By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA-With Eagles fans hoping that they would draft a wide receiver to replace DeSean Jackson, the Birds filled another much-needed position when they drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) out of Louisville in the first round.
After a trade with the Cleveland Browns that included an additional third-round pick, the Eagles traded out of the 22nd pick to get to the 26th pick when it became apparent that six of the players they were targeting were off the board by the time of their selection.
With Smith, the Eagles are getting a solid pass-rusher who was second in the nation in sacks with 12.5. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss during his senior at Louisville. He was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Not bad for a guy who was originally recruited to play quarterback for Louisville.
The pick of Smith may not be the sexiest first-round selection for the Birds considering their other needs. On the surface picking Smith, a second-team All-American, had many fans scratching their heads on Draft night.
That said, the Eagles did need a good pass rusher in their 3-4 scheme. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly likes Smith’s potential for the Eagles defense.
“(Smith) is a big kid, he’s transitioned to the outside linebacker position,” Kelly said. “I think he has a huge upside. He’s a very, very good athlete. He’s over 6-3. He’s in the 250-255 pound range. He ran a 4.68 40. He’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us.
“He’s a young to bring in behind Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin). Those guys can show him the ropes. His ceiling is very, very high.”
Like last year’s No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson, who also started his collegiate career as a quarterback, Smith said it took him a year to make that transition to playing defense and he’s gotten better with each year.
“I think what I’ve learned over the years, I’ve gotten better each year and this year I had an outbreak,” Smith said. “I feel like I can carry everything that I did this year to the NFL. I want to make an impact right away and I know the coaches they have in Philly will train me up and get me ready for the season coming up.”
Considering how the Eagles defense can go back and forth from being a 3-4 to a 4-3 team, Kelly believes Smith’s experience at Louisville playing defensive end and linebacker will help him get acclimated to the Eagles system.
“There is film of him playing defensive end and film of him playing as a standup outside linebacker. It’s not a projection like you do sometimes,” Kelly said. “Hey, let’s take this defensive end who may be a little undersized to be an NFL defensive end, but he has the skill set to be an outside linebacker. He’s actually played the position.”
With his size and athleticism, Smith will be expected to drop back in coverage in the passing game as well as rush the passer. He said he has experience in pass coverage as a linebacker during his time at Louisville.
“It was 50-50. I believe they dropped me 50-50 last year. Maybe not as much my junior year, but last year, they dropped me back more,” Smith said. “Going into the middle of the season I started rushing a lot more because they wanted me more involved getting to the quarterback. They wanted somebody to get to the quarterback. I was doing both so I would say 50 percent.”
If he can bring the same kind of wood to opposing receivers that he brings to quarterbacks, he has the potential to be the enforcer in the middle of the defense that this team has lacked for several years.