With the Eagles’ final spring practice in the books, now’s a good time to take stock of what we saw from the first-year players taken in last month’s draft. Here’s a player-by-player look:
Marcus Smith – The first-round pick is focusing on the ‘Jack’ spot for now. Smith looks the part – long and athletic with the ability to drop back into coverage and line up in a variety of spots. That said, he got most of his reps with the third team this spring. It’s going to take some time for Smith to learn the position and move up the depth chart. The guess here is he’ll continue to learn the Jack and eventually move up to the second team behind Connor Barwin this summer. Once the season starts, he’ll likely be a rotational player, sometimes replacing Barwin (who can slide over to Trent Cole’s Predator spot) and other times replacing Cole.
Jordan Matthews – We’ve poked fun here at the Matthews hype, but in reality he was impressive during the spring. The Vanderbilt product caught everything thrown his way and lined up both inside and outside. Most of his reps came in the slot with the second team, but Matthews is likely to emerge as the No. 1 slot guy this summer. Chip Kelly is hoping to get him matched up against smaller nickel corners, and Matthews should be productive as a rookie. In the summer, once the pads come on, he’ll get a chance to show he has the necessary physicality to make plays inside the numbers. Matthews will also need to show a good grasp of the outside spots. If Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper goes down, he’s most likely to slide out there.
Josh Huff – The Eagles’ third-round pick plays with an edge and physicality. That’s going to be fun to observe up-close once the pads go on.
“He’s just transitioning because our terminology is different than what he had in college,” Kelly said. “I can explain because I know what his terminology in college was like, so we called it this [at Oregon and we call it this now]. Real student of the game. I think he and Jordan have hit it off and really play off each other right now, so it’s two good young guys to go together.”
The likeliest outcome for Huff as a rookie is that he rotates in as the No. 4 receiver and contributes on special teams. But he’s got a chance to earn a larger role with an impressive summer.
Jaylen Watkins – I was thinking yesterday that I don’t remember noticing Watkins much this spring. From what I saw, he’s practicing exclusively at cornerback – both inside and outside. Given that he’s got Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll II ahead of him, Watkins may have a tough time getting on the field as a rookie. But again, it’s early. He’ll get all summer to prove himself.
Taylor Hart – Given the nature of the practices – shorts, no hitting – defensive line is extremely difficult to evaluate. Hart lined up mostly with the third team at defensive end. Assuming the Eagles go with a six-man defensive line rotation in 2014, Hart will likely have to beat out 2013 seventh-round pick Joe Kruger to earn playing time as a rookie.
Ed Reynolds – Because of NCAA rules, he couldn’t join the team until last week.
“There is no compensation,” Kelly said. “Those are the rules. Zach [Ertz] went through it last year. …We were allowed to Skype with him. So our defensive coaches and special team coaches, secondary coaches, John Lovett and [Dave] Fipp Skyped with him I think once a week.
“Just follow the rules that they have in place for those guys. …It’s not like if we put him out here now, it’s like, okay, now he hasn’t been here – our whole premise is we are going to throw him in at the deep end and see if he can swim.”
Reynolds watched film of practice, listened to podcasts of team meetings and Skyped with coaches while he was away. The advice Ertz gave him was to get in tip-top shape.
The Stanford product is in a tough spot behind Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff and Chris Maragos on the depth chart. He’ll need to flash this summer to earn a role.
Beau Allen – See above section on Hart.
Allen saw most of his reps at nose tackle with the third team. His job this summer will be to beat out second-year player Damion Square for that spot.