Kelly readies for his first draft
PHILADELPHIA — Andy Reid changed the direction of the Philadelphia Eagles in his first draft, selecting Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick and setting the franchise on a path toward a decade of success.
Chip Kelly, you're on the clock.
Kelly, who was lured away from Oregon to replace Reid, has the tough task of trying to rebuild the Eagles after a 4-12 season. They'll start with the No. 4 pick in the first round of Thursday night's NFL draft. It's the first time the Eagles have a top-five pick since choosing McNabb in 1999.
Obviously it's a vital draft for the Eagles, who've missed the playoffs the last two years and have an overhauled roster.
But don't tell Kelly this draft will define his career like it did Reid, who made the right pick by taking McNabb over quarterbacks Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown.
"I want to come out of it with the best players," Kelly said. "Hopefully my goal is we have a lot more drafts. So you could say it's your signature draft if it's your only draft. I plan on being here more than one year, so our whole goal is can we improve this football team, and that's it. But I don't look at it as this is a defining moment of what we're doing. When people look back 10 years, 20 years, who was the pick and all those other things? I'm not that deep. I can tell you that. We're just trying to get the best player we can."
Might that player be West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith?
The Eagles have Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Dennis Dixon on the roster, but many draft experts expect them to pick Smith. He threw for 4,205 yards and led the nation with 42 touchdown passes.
"I don't think there is an Andrew Luck or RG3 (Robert Griffin III) or someone that you say that guy's going to be a 10-year All-Pro, one of the best," Kelly said. "I had the opportunity fortunately or unfortunately to coach against Andrew Luck in our league. So he was as close as there was to a can't-miss guy. I don't see that type of guy in this draft at any position, to be honest with you."
If Kelly feels that way, taking Smith at No. 4 might be considered a reach. Perhaps the Eagles could get their quarterback of the future in a later round. Florida State's EJ Manuel and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib are possibilities outside the first round.
"All really good quarterbacks," Kelly said.
"There is not a can't-miss player is what I'm saying no matter who you take," Kelly said.
That seems to indicate the Eagles won't be choosing Smith at No. 4. Then again, Kelly could be bluffing.
A more likely pick would be an offensive tackle. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson all could go in the first five. Joeckel may be Reid's pick with the No. 1 overall choice for Kansas City.
"There are some really talented offensive linemen in this draft," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "I think it's hard to find really big men who can move, so when you get those guys, they're very clear. It's not like you're projecting as much. When you talk about different positions, there's a projection in the NFL because they're not doing the same things as they're doing in college. When you're in the college game, and you're an offensive lineman, you're doing all the same things you're going to have to do in the NFL game."
If the Eagles go with a defensive player, Oregon's Dion Jordan or Florida's Sharrif Floyd are on their radar. Kelly's familiarity with Jordan clearly improves his chances. Jordan has potential to be a premier pass rusher and Floyd is a versatile tackle.
The Eagles got in trouble in recent years when they drafted players to fill specific needs rather than taking the best player on their board. Roseman, who is going into his fourth draft as GM, was absolved by owner Jeffrey Lurie of responsibility for the poor selections in 2010 and 2011.
"What we learned was you can't force," Roseman said. "You can't force your board. You can't have so much urgency in terms of filling a need that you change the evaluation process. We talked about that a lot. It's something that we won't do again, and I think it's a hard lesson when you talk about those numbers. It's disappointing to be in that situation."
"At the same time, we think we have some guys from those drafts who are going to be major contributors for us going forward. But you have to learn from some of the things we've done. I think we learned from those lessons and I think it was reflected in what we did last year and I think it will be reflected in what we do going forward."
The Eagles are usually one of the more active teams in the draft so trading down is a strong possibility. They have one pick in the first five rounds, none in the sixth and four in the seventh.
"This is a critical draft," Roseman said. "We're coming off a four-win season. We want to improve. We want to get a lot of good young players in the program."