- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Philadelphia Eagles' first draft since they hired Chip Kelly as their new head coach was heavy on offense at the top. This was a bit of a surprise, since it appears they'll be running a lot of 3-4 looks on defense this year and it was thought that the longtime 4-3 team might look to add pieces to help with that transition. But a look back over what the Eagles did last week find its hard to argue with the players and the value they got.
They could have traded down out of the No. 4 overall spot and still had a shot at a top defensive starter such as Star Lotulelei or Sharrif Floyd later in the round. But with offensive linemen flying off the board, and after a year in which four of their starting offensive linemen missed time due to injury, staying put and taking tackle Lane Johnson with that pick was the right call. I'm not going to get into all of this talk about how Johnson's a perfect fit for the style of offense Kelly's going to run, because frankly no one knows what style of offense Kelly's going to run (maybe not even Kelly, yet), and it's giving me a headache the way all of the analysis is magnetizing to itself. Johnson's speed and athleticism at tackle would be an asset in any offense, and I'm sure Kelly would tell you the more important thing is that he figures out how to block DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul and Brian Orakpo. That will ultimately determine what kind of pick this was, but in the moment and with the top two tackles already gone, it was the smart move.
Kelly got a new toy in the second round, when the Eagles took Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. It's too simplistic to assume Ertz will push out Brent Celek. It's more likely Kelly's dreaming up schemes that involve both of them as well as free-agent signee James Casey, as he continues to keep his options open.
Which brings us to the fourth round, and the Eagles' move up to take USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Again, the lockstep analysis that assumes Kelly won't be able to get out of bed in the morning unless he has a running quarterback found this one unfathomable. Barkley? He's a pocket passer! That doesn't look like what Kelly was running at Oregon! How can this beeeeee???????
Enough. Barkley in the fourth round represented astounding value, and it has nothing to do with whether he can run. A year ago, this was a guy people were talking about as the possible first pick in the first round. The Eagles got him for a fourth and a seventh. Kelly's seen him play -- coached against him in the Pac 12. He's seen the good and the bad, and the good is a smart quarterback with experience in a pro-style offense who makes quick decisions and has a strong presence in the huddle. The reasons Barkley dropped were because of poor production (and injury) in his final college season and a relative lack of arm strength that makes people worry about his downfield accuracy. Fine reasons not to take him in the first or second round, but no reason not to take a shot in the fourth if you like the guy. And again, it's not as though he's never given NFL teams a reason to like him.
I'm not rushing to figure out what this means for 2013 -- again, because I don't think Kelly is either. Barkley joins an Eagles quarterback mix that includes likely 2013 starter Michael Vick, second-year man Nick Foles and career backup Dennis Dixon. Could Barkley outplay Vick and Foles in camp and win the job? Of course he could. Vick's footspeed is a nice possible aspect of an up-tempo Kelly offense, but it's more important to Kelly that his quarterback be able to make quick, sound decisions and avoid turnovers, and those things haven't been Vick's strengths. If I had to bet, I'd say Vick starts the season as the Eagles' quarterback but that Barkley and/or Foles exist as viable replacements in the event that he gets hurt, struggles to produce or turns the ball over too much. And I don't think a coach with Kelly's intelligence and experience designing offenses is going to struggle to adjust his schemes if he has to switch from the mobile Vick to the less mobile Barkley or Kelly. I just don't.
This is a long-term project on which Kelly is embarking, and he's doing the right thing by assembling as many options as he can for his offense in the long-term as well as the short-term. He's not committing to any one system or any one player. He wants to see what all of these guys have to offer, and how quickly they can offer it, and he'll decide the right course of action accordingly. It's smart, and the offensive picks he made in this draft will help him do it.
The defensive picks? I questioned the selection of Bennie Logan in the third, because I thought he was a 4-3 defensive tackle, but they seem to think they can train him to be a 3-4 lineman. Safety Earl Wolff in the fifth and especially cornerback Jordan Poyer in the seventh felt like good value picks in a draft deep with secondary players. The Eagles already have a lot of good players on defense, and it's possible guys like Trent Cole and Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham will fit better into their new roles than many have assumed. The decision-makers seemed to approach this draft as though they didn't feel an urgent need to find replacements for them.
All in all, a good value draft for Kelly and Howie Roseman in the first year post-Andy Reid in Philadelphia. One thing he can say about Kelly's offense for certain is that it's going to keep us interested -- all through the offseason and likely the season as well.