Philadelphia Eagles

Tough to say if Eagles drafted for talent or need

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Tough to say if Eagles drafted for talent or need

So the Eagles made a move Thursday night that seemed logical and sensible, if you only take into account that they drafted an outside linebacker.

They certainly needed one.

The fact that it wasn’t Anthony Barr or Dee Ford or Kony Ealy or any other pass rusher affixed with the first-round label seems to smack of desperation, a stroll down the draft-for-need lane that bit this franchise in the rear end several times in the past.

Howie Roseman insisted frequently that the Eagles would stick to their best-available-player philosophy, but when you consider the names he and Chip Kelly left on the table before drafting Marcus Smith, a hybrid pass rusher from Louisville who few draft analysts had going in the first round (see story), you have to wonder if they stayed true to their word.

They had Smith rated higher than Marqise Lee, Bradley Roby, Kelvin Benjamin, Louis Nix and Johnny Football?

Maybe they did, but some respectable names in the draft analyst business certainly didn’t.

Only the folks in the war room at One NovaCare Way know how the names stacked up on their board, but Kelly’s well-known preference for measurables -- height, weight, wingspan, etc. -- seemed to trump the big-game experience and performance against elite competition that Roseman often references as criteria for ranking prospects.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Smith (see bio) has a 34-inch arm length and is considered an excellent athlete, but 14.5 sacks against UConn, Florida International, Temple, Kentucky and Ohio leveraged against Lee’s shredding of Pac-12 secondaries or Ealy’s 9.5 sacks against SEC powerhouses just doesn’t seem to compute.

Kelly said the Eagles had targeted six other players, but all six were off the board before they were initially slated to pick at 22 and the price to move up wasn’t one they were willing to pay.

In response, they moved down four spots, adding a much-needed third-round pick and enabling the Browns to get Manziel while planning all along on nabbing Smith.

Kelly said he didn’t think Smith would be around Friday when the Eagles pick 54th, especially after the Chiefs took Dee Ford at 23rd, but NFL Network’s Mike Mayock -- who’s perhaps the best at what he does -- had Smith ranked 53rd overall, eight spots behind Ealy and 12 behind Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence, another outside linebacker.

If Mayock’s right, the Eagles not only didn’t take the best player available but also didn’t even take the best pass rusher left on the board.

“I applaud the pick,” Mayock said, per the Louisville Courier-Journal, “because it attacks an area of need for [Philadelphia].”

Benjamin went two picks later to Carolina, and Roby three picks after that to Denver. But Ealy and Nix are still on the board. As is Lee.

"We've had them all rated for a long time, and our board is our board. ... We've had since last year to stack the board the right way," Kelly said. "If we liked [Lee], that should have been a discussion a while ago. ... That's what you do rationally. You can't let emotion get into it. I think Marqise is a special kid. I tried to recruit him coming out of high school, and he had a tremendous career at USC, but for us, we think Marcus was the right pick."

So which is it: Best player or need?

Time will tell if Kelly and Roseman were smarter than everyone else and uncovered a double-digit sack producer who exceeded others’ expectations, but they insisted that they’d take the prospect who ranked highest on their board, not the one who filled an immediate hole.

At this moment, it’s hard to decipher which one’s which.

Ronald Darby gives glimpse of why Howie Roseman pulled trigger on trade

Ronald Darby gives glimpse of why Howie Roseman pulled trigger on trade

The Eagles trading of receiver Jordan Matthews was met with mixed reviews.

The arguments ranged from fair to, frankly, kind of silly. I definitely understand the numbers. He was crazy productive in his three seasons with the Eagles and became a reliable target for franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. Plus, he's Wentz's bff and Carson was super sad.

But seriously, I don't want to take away from what Matthews meant to his teammates, especially Wentz. But the reality is he's a limited, slot receiver who likely would've commanded too much money to return next season.

Here's the bottom line: Ronald Darby showed on Thursday why Howie Roseman pulled the trigger on trading Matthews and a third-round pick.

So you may wonder, why would the Bills give up on a 23-year-old corner if he's so promising?

You all know the story by now. After having a tremendous rookie season, Darby struggled in Year 2. The former second-round pick was limited with a hamstring injury early in the season and suffered a concussion in Week 12. Factor health in with a Bills defense that struggled as a unit and a team entrenched in turmoil that resulted in the firing of its head coach and GM, and Darby wasn't exactly set up for success.

Darby also didn't fit the mold of what Buffalo is now looking for in a corner. New head coach Sean McDermott utilized long corners when he was in Carolina. After losing veterans Josh Norman and Charles Tillman, the Panthers drafted James Bradberry and Daryl Worley in 2016. Both measured at 6-foot-1 with 33 3/8" arms at the combine. Darby also excels in man coverage. Last season under McDermott, Carolina played more zone coverage than any team in the NFL.

Darby is by no means perfect. The positives: crazy fast, quick feet, tremendous anticipation. The negatives: suspect hands, not a great tackler, gets lost in zone coverage at times. All of that was on display against his former team Thursday.

On his first snap, he missed an open field tackle against LeSean McCoy. Who cares? So have most of the DBs in the league. Besides, his main job is to cover receivers. Give me a corner that can stick an opposing team's No. 1 receiver over one that's a good tackler any day of the week.

With that said, Darby looked explosive in coverage. During the Bills' second possession on 2nd-and-10, Tyrod Taylor was looking for Anquan Boldin on a 10-yard out. Darby breaks up the play and there's so much to like about it. Darby is playing off man, giving Boldin a cushion. Darby has one eye on Boldin and the other on the quarterback. He's able to time it perfectly and use his speed to close the gap quickly. The only thing you'd like to see is him finish the play. It's an easy pick six if he does. 

Speaking of finishing, Darby didn't waste his second opportunity. Still in the first quarter, Taylor decides to take a shot down the field after a LeGarrette Blount fumble. Boldin tries to beat him with a double move but Darby doesn't take the cheese (something he did often at Florida State). Taylor faces heavy pressure from the Eagles' front and heaves it up for grabs. Darby snags it and goes 48 yards on the return.

The most impressive thing on both plays is Darby's ability to keep his eyes on the quarterback while maintaining coverage. That's what allows him to anticipate throws and recognize routes so well. For years the Eagles have lacked a corner with the ability to turn around and play the football. Darby's unbelievable speed and foot quickness allows him to do so.

To keep this in perspective, Darby was facing a quarterback in Taylor that he saw an awful lot of over the last two-plus years. He was also covering the 36-year-old Boldin, who's been with Buffalo for a little over a week. But impressive none the less.

Does one preseason game mean Darby is the next Darrelle Revis? Of course not.

But he has a chance to be a pretty damn good corner.

Former Eagles' draft pick Jordan Poyer excited for opportunity with Bills

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Former Eagles' draft pick Jordan Poyer excited for opportunity with Bills

And then there's the former Eagle on the Bills who is a little less famous.
 
It was cataclysmic when Chip Kelly traded LeSean McCoy to the Bills. It was historic when Howie Roseman traded Jordan Matthews to the Bills.
 
Jordan Poyer's journey from Philly to Buffalo is a little bit different and a whole lot less well-known. But the one-time Eagles draft pick has become an important part of Sean McDermott's defense.
 
Poyer, who signed as a free agent with the Bills this past offseason, was the second of three Eagles seventh-round picks in 2013. He made the team as a long-shot cornerback and played in three games as a rookie before getting released on Oct. 19 so the Eagles could sign running back Matthew Tucker off their practice squad.
 
The Eagles hoped to land Poyer on the practice squad, but the Browns claimed him, and he wound up spending four years in Cleveland, playing in 45 games and starting four last year with two interceptions before his season ended with a horrific injury — a lacerated kidney.
 
He finally escaped Cleveland this spring, signing a four-year, $13 million deal with the Bills that includes $7.4 million in guaranteed money and he goes into the regular season as the Bills' starting free safety.
 
Not bad for the 46th defensive back taken in the 2013 draft.
 
“Being in Philadelphia, starting my career here was huge," Poyer said Thursday night after the Eagles-Bills preseason game at the Linc.
 
"I’m in Year 5 now and you never know what would have happened if I didn’t start out here, start my career here. It was a big part of my foundation, learning the NFL game."
 
The Browns went 12-47 while Poyer was in Cleveland, and he played under three head coaches and four defensive coordinators during his stay with Cleveland.
 
“It was a challenge," he said, shaking his head. "We all play this game to win football games. That’s the name of the business, the name of the game. That’s why we start playing when we’re little. Anytime you’re not winning it’s always tough.
 
"I’m trying to put that time of my life behind me now, I’m here in Buffalo now and happy here."

But the one good thing that happened to Poyer in Cleveland was the switch from corner to safety.
 
“It's a lot different and it took some time," he said. "But I feel good about it, felt good about making the switch. Took it and ran with it and learned the position.
 
"It's still a new position, and I still have a lot of things to learn, but I feel like it was good for me. Really one of the best things to happen to my career."

In Buffalo, Poyer's head coach, McDermott, and defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, are both former Eagles secondary coaches. Nobody has a better feel for the secondary than McDermott, who played in the same secondary as Mike Tomlin at William & Mary and worked under Jim Johnson for a decade in Philly before going to a Super Bowl with Ron Rivera in Carolina.

"It's a great situation for me with Sean and Leslie," Poyer said. "Sean coaches us every day, helps us get better, helps get the whole football team better. I learn something from him every day."
 
Poyer has played in more games than 24 of the defensive backs drafted ahead of him in 2013 and in more games than all but five of the 47 other seventh-round picks that year.
 
The only defensive back the Eagles have taken in the seventh round the last 50 years who's played in more career games is Kurt Coleman, another player who revived his career under McDermott.
 
To go from seventh-round pick to $7½ million in guaranteed money is quite a story, but Poyer is so grounded he said he doesn't really think about the big picture of his career arc.
 
“During the season, you’re moving so fast you don’t really have time to sit back and look at what you’ve accomplished or how far you’ve come," he said.
 
"At the end of the season or at the end of my career I’ll look back on it and soak in everything that I had to go through and got to where I am now, but right now, I'm just focused on getting ready (for opening day).
 
"Philly gave me a good opportunity, made a lot of good friends here and now excited to be here in Buffalo."