Some Thoughts On the Smith Pick

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After hearing from the head coach and general manager, you’re left with the feeling that the Eagles had a plan for the first round of the draft and that plan went awry on multiple levels.

Chip Kelly mentioned late Thursday night that they targeted six players in the first round and none of those players remained by the time the Eagles got on the clock. They were very interested in trading up to land one of their guys, Howie Roseman added, but the asking price discussed prior to draft night went up significantly after the Bills dealt their ninth overall pick and a first and fourth rounder in ’15 to the Browns for the No. 4 selection. The cost became too steep — especially for a team armed with only six picks — so they were forced to wait as the likes of Odell Beckham, Anthony Barr, Kyle Fuller and Brandin Cooks fell off the board, one by one. 

With none of their top-rated players left, the Eagles took advantage of the seller’s market and traded out of the 22nd spot, netting Cleveland’s No. 26 and No. 83 selections in return. The Browns took Johnny Manziel, as expected, and then Andy Reid and the Chiefs selected Auburn’s Dee Ford, who Roseman suggested was the Eagles’ top remaining pass rusher on their board. [Update: Roseman clarified Friday afternoon that he did not have Ford ranked higher than Smith, but thought Ford’s selection would start a run on pass rushers.] Another bump in the road. The outside linebacker position was about to fall off a cliff — at least in this organization’s mind –so they pulled the trigger.

Was he the best player available?

Kelly said he was, but noted: “We thought adding a pass-rusher was a big thing for us.” Roseman chose to answer this way:

“We’re looking at tiers,” he told SI.com. “If you feel like one of the positions is harder to address as a whole, you address that. If you look at the wide receiver group, it’s a strong group going forward. We’ve got a bunch of guys in that tier.”

In other words, a player like Marqise Lee or Cody Latimer may have been rated a little higher but good receivers will be easier to come by later on, so they went with the position that had a more scarce supply of talent. And in some ways, that makes sense.

It also can be dangerous, depending on how much you are bending your board in order to justify taking a player at a need position. Last year there was little talk of tiers. When they selected Lane Johnson, they stated firmly that he was the best player on their board. Same for Zach Ertz (the definition of a BPA pick) and Bennie Logan and Matt Barkley, and on down the line. The explanation with Smith was a little more complex: Well, we wanted these guys but they weren’t there and then this guy got plucked when we traded back and the outside linebackers were about to run out so we made the selection.

That doesn’t exactly inspire the same level of confidence.

That’s not to say Smith won’t work out. He could be the jewel of the first round, for all we know. Just because a fan has never heard of him or an analyst doesn’t have a first round grade on him doesn’t mean that he will be a bust. But it is fair to question whether it was a reach, especially when some of the thoughts coming from the front office appear to support that theory.  And with the reach comes an element of vulnerability.

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