By Joe Giglio
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The NFL Draft is a yearly exercise in hype, panic and, if we’re being honest, ignorance.
Despite the need for football fans to express an instant and sudden reaction to every single selection in the early rounds of the draft, the idea of critiquing the Philadelphia Eagles for the selection of Louisville pass rusher Marcus Smith is off base.
Chip Kelly and the Eagles have an inherent advantage over the next couple of drafts: Kelly’s familiarity with the collegiate game, players and recent high school recruits that are now trickling into the NFL.
While it’s easy to read mock drafts and scream about why the Eagles selected a player that seemed destined for the second or third round, no one reading this is privy to draft boards across the NFL. If the Eagles believed Smith was a first rounder or thought he would be gone by the time they selected in the second round, the pick is justified.
Especially if Kelly himself signed off on the selection.
The same coach that supposedly “doesn’t care about defense” just allowed his organization to select a pass rusher in the first round of the draft.
After years of dominating the NCAA, Kelly arrived to the Eagles last year with a plan and that advantage: Deep, intricate knowledge of the current crop of collegiate stars.
No, Kelly didn’t recruit every eligible NFL draft prospect to play for him while at Oregon, but he coached against, recruited or watched film on many of the players the Eagles likely have on their draft board at the NovaCare Complex.
When it came time to trading out of the No. 22 spot on Thursday night, the Eagles eschewed the opportunity to pick either Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or USC wide receiver Marqise Lee — two players that Kelly either recruited or spent years scheming against in the Pac-12.
Beyond scouting, interviews and 40-yard dash times, the Eagles set their draft board with Kelly’s input in mind. If Lee, Manziel or any other available prospect had overwhelmed the former Oregon coach, the pick would have been easy to make at No. 22.
Instead, trading down, acquiring more picks, and selecting the Louisville pass rusher became the best option for the decision makers in Philadelphia.
When Kelly arrived, his knowledge of the players in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 draft classes was touted by fans and analysts as one of the many attributes he would bring to the table during his early tenure in professional football.
Now, just over a year later, that’s seemingly been forgotten because of experts that rated Smith less than first-round material.
After the selection, Kelly spoke about to the media and didn’t sound like a coach who just “reached” on a player.
“We think he’s an outstanding athlete,” Kelly said. “Got recruited to Louisville as a quarterback. He’s a big kid. He’s transitioned to the OLB position. He’s got a huge upside. Great athlete. Ran 4.68, he’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought having a pass rusher was a big thing for us. Young kid to bring in behind Trent [Cole] and Connor [Barwin]. His ceiling is very, very high. We’re excited.”
Unlike the decision to move on from DeSean Jackson, Eagles fans are in the dark about Smith’s true potential and how good the players in the NFL Draft are. Jackson’s entire career played out in the city of Philadelphia, allowing Eagles fans to form an educated and necessary critique of Kelly’s roster management.
In this case, the fan base can’t come close to matching Kelly’s acumen. Beat writers and draftniks can expound on Smith’s reach, weight and height, but few coaches in the NFL remember when the newest Eagle was a high school quarterback and college recruit.
Time will tell if Smith justifies a first-round selection, but an overly critical approach to Kelly’s draft strategy seems misguided right now.
Joe Giglio is a host on WIP and WFAN, and covers MLB as a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports. Catch Joe’s next show on WIP Sunday night at 8 p.m.