The Eagles sent the 22nd pick to Cleveland, which chose none other than Johnny Manziel — the player that once broke Chip Kelly‘s heart when he opted for Texas A&M over Oregon. They received Cleveland’s No. 26 and a third-rounder (No. 83 overall) in return. Howie Roseman and Kelly now have seven selections in what is considered a talent-rich draft.
They used their first one to address a position of need.
“I think he has a huge upside. He is a very, very good athlete,” said Kelly. “He’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought adding a pass-rusher was a big thing for us, a young kid to bring in behind Trent [Cole] and Connor [Barwin] and those guys can kind of teach him the ropes and bring him along and show him what we can do. I think his ceiling is very, very high so we’re excited.”
NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki projected Smith to go in the third or fourth round. Others had a second-round grade on him. Kelly, though, said that he was the top-rated player on their board.
“I don’t know if anybody had a mock draft, but if anyone predicted this one in terms of where everyone is right now they are all shaking their heads,” said Kelly of what proved to be a first round full of surprises.
Smith, on a conference call with Philly reporters, was asked if he thought he would be one of the first 32 selected.
“You know, I had a feeling that I would but I didn’t really know exactly,” he said. “I thought I was looking at early second, maybe even the third round. But I’m just so happy the Eagles took a chance on me.”
The 6-3, 251-pounder finished second in the nation last year with 14.5 sacks and tested well in several categories at the combine:
Kelly has on multiple occasions outlined the three things the Eagles want from the OLB position: a player who can set the edge against the run, rush the passer and drop back into coverage.
Louisville showed multiple looks defensively last year, but Smith was asked to do all three of those things and lined up in a variety of places.
He was recruited to Louisville as a quarterback, so he is still relatively new to the position. But with his size, length (34-inch arms) and athleticism, he has a lot of tools to work with.
“He is a little bit new to the position. Maybe a similar situation to Lane [Johnson] in terms of, you’re getting a guy with huge upside because he hasn’t played the position for that long,” said Kelly. “They played multiple defenses there. He’s played with his hand on the ground, he’s played standing up, he can drop into coverage, he can rush the quarterback. We’re excited about adding him, and the fact that we could move back a little bit and pick up another pick because we were short we felt in what we think is a good draft, we thought it was a great situation for us.”
As for some other potential targets that were mentioned during the lead-up to the draft: Outside linebacker Anthony Barr went ninth overall to Minnesota. Odell Beckham was taken by the Giants with the 12th pick. And Virginia Tech Kyle Fuller went to Chicago at 14. Marqise Lee was still on the board, but the Eagles went with the pass-rusher instead.
Asked what current players he tries to emulate on the field, he mentioned Osi Umenyiora, Aldon Smith and Clay Matthews. He believes that he compares well with pass rushers in his class like Barr, and was possibly rated lower by some coming out because he only had one really good year on the collegiate level.
“I’m pretty much the same as those guys. I have good technique, I can rush the passer and I can also drop into coverage,” said Smith. “I feel like I’m very athletic and I feel like I could have gone up where those guys went as far as my talent goes. But I know how the draft goes and I know all you have to do is get one team to love you, and I know that the Eagles will take care of me and I’m just so happy to be a part of this organization.”
Sheil Kapadia contributed to this story.