COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia Eagles put the rest of the NFL on notice with the first NFL Draft of the Chip Kelly era. In his first year in charge of making draft selections, Kelly chose ingredients he hopes will become the foundation for a winning formula in Philadelphia, focusing on the offense from the start.
Kelly's coaching style is heavy on innovative offense, so Kelly drafting two offensive players with his first two picks may have been expected even for a team in desperate need of improving the defense from a year ago. The Eagles drafted Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick and Stanford tight end Zach Ertz in the second round. After picking up a defensive tackle (Bennie Logan, LSU) in the third round, the Eagles stunned the league by moving up for the first pick of the fourth round. With that pick the Eagles drafted USC quarterback Matt Barkley. If it all works out, the Eagles have just added a key offensive lineman, tight end and quarterback that could become the foundation for the offense for years to come with Kelly calling the shots.
"We were very specific," Kelly said in a press conference following the draft when discussing his staff's selection process. "I think you have to be, because there has to be a certain level that you bring in here. If you constantly take the overachiever at every position, you're going to be too small."
This was one aspect of the draft that tended to distance Kelly's Eagles from the drafts of his predecessor in town, Andy Reid. Since 2005, the Eagles had selected at least one player from college football's Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly called 1-AA) or lower in five of the past eight NFL Drafts. Sometimes a team will strike gold with a small school prospect, but not every one of them turns out to be Steve McNair or Jerry Rice. Instead, Kelly and the Eagles went after players with good size from big programs. Every pick in the 2013 NFL Draft made by the Eagles came from the Pac 12, SEC, Big 12 or ACC.
"I think you still have to adhere to the fact that we wanted to get bigger and we felt like we did," Kelly said. "I think size is important, but there's not one factor that overrides the other. I think you have to look at the whole package when you're making those decisions."
The offensive draft picks may have some valid concerns to battle -- Lane Johnson is a converted offensive lineman with room to grow and Matt Barkley had arm strength concerns even before a shoulder injury last fall -- but in the eyes of Kelly, he found the guys he wants. It also speaks volumes about some of the options inherited by him when being named head coach of the Eagles this off-season.
Most notably, Kelly certainly put a brighter spotlight on the quarterback situation. The Eagles had already agreed to a one-year contract extension with Mike Vick, signed former Oregon Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon and former Tulsa quarterback GJ Kinne this off-season. These moves were made with Nick Foles coming off his first season behind a bruised and battered offensive line down the stretch last season. By adding Barkley to the mix with a fourth round draft pick, Kelly's message appears to be that quarterbacks should be put on high alert and ready to compete for a roster spot. That message should be received by each quarterback on the roster, including Vick and Foles. My belief is this suggests one of those two will not be on the roster in the fall.
Kelly must still win some football games before any Eagles fan gets too carried away with the new regime, but for the first time in a long time football fans in Philadelphia have reason to feel optimistic and excited about the team's building blocks for the future. More importantly, fans have reason to be excited about the architect putting those blocks in place.
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