This came out of left field.
With the 26th pick in this year’s draft, the Eagles selected Louisville’s Marcus Smith, who played defensive end in college but projects as a 3-4 pass-rushing linebacker in the NFL.
Smith (see bio) was widely projected as an early second-round pick. He’s the first linebacker the Eagles have drafted in the first round since Jerry Robinson out of UCLA in 1979.
Smith, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, played across the defensive line at Louisville and also played some linebacker. The last time a Louisville player was taken this high in the draft was 2007, when the Texans took defensive tackle Amobi Okoye with the 10th pick.
“We think he’s an outstanding athlete," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "Got recruited to Louisville as a quarterback. He’s a big kid. He’s transitioned to the OLB position. He’s got a huge upside. Great athlete. Ran 4.68, he’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought having a pass rusher was a big thing for us. Young kid to bring in behind Trent [Cole] and Connor [Barwin]. His ceiling is very, very high. We’re excited. He’s a tough, hard-nosed football player. New to the position. Similar to Lane Johnson -- you’re getting a guy who’s a huge upside because he hasn’t played the position very long."
The Eagles ranked 20th in the NFL last year with just 32 sacks. Nearly half of them -- 15 -- came in three games. They averaged 1.3 sacks in their 13 other games.
As a senior, Smith had 14½ sacks, second-most in NCAA Division 1, and 18½ tackles for loss. He was a third-team All-America and the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. He's the first Louisville player since the Ravens' Elvis Dumervil to earn All-American honors.
“Long levers are strong levers," Kelly said, referring to Smith's 34-inch arms. "He fits the mold for what we’re looking for. How many guys are that size, 250-pounds running a 4.6 range, having the long arms. We just thought he was a positive. This league is turning into a throwing league and you’ve got to be able to rush the quarterback.
Earlier, the Eagles traded the 22nd pick to the Browns in exchange for the 26th pick and a third-round pick in this year’s draft, No. 83 overall.
“We thought it was big just because we wanted Marcus, and we felt like if we went back just enough we could get that extra pick," Kelly said. "We don’t know who that guy is, but last year that guy was Bennie Logan, so if you have a chance to go back just enough and still get the guy you want and get a Bennie Logan-type player, that’s a great deal for us."
Smith played mainly on special teams as a freshman in 2010 and made five starts in 2011, recording 5½ sacks. He added four sacks in 2012 and also had seven tackles for loss. He finished his career with 24 sacks.
Kelly attended Smith's Pro Day and also had a chance to meet Smith and speak to him when Louisville played Temple at Lincoln Financial Field this past season.