PHILADELPHIA — The first draft prospect Eagles coach Chip Kelly named last week was Dion Jordan. The mention came unprompted in reference to the unknown of the draft. Kelly's point was that Jordan, an elite pass rusher who played for Kelly at Oregon, was recruited as a wide receiver and was not one of the nation's top recruits.
"Now he's going to play outside linebacker, defensive end in the NFL," said Kelly, who called Jordan "one of the top players out there."
The reference was not random. The Eagles hold the No. 4 pick in the draft. Jordan is one of the top prospects available, one who could go as early as the Jaguars at No. 2, and one who remains a distinct possibility for the Eagles at No. 4.
No prospect the Eagles will consider in the first round is better known to Kelly than Jordan, which made the impromptu reference understandable. In fact, Kelly is one of the main reasons Jordan is heralded as a pass rusher instead of a pass catcher.
"Kelly felt like it would benefit me more if I was chasing the ball (rather) than trying to catch it," Jordan said, referring to the position change from tight end to defensive end during 2010 spring practice.
At that point, Jordan wasn't envisioning the NFL. But even as a reserve in 2010, Jordan quickly emerged as a promising prospect — one listed at 6-foot-7 (his official measurement at the combine was 6-6), with speed and athleticism.
"He's a physical freak, a specimen," said Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews, a former teammate at Oregon. "You knew he was going to be something special just because he's 6-7. He can run fast. ... He had it in him (to be a top five pick), but he was still really light to be a D-end. But you can tell he had all the tools to move up the draft board."
That's exactly what happened. And the appeal of Jordan is not necessarily the player he is but the player he can become. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Monday that the question asked in the Eagles' draft room is what the player will become in three seasons. Projection IS involved, but Jordan's ceiling is as high as any pass rusher's in the draft.
"I think (Jordan) is two years away from being an Aldon Smith-type player," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said, citing the 49ers' Pro Bowl pass rusher. "He's got frightening athletic skills, and he's a year away. He would be a situational pass rusher year one. And if he puts 20 pounds on, I think he's going to be a perennial all-pro. I really like the kid. But again, that's a little bit of a risk-reward. You're betting on this kid two years from now."
That gamble is what the Eagles must discuss, if they even have a decision to make on Jordan. The Eagles need a front-line player at No. 4, but they also cannot afford a bust. Jordan is the type of hybrid pass rusher who would seem to be a perfect fit for the Eagles' expected defense, considering he played with his hand on the ground and also dropped into coverage. Jordan even covered slot receivers sometimes at Oregon. His body type makes him the prototype for what Kelly looks for in defenders.
"My speed and my size, that helps me a lot," Jordan said. "Being 6-7 and being able to line up all around the field. But to me, honestly, it's all effort. The harder I practiced, I found myself doing better in games."
The key for Jordan will be his weight. At February's combine, he was 248 pounds. With a long frame, he can add muscle, and he said he can play at 255 next season. Jordan is recovering from shoulder surgery, which will sideline him until training camp.
The injury was the primary impetus for the Eagles' bringing Jordan to Philadelphia for a private workout April 4. Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro already know him well, but the Eagles wanted updated medical information and have more people in the organization spend time with Jordan.
Jordan said it was nice "seeing familiar faces," and Kelly said Jordan is "just a special guy in my heart."
"It goes back to this question of living with someone and being with them day to day," Roseman said. "And anyone at Oregon, he and some of our coaches here, they know him real well. So obviously we get that insight, and it's going to be different than people who haven't lived with them, haven't been there every day with them."
At one point, though, there was a risk that Jordan would not even play in college, much less the NFL. During Jordan's senior year at Chandler High School (Ariz.) he and friends siphoned gas from a car to fill up an empty tank in another. They used a vacuum cleaner. When Jordan unplugged it, a spark ignited a blast and he suffered second- and third-degree burns on nearly half his body, putting a promising career in peril.
"The first thing I said when I woke up in the hospital bed was were my hands working," Jordan said. "I told my mom, 'I can move my hands.' I was thinking about sports the whole time. I knew what was going on, but I also knew I was going to be all right."
Suddenly, fewer colleges were calling and writing. Oregon remained aggressive. Kelly was the offensive coordinator at the time. He became the head coach two years later, his star rising each year. Jordan's rise almost mirrored Kelly's.
Now they enter the NFL at the same time. Both intrigue NFL observers with debate about risk and reward. Kelly's fate will be realized in Philadelphia. Jordan might join him.