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."

Report: Eagles expected to hire Mike Groh as receivers coach

Report: Eagles expected to hire Mike Groh as receivers coach

It look like the Eagles have found their replacement for Greg Lewis.

According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the Eagles are expected to hire Rams receivers/passing game coordinator Mike Groh.

The news that the Eagles fired Lewis came out on Jan. 9 and the team has been looking for a replacement. They reportedly interviewed Groh and Bills receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

Groh, 45, spent the 2016 season with the Rams after three years as the Bears' receivers coach. Groh is available because the Rams switched head coaches, bringing in Sean McVay.

Before coming to the NFL, Groh was a longtime coach at the college level. He is the son of former Virginia head coach Al Groh and eventually became an offensive coordinator under his father before bouncing from Alabama to Louisville and then back to Alabama before heading to the NFL. 

Groh was actually the quarterback at Virginia in the 90s before his father ever coached there. Groh's first coaching job was under his father as assistant coach with the Jets in 2000, when Al Groh was named their head coach for the season. 

If the Eagles are looking to sign a big-name free agent at wide receiver, there could be a reunion of sorts in Philly. During his four seasons as an NFL receivers coach, Groh has worked with Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Britt, who are two of the top receivers who will be available.

The Eagles started their season with a first-round pick, two second-round picks and a third-round pick at wide receiver, but their unit was one of the worst in the NFL. Jordan Matthews was consistent, but tight end Zach Ertz was the team's leading receiver.

It's unlikely Groh will have the same unit to work with as Lewis did in 2016, but it is likely Groh will be expected to get more out of his group in 2017.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS