New Eagle Marcus Smith surprised to go in 1st round

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New Eagle Marcus Smith surprised to go in 1st round

Virtually nobody had Marcus Smith going in the first round. Nobody except the Eagles.

And Smith thinks he knows why.

“Maybe because of my junior film,” Smith said after the Eagles selected him with the 26th pick in the NFL draft (see story).

“Maybe they thought this was just a one-year thing -- ‘He busted on the scene.’ Maybe because I didn't do well my junior year, only had four sacks.

“A lot of people kind of brushed me to the side.”

You’re not the only one surprised the Eagles took Smith in the first round.

He was, too.

"I had a feeling I would [go in the first round], but I didn't know exactly,” the newest Eagle said from Louisville late Thursday night. “I was looking at maybe early second, maybe even the third round.”

Smith (see bio), whose 14½ sacks as a senior ranked second in NCAA Division I, wasn’t projected anywhere nearly as high as the top two pass-rushing outside linebackers, Khalil Mack of Buffalo, who went fifth to the Raiders, and Anthony Barr of UCLA, who went No. 9 to the Vikings.

But Smith said he knows he can be the same kind of player in the NFL as Mack and Barr.

"I'm pretty much the same as those guys,” he said. “I can rush the passer and drop into coverage. I feel like I'm very athletic. I feel like I could have gone where those guys went as far as my talent goes, but I know how the draft goes. All you've got to do is get one team to love you, and I know the Eagles will take care of me.

“Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr are great players. I watched them on film a lot and some things they do I tried to take from them so I could add them to my game.”

Smith, who just turned 22 on March 31, played all over the defense at Louisville but was mainly a defensive end.

With the Eagles, he’ll play outside rush linebacker in Billy Davis’s 3-4 scheme.

The Eagles ranked 20th in the NFL with 32 sacks last year, 15 of which came in three games.

Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are currently penciled in as the starting outside linebackers, but Smith said he expects to contribute right away. Even though he’s still new to the position and really still new to playing defense.

"I know for a fact they want me to rush and go get the quarterback,” Smith said late Thursday night. “I can be a double-digit sack guy. Once I get into camp and get rolling and get into the groove, I really believe I can be that guy. I really do."

Smith, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, began his college career as a quarterback, but that didn’t last very long.

"There were two seniors in front of me my freshman year and I wasn't getting a lot of reps and I wasn't doing too well throwing the ball,” he said.

“Coach [Charlie] Strong asked if I wanted to play defense, and I said I'll do whatever it takes to get on the field. We were in two-a-days, and the second practice that day he put me on defense and I never went back.”

That could help explain why Smith didn’t really make an impact early in his college career.

But Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Smith’s upside is one of the things that was appealing to the Eagles, and Smith said he feels like he still has a ton of improvement to make.

"It took me a year to settle in coming from quarterback to linebacker because I had to get the mentality of a defensive player, knocking people off on that side of the ball,” he said.

“I've gotten better each year and this year had an outbreak and feel like I can carry everything I did this year into the NFL. I want to make an impact right away and I know the coaches in Philly can get me ready for this season coming up.”

Smith is the first linebacker the Eagles have drafted in the first round in 35 years, since Jerry Robinson out of UCLA in 1979.

He said he has plenty of experience dropping back in coverage, something outside linebackers need to do in Davis’s scheme.

“I believe they dropped me about 50-50,” he said. “Maybe not as much my junior year but last year they dropped me more. Going into the middle of the season I started rushing a lot more because they wanted somebody to get to the quarterback, but I was doing both.

“I've gotten better each year and this year had an outbreak and feel like I can carry everything I did this year into the NFL. I want to make an impact right away.

"I think I have not reached my full potential yet. I continually trying to work every day. I know I have a lot of stuff to polish up and a lot of stuff I have to work on. I think once I get around the right people an around the league I'll be the great player that I want to be.”

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

A physical specimen, with the brains to match.

It's hard to understate the impression you get from meeting Tanoh Kpassagnon in person.

I read an article before meeting him that said his "abs had abs" and that he sported a minuscule 4 percent body fat. He laughed when I brought it up to him and said he wasn't so sure about the 4 percent body fat but that he loves to work out and get stronger, and he has been that way since high school.

Besides being a gym rat in the weight room, the 'Nova product was down to earth and easy to talk to. So much so we talked about what food we liked to cook and exchanged some tips on how to keep your mashed potatoes smooth and silky.

Kpassagnon moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Philly in the sixth grade and partly got turned on to football by watching the Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook Eagles in the 2000s.

His proud parents don't know much about pigskin but are over the moon about his success and growing notoriety. He said he just wants to join an NFL team and build a bond with a new group of guys.

With his skill set, I imagine it won't be long before his name is called on Day 2 and his impact could go well beyond his draft position.

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

All the mock drafts and speculation will be over Thursday when the players get announced in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the 2017 NFL draft.

As we approach the finish line, let's see what some of the experts think about what the Eagles might do at No. 14.

Mel Kiper, ESPN - Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Conley has been linked to the Eagles on what seems like a daily basis. Earlier in the process, Conley was overshadowed by teammate Marshon Lattimore, a likely top-10 pick. After impressing at the combine, Conley has put himself in position to be the second cornerback off the board.

Kiper's take: "Conley, another riser after the combine, is the veteran of the three Buckeyes defensive backs I have going in the top 14 picks. Philadelphia let Nolan Carroll II walk in free agency after he started 16 games last season, and the Eagles brought in former first-round pick Patrick Robinson on a one-year deal to compete at corner. Coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense is thin on the boundaries."

Analysis: There is definitely a strong case to be made for Conley as the second-best corner in the draft. He's excellent in coverage and should be an NFL starter from Day 1. With that said, you might be able to get more value with this pick. Kiper has the Eagles passing on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (one of my draft crushes), Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, and wideouts Corey Davis (Western Michigan) and Mike Williams (Clemson). With the depth at the corner position, I'd pass on anyone not named Marshon Lattimore at 14.

Todd McShay, ESPN - Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

There may not be a player whose stock has soared more than McCaffrey's. Once considered a borderline first-round pick, there are analysts who project McCaffrey as high as No. 8 to the Panthers. McCaffrey's versatility is unparalleled to any running back in this draft. 

McShay's take: "I love this fit. Darren Sproles turns 34 in June, and Philly needs a versatile playmaker out of the backfield. McCaffrey has the skill set to be a really good running back and wide receiver in the NFL. He showed tremendous short-area quickness at the combine (6.57-second three cone), which is readily apparent when watching McCaffrey's route running."

Analysis: The fit is obvious. McCaffrey is a running back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also a bit underrated as a runner between the tackles. With all that said, I don't love the value at 14. But if the Birds pick McCaffrey, it's by no means a disappointment. The more weapons for Carson Wentz, the better.

Josh Norris, Rotoworld - Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Harris has joined the ranks of McCaffrey as one of the draft's highest risers. He was a productive player at Missouri and impressed at the combine. Most mocks have him going somewhere in the 20s, but there are rumors that more than one team considers Harris a top-10 pick.

Norris' take: "The Eagles could absolutely take a similar approach to the Panthers last season in terms of multiple corners after round one. Harris will be a top 15 selection and greatly improved his athletic testing at the school’s pro day."

Analysis: I like Norris' idea of snagging two corners later, but I don't love the idea of Harris this high. He's not the only one to mock Harris in this range recently. I've mocked Harris in the late 20s and that's still where I feel comfortable projecting him. With that said, Harris would be a safe pick at 14. He has a high motor, a variety of pass rush moves, and NFL size and strength.

Cris Collinsworth, PFF/NBC Sunday Night Football color analyst - Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

White is an interesting prospect because he's projected to go all over the place. He could go here to the Eagles or he could still be available in the second round. He was an impact player for a school that seems like it produces secondary players in a factory.

Collinsworth's take: "I want to give the Eagles a receiver with the speed of John Ross to play alongside Alshon Jeffery, but Philadelphia has to have a cornerback, and White is the next best available. He may drive Jim Schwartz nuts if he refuses to tackle, but Schwartz has no choice -- you can’t compete without corners. I love White’s ability to find the ball in the air. Most young corners are afraid to turn their head and look for deep balls, and they end up getting beat. White is rock-solid there. I also don’t see him as a guy that will get a lot of cheap fouls; he keeps his hands to himself. I thought White would run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, but at 4.47, he was a little slower than his run-and-cover style would suggest. White has legitimate coverage skills, though, and should go in the first half of the draft."

Analysis: The bottom line: White can cover. That is, after all, a corner's primary function. This isn't a sexy pick at all, but like Conley, White should be able to start for an NFL defense from Day 1. Also, like with Conley, there might be better value in this spot.

Lance Zierlein, NFL Network - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Humphrey was considered the best corner in the draft for a big chunk of the college season. He has prototypical size and was a track star in high school. He struggled to track the ball in the College Football Playoff on multiple occasions. Those struggles have put him behind players like Conley and White in the eyes of some analysts.

Zierlein's take: "A height-weight-speed prospect who is the best run defender at the corner spot in the draft. If Humphrey can improve in locating the deep ball, he could be a good one."

Analysis: This is a fair take. Aside from Lattimore, Humphrey might project best to being a No. 1 corner physically. For the 2017 season, Conley and White will likely be better than Humphrey. In the long term, Humphrey might turn out to be the best corner in this draft. With that said, the ball location issues are concerning. Especially considering that's been a problem for Eagles' corners recently.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster has had a rough go of the predraft process. He was kicked out of the combine for a spat with a hospital worker. Recently, questions have come up about his surgically repaired shoulder. And now it's come out that Foster's drug test at the combine came back diluted. Foster insists it was a result of an illness which caused him to drink an excessive amount of fluid.

Jeremiah's take: "Foster is a tone-setter and would excel in the Eagles' defensive scheme."

Analysis: It is important to note that Jeremiah's mock was from earlier this month. I doubt he'd have Foster going this high now. The kid is incredibly talented, though. Jordan Hicks and Foster would wreak havoc on a weekly basis. This is a player who is among the top 10 most talented players in the entire draft. Taking a chance on him at 14 might be worth it. The Eagles would really have to do their homework on this one.