The Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round selection of Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith shocked many fans and analysts. They called it a reach, and docked the grade of the team’s overall draft grade. Smith was an unknown; nothing more than an under-the-radar talent from a lower-level conference. The birds needed help on the defensive line, but many experts believed they should have taken the best player available instead of reaching to fit their needs. Selecting the best player available is the most practical method in draft science, and contrary to popular belief, the Eagles made the right decision. They surreptitiously found the best of both worlds by selecting the best player available and addressing one of their core needs.
After about a month to digest and analyze the picks, it does not take an astute football mind to realize how Smith can flourish in Chip Kelly’s new defense. Kelly transitioned the Eagles’ defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which requires a hybrid piece like Smith order for the system to work. Smith played both on his feet and in a three-point stance in his tenure at Louisville. He played the role of pass-rushing defensive end, SAM linebacker and even slot corner by proxy. He would often cover larger slot receivers or tight ends, which were a nagging problem for the Eagles’ defense last season.
If fans are looking for evidence behind this claim, look at the film. In one particular game against Houston, Smith was given the daunting task of covering wide receiver Deonte Greenberry, who stands at 6-foot-3 and runs a 4.44 40-yard dash time. At 6-foot-3 himself, Smith matched up inch for inch with Greenberry and did not allow one reception all game . When he wasn’t covering Houston’s most dynamic playmaker, Smith was busy flustering the Houston quarterback John O’Korn and rushing his throws.
Granted, one game alone does not denote a player’s full potential, but performances like this were a trend for Smith, who can play virtually anywhere on the perimeter of the front seven. The Eagles needed a pass rusher, a linebacker, and someone who can cover wide receivers. There were numerous other players available that could easily fill those needs, but Kelly ingeniously found a way to fill all three of those holes with one plug. Kelly is a large penchant for versatility on both sides of the ball, and with a player with Smith’s skillset, Kelly now has a multi-dimensional toy that will reek havoc on opposing offenses in the coming years.