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.

NFL Playoffs: Falcons, Patriots win in routs to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Falcons, Patriots win in routs to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons (see full recap).

Brady, Patriots dominate Steelers in 36-17 rout to clinch Super Bowl berth
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Tom Brady redemption tour is headed to the Super Bowl.

After beginning the 2016 season suspended for four games for his role in the "Deflategate" scandal, the New England quarterback relentlessly carried the Patriots to an unprecedented ninth appearance in the title game, and his seventh. Brady threw for a franchise playoff-best 384 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-17 rout of the helpless Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in New England's seventh consecutive AFC championship game.

The Patriots are early 3-point favorites heading to face Atlanta in two weeks in Houston, seeking their fifth NFL title with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach. Belichick's seventh appearance in a Super Bowl will be a record for a head coach.

Brady was banned by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when New England (16-2) went 3-1 to open the schedule.

Since his return in Week 5, the only defeat came at home to Seattle, and Brady, 39, had one of the best seasons of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He punctuated that in dreary weather similar to the 2014 conference title game that precipitated the deflated footballs investigation by flattening Pittsburgh's secondary.

Chris Hogan was his main weapon. The previously unheralded receiver found open spaces everywhere on the field against a leaky secondary. Hogan caught nine balls for 180 yards and two scores.

Top wideout Julian Edelman added eight receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown as Brady tied Joe Montana's playoff record with nine three-TD passing performances. Brady also had his 11th 300-yard postseason game, extending his NFL record, completing 32 of 42 throws.

Pittsburgh (13-6) lost star running back Le'Veon Bell late in the first quarter to a groin injury. It didn't seem to matter much in a record 16th conference title match for the Steelers, who made mistakes in every facet of the game. The franchise that has won the most Super Bowls, six, and the most postseason games, 36, never seemed likely to challenge in the misty rain (see full recap).

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

In the seventh 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 7 is Kelce to Marshall.

Jason Kelce
Cap hit: $6.2M

Roob: I’ll start by saying that Kelce did not play as horribly this past season as some people make it sound like. He was inconsistent. He committed too many penalties. He got pushed around by some bigger defensive tackles. But he remains a very smart, very athletic center who got better as the season went on and was actually playing pretty good football late in the year. That said, Kelce turns 30 next season, the Eagles are trying to get younger and a 30-year-old center with a $6.2 million cap figure is a luxury the Eagles just can’t afford right now. They can save $3.8 million by releasing Kelce, and considering how Isaac Seumalo played when he was in there this past season, moving on from Kelce definitely has some merit. Seumalo comes with a $764,966 cap figure, he just turned 23 and he’s got tons of upside. It’s all about what the roster is going to look like in a couple years, when the Eagles should be in position to get into the playoffs and make a run. Do you want a 32-year-old center in his ninth season? No. This is the time to make the change. Get Seumalo as much experience as possible, as much work with Carson Wentz as possible. There’s no guarantee he’ll become the player Kelce has been, but he was a third-round pick and the Eagles need to find out if he's going to be the guy. And that $3.8 million in cap space is big too. Kelce has been a terrific Eagle for a long time, but it’s time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Kelce has become an unpopular player in recent years and it’s easy to see why. He’s slightly undersized center and just can’t take on nose tackles 1-on-1. But he’s still very good getting downfield to block and hasn’t been nearly as bad as you think. Throughout the season, Kelce was pretty honest when assessing his play and said he knew he needed to get better to stay in Philly. There have been reports the Eagles have been thinking about moving on from Kelce, and I see why that makes sense, especially with Isaac Seumalo waiting. But Kelce can be a constant for Carson Wentz, and it's all about Carson Wentz. 

Verdict: STAYS

Mychal Kendricks
Cap hit: $6.6M

Roob: Kendricks, on the other hand, may still have more value to the Eagles here than elsewhere. You could save $1.8 million under the cap by releasing him, and maybe they will. But, geeze, he’s still just 26 years old and still has the athleticism and tools that made him the 46th player taken in the 2012 draft. I’m not sure what happened to Kendricks. Somewhere along the line, all that potential just sort of stopped turning into plays. Kendricks had 12 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles in his first four seasons but no big plays this past year as his playing time dwindled. I have to think Kendricks is worth keeping around for another year and trying to salvage something out of him on special teams if nothing else. Kendricks was drafted ahead of Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David. Do you just give up on him before his 27th birthday? And it’s not like the Eagles are exactly loaded with young talent at linebacker. So I think they try one more year with Kendricks. 

Verdict: STAYS 

Dave: What’s happened to Kendricks over the past few years has been wild. He went from ultimate fan favorite on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler with a new contract to a complete afterthought. Kendricks barely played in 2016 and it was clear he wasn’t happy about that. Maybe he can make a difference in a different defense. He’s still young and athletic and could fit in another defense. The Eagles should try everything they can to trade him and get something out of him. It wouldn't save them a lot of money ($1.8 million), but it might just be time to cut ties. 

Verdict: GOES

Bennie Logan
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: I know it looks tough right now to imagine the Eagles finding a way to re-sign Logan, who is an unrestricted free agent and is going to get some pretty hefty offers if he hits the open market. But this is what Howie is best at. Finding ways to keep guys he wants to keep. The Eagles are not going to let a solid, consistent 27-year-old defensive tackle walk. General rule: When a team wants to keep a player and the player wants to stay, they find a way to get it done. By releasing and restructuring other guys, they’ll make room under the cap for Logan. I have a hunch he’s not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Logan is the Eagles’ biggest to-be free agent. He’s said he wants to be back in Philly next year and has talked about the friendships he has on the team, but this is a chance for a big payday – and you never know if one will come again. Because Logan has shown his ability to play in a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, the number of teams interested in him won’t be limited. That will raise the price. And ultimately, it comes down to price. The Eagles already have a ton of money invested in their defensive line. Will they prioritize signing one more? 

Verdict: GOES

Rick Lovato

Roob: Lovato is one of the two-best long snappers the Eagles have had in the last decade. He got three games in after long-time long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a season-ending broken wrist, and he acquitted himself fine. But assuming Dorenbos wants to hold off on a full-time magic career and keep playing football, he’s the guy.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Sorry long-snapper Lovato. You did just fine filling in for Dorenbos, but it’s still the magic man’s job.

Verdict: GOES

Chris Maragos
Cap hit: $2.25M

Roob: With apologies to Kenny Rose, Quintin Mikell, Colt Anderson and Ike Reese, Maragos is the best special teams player I’ve ever seen wear an Eagles uniform. Maragos is 30 years old now, but he ceratinly showed no signs of slowing down. The Eagles did the right thing and locked him up for three more years. We probably don’t talk enough about Dave Fipp’s special teams units, but they have always been among the best in the NFL, and Maragos is one of the main reasons why. He’s one key guy the Eagles don’t have to worry about losing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Maragos is no longer a defensive player and that’s just fine because he’s an absolutely dynamic special teams player. Really. It’s incredible to watch this guy play teams and there aren’t many who do it near as well. With a new contract, he’ll be around for a few more years and as long as he doesn’t show the signs of age, he will still be playing at a high level. 

Verdict: STAYS

Byron Marshall

Roob: Marshall, an undrafted rookie, got a chance to play late in the season with all the other injuries the Eagles’ running backs had, and he acquitted himself OK, especially in the Dallas game, where he ran 10 times for 42 yards. But the bottom line is with Ryan Mathews not likely to return and Darren Sproles a year from retirement, the Eagles really need to re-build their running back corps from the ground up. Whether there’s room for Marshall in that new-look running back corps remains to be seen. Marshall did enough to earn a look in training camp, but the practice squad remains his most likely landing spot. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Marshall, the undrafted running back from Oregon, got a chance to play toward the end of the season and did some nice things. He’s a shifty running back, so fans really seem to like him. Heck, everyone enjoys watching him play. But it took him all year to get a chance and the team doesn’t seem too high on him. He’ll be with the team during training camp but probably not on the roster after that. 

Verdict: GOES