Smith, Matthews hope to be foundation of Eagles' future
Marcus Smith (left) was selected by the Eagles with the 26th-overall pick at the NFL draft. Jordan Matthews was taken in the second round with the 42nd pick. (AP)
In this week’s “Mosher’s Mailbag,” I answer a question about the potential impact of the Eagles’ 2014 draft class.
Q. Who do you predict will start/have significant playing time out of draft class?
- Vansh B (@VanshB10)
A. Unlike their past two drafts, which delivered several immediate starters, the Eagles probably won’t have any of their 2014 selections start right away. Don’t be surprised if no one emerges as a starter until 2015. The roster is deeper and stronger now than it had been the past two seasons, so it’s not necessarily a negative that none of their picks are projected to start by the season opener.
The guy most likely to make the quickest impact is second-round wideout Jordan Matthews. Chip Kelly wants Matthews to start off in the slot and use his 6-foot-3 frame against smaller nickelbacks. If the Eagles come out in “11 personnel” (three wide receivers, one tight end) on their first possession, Matthews will likely man the slot and, technically, he’d be among the starting 11. But look for Kelly to lean a little heavier on “12 personnel” (two receivers, two tight ends) early on for experience reasons. In that case, the outside receivers would be Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, with Zach Ertz and Brent Celek manning the tight end spots.
The fact that Matthews can play inside and outside -- he was mostly an outside receiver at Vanderbilt -- gives him the best chance to see the most significant playing time early. Kelly can move him around and figure out mismatches. Also, any injuries at wideout would automatically increase Matthews’ workload. if Cooper or Maclin were to suffer an injury, Matthews would likely be elevated into a starting role. Maclin is coming off his second ACL tear since college, so he’ll be handled carefully in the spring and summer camps. Matthews should get plenty of grooming.
As for first-round pick Marcus Smith, it’s hard to see him unseating Trent Cole or Connor Barwin by the season opener. Barwin isn’t getting beat and Cole, even after a so-so 2014, will hold the fort down until Smith is more polished.
But Smith can still have an early impact on the defense in sub packages, especially if his coverage is up to par. His experience as a 3-4 outside linebacker gives coordinator Billy Davis more flexibility with his blitzes. If Smith and Barwin are both on the field, the offense can’t assume that Smith is blitzing and Barwin is dropping. Cole can put his hand back in the dirt in some pass rush schemes to get on the field with Barwin and Smith.
Third-round wideout Josh Huff probably won’t see significant time on offense, but could emerge into the primary punt returner. The rest -- Jaylen Watkins, Ed Reynolds, Taylor Hart and Beau Allen -- will all push for backup roles in training camp. Some will have a big impact on special teams.