to Dallas in the seventh round, and I haven’t heard any buzz about him at all. I get that Chip Kelly knows him well, but there’s no reason for him to reach so egregiously like this. Philadelphia probably could have obtained Huff in Rounds 5 or 6.

101. Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida: B+ Grade
I know some Florida fans are confused that Jaylen Watkins was chosen before Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy because he was behind both on the depth chart. But this makes a lot of sense. Jaylen Watkins has the speed and athleticism that Chip Kelly likes. He’ll be a solid nickel and special-teams contributor.

141. Taylor Hart, DE/DT, Oregon: B Grade
I figured the Eagles would pick Taylor Hart, but in the sixth round. I wouldn’t call it a reach though because Hart fell because of injury concerns. He could develop into a starter for Philadelphia, a team that had to find another defensive lineman.

162. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford: B Grade
I cannot believe that Chip Kelly is taking a Pac-12 player. Wow. Projections were all over the place for Ed Reynolds, with one team telling us that they had him in the sixth round. This range makes sense, and Reynolds could fill a need if he pans out.

224. Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin: B Grade
I heard some buzz about Beau Allen being drafted late, so this is a solid choice. Allen could develop into a quality backup nose tackle.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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