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.

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.