After a few weeks of digestion of the 2014 NFL Draft, it’s clear that there was a common thread in the fabric of the Philadelphia Eagles’ draft class. It’s a recruiting iteration that dates back Chip Kelly’s first year at Oregon. This phenomena can be summed up in one word: versatility. Kelly always asks his players for more than what’s expected of their job descriptions. He saw certain niches in players who were under the radar on most draft boards.
The Eagles’ selections often played more than one position or role in college and will likely be expected to do the same at the next level. A prime example is second-round selection Jordan Matthews, who was a multi-dimensional weapon for Vanderbilt. Matthews stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 210-pounds, and he presented a matchup problem for smaller corners in the SEC. He also ran a 4.46 40-yard dash time, which was faster than what most scouts expected. With this repertoire of skills, Matthews can run a full route tree as a possession receiver over the middle and in deeper routes that require separation speed.
The Birds’ front office looked for versatile players on both sides of the ball. Their first-round selection, Louisville’s Marcus Smith, played multiple positions for the Cardinals this past season. He would spend time as a pass rusher as a defensive end or SAM linebacker while also covering larger slot receivers running routes over the middle of the field. Smith’s wide arsenal will be very beneficial to a defense that struggled immensely against larger receivers in 2013.
Another player who fits this model is cornerback Jaylen Watkins, a fourth-round selection from the University of Florida. Although he is listed as a cornerback, Watkins played all over the secondary in his four years in Gainesville. When asked about where he may fit in the league, GM Howie Roseman told reporters that “he’s got enough ability to play three spots. That makes him intriguing just as he grows, but we don’t look at him as just a role player reserve as his ceiling.” With a player as intriguing as Watkins, the Eagles can look to improve a secondary that finished dead last in yards allowed per game last year.
The approach may be unconventional, but with all the holes that needed filling, the front office had to take the proper action to meet all of them. They felt that there were more voids than draft selections, so they looked at multi-role players in their draft process to fit their needs.