Eagles trade up and pick WR Jordan Matthews

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Eagles trade up and pick WR Jordan Matthews

The Eagles moved up 12 spots in the second round Friday night and got the wide receiver they desperately needed in Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, the all-time leading wide receiver in SEC history.

The Eagles selected Matthews with the 42nd pick, which they acquired from the Titans in exchange for the 54th pick, the Eagles' original second-round pick, and No. 122, their fourth-round pick.

"Every opportunity I’ve ever had in football, I’ve had to grind for it," Matthews said. "Nothing has ever been given to me. When the ball’s in the air it’s mine. That’s the attitude I have every time I go out on the football field.”

Matthews (see bio) has size (6-3, 212) and speed (he ran a 4.4 40). He caught 262 passes for 3,759 yards for 24 touchdowns at Vandy, with his production increasing each year: 4-for-181 with four TDs as a freshman, 41-for-778 with five TDs as a sophomore, 94-for-1,328 with eight touchdowns as a junior and 12-for-1,477 with seven TDs last season.

“First thing you do, you look at his numbers and they’re off the charts,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s 6-3, ran 4.46 at the combine, got a great wing span, great verticle jump, intelligent kid, graduated college in 3½ years.”

In what has been widely accepted as the deepest wide receiver draft ever, Matthews was the seventh wide receiver selected, three spots after the other second-round wide out the Eagles coveted -- USC's Marqise Lee.

Matthews said he has no idea why he wasn't taken until the 42nd pick. And doesn't care.

"I don’t have the answer," he said. "I don’t know how this whole process works. I’m not worried about any of the picks ahead of me, I’m ready to go up there and get to work with the Philadelphia Eagles."

The Eagles went into the draft with only two proven wide receivers on the roster – Jeremy Maclin, who missed last year with his second ACL, and Riley Cooper, who had nine games a year ago with fewer than 40 receiving yards.

Earlier this offseason, the Eagles released the two wideouts with the most receptions on the team in the last 20 years – DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant.

Kelly said Matthews will start out in the slot, the spot occupied by Avant for most of the last eight years.

“He’s got such a wing span and will go up and get it, will play both inside and outside,” Kelly said. “We’ll start him inside. He’s got the speed to play on the outside and he’s got the size. He can do a lot of different things we can do, but the intangible things that Jason Avant brought to the slot -- being physical, being able to block -- I think he can do that along with exploit man coverage.”

Matthews is the first wideout the Eagles have taken in the first two rounds since Maclin in 2009.

Before taking Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler, in the second round in 2008, the four previous wideouts the Eagles drafted in the second round were Mike Bellamy in 1990, Victor Bailey in 1993, Todd Pinkston in 2000 and Reggie Brown in 2005.

Matthews was asked if he’s coming to Philly to replace Jackson.

"I just want to be the best teammate I can be," he said. "I'm just going to go in and shut my mouth and get to work."

Kelly said the one thing that stood out the most about Matthews was his ability to make plays against man coverage in the best defensive conference in the country.

He said since the Eagles play at such a high tempo, opposing defenses generally play a lot of man because it’s the easiest coverage to get into quickly.

“The one thing he can do is catch the ball in traffic,” Kelly said. “He made an unbelievable amount of contested catches. It’s huge. A lot of times when you're looking at guys, it’s apples and oranges. This guy was productive and had X amount of catches, but who’s covering him? He saw a lot more man than a lot of guys because in that conference there’s a lot of man. It’s a defensive conference with some great football teams and great coaches.

“The remarkable thing is everybody knew when Vanderbilt played a game, everybody knew he’d be getting the ball, but he still got the ball.

“At the receiver position, [the biggest thing] is your ability to beat 1-on-1 coverage. Honestly. We see it so much. You’re going to have to catch a lot of contested footballs."

Kelly compared Matthews' ability to use his big frame to battle for contested balls with that of Riley Cooper, who caught 47 balls for 835 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago in his first year as an NFL starter.

“I think that’s one of the things that makes Riley so good," Kelly said. "He’s 6-4, 6-5, and he can muscle and go get the ball," Kelly said. "People play defense so close in ths league, your ability to go get the football really seperates people. That’s what you see when you look on the film.

“People match up with us because of what we do. We’re going to see man a lot, so getting guys who exploit that coverage, that’s what we’re looking for, and that’s what he really can do.

“If your smaller DB is going to play in the slot, now he has to match up with a guy who’s 6-3, 217 pounds.”

The Eagles were able to move down from 22 to 26 Thursday to select linebacker Marcus Smith and pick up a third-round pick, and a day later, they moved up 12 spots, and it cost them only a fourth-round pick.

“We held our breath in what it would take to get up there," Kelly said. "We think he’d be around at 54. Getting the extra pick, it worked out perfectly. Now we feel like we'll get four pretty good players in the first 86 picks."

Eagles-Steelers predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Steelers predictions by our (cough) experts

This isn't the Browns or the Bears.

This is a legitimate Super Bowl contender with an elite offense and a defense that will test Carson Wentz.

So how will the Eagles fare against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon? Our (cough) expert predictions on the Birds' Week 3 matchup.

Reuben Frank (2-0)
I think the Eagles will acquit themselves well. I think they’ll play a solid, competitive game against one of the NFL’s elite teams, and when the fourth quarter rolls around, they’ll be right there. I also think they’ll lose, but you didn’t think they were going 16-0, did you?

This is an intriguing test for the Eagles, who are sky high after wins over the Browns and Bears. But the Steelers have too much firepower for the Eagles to handle. And it’s not just Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, a Hall of Fame quarterback and all-pro receiver. Sammie Coates has only four catches but 153 yards. DeAngelo Williams leads the NFL in rushing. Five Steelers have at least one catch of 20 yards (the Eagles only have two guys with a 20-yard catch). And despite allowing almost 400 yards per game, the Steelers have given up just two touchdowns in wins over the Redskins and Bengals.

If the Eagles lose this one, they’re still a surprising 2-1 going into the bye with winnable games looming against the Lions and Redskins. If they win? They’re going to the freaking Super Bowl. But I just think they’re not quite ready for this challenge.

Steelers 24, Eagles 20

Dave Zangaro (2-0)
The Eagles are off to a great start, but I just don't see them pulling this one out.

Pittsburgh isn't just tougher than Cleveland and Chicago. The Steelers might be the best team in the NFL. They're dynamic on offense, even without Le'Veon Bell, and their defense should be something unlike Carson Wentz has seen in his first two games. 

I don't think it will be an absolute blowout and this is certainly a more intriguing game than it was a few weeks ago. But I just can't pick the Eagles in this one. 

Steelers 31, Eagles 24

Derrick Gunn (2-0)
Playing the Browns and Bears were the perfect warmups for the Eagles. Now, they'll face who many experts are picking to represent the AFC in this year's Super Bowl, the Steelers.

This is a team that is loaded on offense with future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger running the show. Antonio Brown is one of the most dangerous receivers in the game. Wide receiver Sammie Coates is averaging 38.3 yards per catch, and wideout Markus Wheaton, who missed the first two games with a shoulder injury, is expected to be available for this one. And they have 6-foot-7 tight end Jesse James.

DeAngelo Williams leads the league in rushing. The Steelers' defense is allowing 16 points per game, and will come after a young Carson Wentz, who's been brilliant in his first two outings.

Because the Steelers' D is giving up just 50.5 yards per game rushing, the Birds' offense may have to pass more than they want to. This is a tough matchup any way you look at it for the Eagles, especially with tight end Zach Ertz sitting this one out.

On any given Sunday anything can happen, but not this week.

Steelers 27, Eagles 17

Ray Didinger (2-0)
The Eagles have enjoyed success against the Steelers over the years, especially in Philadelphia. The last time the Steelers visited the Linc for a regular season game, the Eagles won a tough defensive battle, 14-6, with Brian Dawkins sealing the victory with a strip sack in the final minutes. In 1979, the Steelers were defending Super Bowl champs, but the Eagles upset them at the Vet, 17-14, when Franco Harris lost a fumble at the 1-yard line.
 
The Steelers haven't won a regular season game here since 1965. It is a good stat, but I'm not sure it has much relevance in this week's matchup. The Steelers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL with six touchdown passes and running back DeAngelo Williams leads the league in rushing. Give the Eagles credit for winning their first two games and Carson Wentz is justly the talk of the league, but the Steelers are a huge step up in class from the Browns and Bears.
 
Steelers 24, Eagles 17

Andrew Kulp (2-0)
I can envision a way where this is a close game and the Eagles even win. It's not that far-fetched to think the Birds will continue to have success this week because Ben Roethlisberger is a different quarterback on the road, tossing five touchdowns to nine interceptions in six games last season. If they limit the Steelers' offense, Carson Wentz might be able to hit just enough big plays against the Steelers' 31st-ranked secondary to pull off the upset.

As much as I believe that scenario is possible, it's difficult to pick a rookie quarterback over a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles will limit the Steelers' offense, but Wentz is going to see more complicated looks from the defense and maybe make some real mistakes for the first time. If I'm wrong, and Wentz performs the way he has the previous two weeks, there's a chance the end result is a victory — that's just awfully hard to predict.

Steelers 17, Eagles 16

Corey Seidman (2-0)
I foresee the Eagles have trouble covering Antonio Brown, who scores an early TD, before selling out against him and opening up running lanes for DeAngelo Williams.

Even if Carson Wentz leads the Eagles to points on their opening drive for a third straight game, I expect him to struggle unless the offensive line plays lights out (looking at you, Jason Kelce). 

Predicting Wentz throws his first interception and the Eagles lose to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Steelers 27, Eagles 17

Andy Schwartz (1-1)
Well, guess I overestimated the Bears. 

But be thankful I did, because you know what happens when all of us pick the Eagles. 

They lose. 

Granted, we all picked the Eagles to beat Cleveland, but the Browns are so bad the rule doesn’t apply to them.

And the Bears don’t seem much better.

Not to take anything away from the Eagles’ victory. They won handily on the road on Monday Night Football and did so with a rookie quarterback making just his second career start. 

But still. The Bears were no benchmark for the Birds.

The Steelers, as Doug Pederson said, are.

And as much attention as we want to place on Carson Wentz, this game very well could come down to the Eagles’ defense, which as much as Wentz is responsible for their 2-0 record.

Ben Roethlisberger > Jay Cutler. Antonio Brown > Alshon Jeffery. DeAngelo Williams > Jeremy Langford. 

The Steelers are a Super Bowl contender. Right now they have the second-best odds in the league, behind the Patriots, who just trashed the Texans.

I’m on the Wentz Wagon. I like the Birds’ D. I’m just not ready to predict a W over the Steelers.

Steelers 30, Eagles 23

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Stephen Tulloch's snaps can give Jordan Hicks a breather

Stephen Tulloch's snaps can give Jordan Hicks a breather

On Monday night, when the Chicago Bears’ offense got onto the field late in the third quarter at their 24-yard line, down 22-7, Jordan Hicks was a spectator. 

The Eagles’ starting middle linebacker stood on the sideline with his helmet propped up on his head as veteran 31-year-old Stephen Tulloch came out in his place. 

When asked why, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was coy. 

“It was a coaching decision,” Schwartz said Thursday. “He made a big hit on that play. Just leave it at that.” 

When pressed about Tulloch’s role going forward, Schwartz said he didn’t know and then that he isn’t big on talking about who is going to play in which package or how much. 

“I'm sorry, it's not that I'm trying to keep stuff from you,” Schwartz said. “I just feel like that's stuff that's best for the opponent to figure out on Sunday.”

Tulloch played well on that series late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, where he picked up a few of his 12 defensive snaps. He had a big hit on Alshon Jeffery after a first down and would have probably scooped up a fumble if cornerback Ron Brooks didn’t beat him to it first. 

He played well, but it was still a curious decision. Hicks isn’t just the Eagles’ starting MIKE linebacker, he’s one of the biggest defensive playmakers the team has. 

“That’s the rotation that they’ve put in place,” Hicks said. “Tully’s a great player. They like that rotation, they like putting him in, letting him get a feel for the game as well. For me, no, I mean, when I’m getting in a groove, going out a series doesn’t necessarily hurt me at all. Once I get into it, I’m locked in.”

Could the breaks actually help him?  

“Absolutely,” he said. “Especially if I’m rotating in on special teams here or there. No question.”

Tulloch was signed shortly before the season began after seventh-round pick Joe Walker suffered a torn ACL. The veteran already knew Schwartz’s defense inside and out upon his arrival, after playing under Schwartz in Tennessee and Detroit.  

Tulloch wouldn’t say if he expects his role to increase, decrease or stay the same. But he did say he enjoyed playing his first defensive snaps as an Eagle on Monday. And he understands the value he can have as a backup player who gives the starter a chance to rest. 

“I think that’s just the way the game is now,” Tulloch said. “A lot of guys play special teams and on defense as well. Whenever you can give a guy a blow to keep him fresh. It’s a long season, as you know, playing week in and week out. It’s a lot of wear and tear on the body, so whenever you give guys a breather, especially guys that understand the defense and there’s no let-off. Try to get them a little breather and get them back out there.” 

Starting WILL linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has been the odd man out in the team’s nickel package, is questionable heading into Sunday’s game against the Steelers with a broken nose and quad contusion. 

There’s also been some outside thought the team could, at times, put Tulloch in the game at MIKE and slide Hicks to WILL if Kendricks begins to struggle. Hicks said he’s worked at the WILL, as well as the SAM, for depth purposes and could play there if need be. 

For now, though, Hicks is the starter and Tulloch, who looked pretty good in limited action against the Bears, is a capable backup off the bench. 

“He looked like an 11-year vet,” Hicks said. “He’s played a lot of football. I’m sure when you get to that point, it doesn’t take much to just fall back on who you are and who you’ve always been and all those games you’ve played before.”

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