NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- Having spent most of the last few days writing about what the Eagles did in the NFL draft, it seems appropriate to address what they didn't do.

More than anything, Chip Kelly did not address the offensive line. The Eagles have not drafted an offensive lineman since taking Lane Johnson with the fourth pick in the 2013 draft. This year, it seemed like a more pressing need because of circumstances and a number.

The number: Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis are 33 years old. It would be a good time to be developing their eventual replacements.

The circumstance: Mathis has been unhappy with his contract for the past two offseasons. That has kept him from attending voluntary workouts at the NovaCare Complex. With the release of right guard Todd Herremans in March, that leaves the Eagles with uncertainty at both guard spots.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty Images"There were some guys we were really excited about, but they went before we picked, also," Chip Kelly said. "That's just kind of how it goes."

Kelly said he liked some offensive linemen, but watched them come off the board before he could grab one.

"There was a couple guys there," Kelly said. "That's just kind of how it works out. You can't predict where it was. There was a run in the second round. There were some guys we were really excited about, but they went before we picked, also. That's just kind of how it goes."

In the fourth round Saturday, three offensive linemen were selected immediately before the Eagles were scheduled to pick. They got a trade offer from Detroit and decided to take it.

That left the Eagles without an offensive lineman to develop. That means there is more urgency around Mathis' situation. For the second year, the Eagles gave Mathis and his agent permission to seek a trade to another team.

"Evan has been available to trade for two years now, and we've never had an offer for him," Kelly said. "That's through his agent and him. They've asked us if we can renegotiate a contract and see what he can get, and we've obliged them with that, but we've never had an offer on him."

Meanwhile, Kelly is comfortable with the candidates to replace Herremans and perhaps Mathis. They include Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner.

That trio started a total of 16 games last season at guard and tackle.

"You only have a certain amount of picks," Kelly said. "It's not that we don't think we need to create depth on the offensive line, but as you look at it right now, the only offensive lineman we've lost is (Herremans), and so we feel like getting Allen Barbre back off of his injury, Tobin and Gardner played really well for us there, and we've got some young guys that we're still continuing to develop. Julian Vandervelde is back. There's some guys there that have played for us, but it's just kind of how it fell. There were some offensive linemen we were really excited about in this draft, but … they got picked before we had an opportunity to pick again."

The trades that left them without picks in the fourth and fifth round had something to do with that.

"The board was pretty depleted by the time we got back on the clock," Kelly said.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles signed 15 undrafted free agents after Saturday's draft. Here's a closer look at each player.

Rasheed Bailey, wide receiver, Delaware Valley College. Bailey is a Philadelphia kid who played at a small local college. But he has big-time size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and caught 80 passes for 1,707 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. The Eagles will find out how he holds up against the big boys.

Brett Boyko, offensive line, UNLV. The 6-foot-7, 301-pound Boyko is on the right side of Chip Kelly's “big people beat up little people” credo. Kelly said Saturday that the Eagles need to find some offensive linemen to develop. Boyko will get every chance.

Malcolm Bunche, offensive tackle, UCLA. Bunche played for the University of Miami before transferring to UCLA as a graduate student. He lost his starting left tackle job during the season and then missed the Alamo Bowl due to academic issues. He is 6-foot-6, 310 pounds.

Mike Coccia, offensive line, New Hampshire. The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Coccia is from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a former Eagles training camp site, and played at New Hampshire, Chip Kelly's old stomping grounds. As a center, Coccia started 40 games in his college career.

Devante Davis, wide receiver, UNLV. Davis has good size at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but is raw. He caught just 34 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, outside linebacker, Duke. DeWalt-Ondijo goes 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. He had 4.5 sacks last season. The Eagles will see if he has the potential to get to NFL quarterbacks.

Andrew Gleichert, tight end, Michigan State. The 6-foot-5 Gleichert will have an opportunity because of the departure of tight end James Casey. The Eagles weren't able to draft a tight end this week. Gleichert caught just eight passes in his career, but is a capable blocker. In Kelly's offense, that's a plus.

John Harris, wide receiver, Texas. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Harris barely made an impact in his first three years, playing for coach Mack Brown. With Charlie Strong taking over in 2014, Harris caught 68 passes for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

Cole Manhart, guard, Nebraska-Kearney. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Manhart played tackle at Nebraska-Kearney. He will be dealing with a higher level of competition and likely a position change to guard, but he has potential.

Raheem Mostert, running back, Purdue. Mostert has exceptional speed, winning the Big Ten track championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. His numbers as a running back -- 529 yards on 93 carries -- weren't that impressive, but he led the nation in 2011 with an average of 33.5 yards per kickoff return.

Travis Raciti, defensive line, San Jose State. Raciti is 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, and may be one of these hybrid guys who could be a big outside linebacker or a smallish defensive end. Chip Kelly likes to get these guys onto the practice field and figure it out there.

Denzel Rice, cornerback, Coastal Carolina. The 6-foot, 190-pound Rice told the Winston-Salem Journal that he hoped to go on the third day of the draft but that he would be a “premium free agent” if he wasn't. Pretty good scouting report by a cornerback with good size.

Kip Smith, punter, Oklahoma State. Smith started his college career at UCLA as a field goal kicker. He finished it at Oklahoma State as a punter. Smith averaged 41.8 yards per punt as a senior.

Eric Tomlinson, tight end, Texas-El Paso. Another candidate to take James Casey's roster spot. Tomlinson goes 6-foot-6, 263 pounds and is a blocking tight end by trade. Given how much the Eagles intend to run the ball, that's not a bad thing.

Justin Tukes, tight end, Central Florida. There's a pattern with the tight ends on this list. Tukes caught 30 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns -- in his entire college career. Kelly is clearly looking for a blocking tight end to replace James Casey. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Tukes has the size for the job.

PHILADELPHIA -- A wrap-up of the Philadelphia Eagles’ draft:

Best move: Moving up five spots in the second round to get defensive back Eric Rowe was big. The Eagles had to get help for their secondary in this draft. They had added cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond in free agency, but were unable to land New England safety Devin McCourty. With the departure of safety Nate Allen and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, the Eagles needed more help. By going with wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the first round, Chip Kelly left himself little margin for error. He knew it, too, giving up two fifth-round picks to move up to pick No. 47 overall for Rowe.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Harry How/Getty ImagesWide receiver Nelson Agholor was the only offensive player drafted by the Eagles.

Riskiest move: By definition, making a first-round draft pick has an element of risk to it. While USC wide receiver Agholor certainly appears to be a solid choice, the fact is this was a draft class loaded with talent at wide receiver. Kelly could have gone with Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman or Ohio State’s Devin Smith. He could have selected a defensive back -- Connecticut’s Byron Jones, who went to Dallas -- and gone for a receiver in the second round. But Kelly really liked Agholor and said he was worried about someone taking him as the first round developed. He needs to hit a home run with this pick, and Agholor is his guy.

Most surprising move: No question, the third-round selection of Texas inside linebacker Jordan Hicks was the big surprise in this draft. The Eagles already had a logjam at that position, with Kiko Alonso coming from Buffalo to join DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. But Kelly said Hicks was far and away the best player available on the Eagles’ draft board, and that they had spent more time with him than any other player during the pre-draft process. It wasn’t a random move. Hicks could be the leader of the Eagles’ defense for years, after a year or two as Ryans’ understudy.

File it away: The Eagles had only six picks in this draft, and used five of them on defensive players after adding Alonso, Maxwell and Thurmond earlier in the offseason. Kelly wants plenty of prototypical players competing to make his defense better this year. Look at the Seattle Seahawks, who built their “Legion of Boom” secondary out of third-day draft picks: Maxwell was a sixth-round pick, while Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman came in the fifth round. Rowe, the second-round pick, will be competing with sixth-round selections JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans in a free-for-all at training camp.

My take: This will always be the draft that did not bring Marcus Mariota to Philadelphia. That’s just how things work in this city. Unless, of course, the defensive makeover becomes part of the story of how Chip Kelly built a Super Bowl contender here. Mariota would have been transformative, but this draft was fine on its own merits. Thumbs up

PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' seventh-round draft choice:

The pick: Brian Mihalik, defensive end, Boston College.

My take: The seventh round is the perfect spot to take a flier on a physical specimen. Two years ago, the Eagles took one with 6-foot-6 defensive end Joe Kruger. It didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try again. Mihalik is 6-foot-9. He wasn’t a great college player, but he has the frame to add some weight and then -- who knows?

Echoes of the past: In the late 1990s, the Eagles drafted a couple of defensive ends with things in common with Mihalik. Mike Mamula was from Boston College. Jon Harris was a 6-foot-7 end from Virginia. Neither of those players exactly ended up in the Hall of Fame, but both were first-round picks. As a seventh-round guy, Mihalik doesn’t have nearly that much pressure on him. He can develop on his own schedule.

Connections: The defensive coordinator when Mihalik went to Boston College was Bill McGovern, who is now the Eagles’ outside linebackers coach. Ryan Day, the Eagles’ new quarterbacks coach, came over from BC as well. “We have some prior knowledge,” Chip Kelly said of his staff’s insights into Mihalik. “He played wide defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He hasn’t been a two-gap player. He’s a 3-4 defensive lineman. You want the prototype for 'big people beat up little people,’ he’s the biggest person we’ve brought in since we’ve been here.”

PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' second sixth-round draft choice:

The pick: Randall Evans, defensive back, Kansas State.

My take: The Eagles had the worst pass defense in the NFL for the past two seasons. That led Chip Kelly to remake his secondary during this offseason. It looks like Kelly is following the blueprint drawn up by the Seattle Seahawks, who had fifth-round picks Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor and sixth-round pick Byron Maxwell starting in their secondary the past few years. Letting a bunch of young, physically talented defensive backs develop and compete seems like a pretty good plan.

Versatility: Like second-round pick Eric Rowe of Utah, Evans has played both cornerback and safety in college. Asked what he brings to a team, the first words Evans said was, “Versatility.” He also described himself as a “smart football player,” another quality that Kelly prizes. The 6-foot Evans has played on the outside as well as in the slot, so he is a guy who can move around depending on what the offense is doing.

A strange path: Evans believes he was not heavily recruited out of a Miami high school because of a clerical mistake. He had seven interceptions his senior season, but the local newspaper had him down for only three. His girlfriend's brother happened to be Kansas State basketball star Michael Beasley. He encouraged Evans to send his film to Kansas State, and Evans was invited to try to make the football team as a walk-on. He wound up being a three-year starter and now an NFL draft pick.


PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' first sixth-round draft choice:

The pick: JaCorey Shepherd, cornerback, Kansas.

My take: The Eagles' secondary has been a problem for a few years. The team simply hasn't done a good job of drafting cornerbacks and safeties, and their attempts to patch holes through free agency have been mostly unsuccessful. With Eric Rowe in the second round and Shepherd and Russell Evans in the sixth, Chip Kelly is trying to bring raw talent in to develop for the future. This has to work better than the other way.

A long wait: Chip Kelly admitted it's tough to make a trade like the one the Eagles made in the fourth round Saturday. They gave up their fourth-round pick for Detroit's third-round pick next season. The value is there, but it means sitting out a round after months of preparing for the draft. The Eagles had already traded away their fifth-round picks, so they had to wait until the sixth round to add players. It's hard to sell the idea that you were eager to land Shepherd when you gave up three chances to draft him earlier. But Shepherd will get every chance to earn a spot in the Eagles' secondary.

Having a ball: One of the traits notable among the Eagles' cornerbacks the last couple of years was trouble tracking the ball when it was in the air. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher often seemed surprised when the ball was suddenly arriving. Shepherd began his college career as a wide receiver. He said he had trouble adjusting to the idea of running backward, as corners sometimes have to do, but that he was comfortable locating the ball and adjusting to its trajectory. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Shepherd had five interceptions during his college career.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly likes to joke about his problem with numbers.

“I was told there would be no math,” Kelly has said several times this offseason. Usually, he’s talking about contracts or the salary cap, some of the larger numbers that football people have to deal with.

But sometimes you have to wonder about smaller numbers. Like 3-4, the defensive formation that Kelly’s Eagles deploy. In that configuration, there are three defensive linemen and four linebackers, two on the inside and two on the outside.

In this offseason, Kelly has added two inside linebackers. Kiko Alonso was obtained from the Buffalo Bills in the LeSean McCoy trade. On Friday night, Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks was added in the third round of the draft.

That would be fine except the Eagles already had DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks filling those two inside linebacker spots. The glut of linebackers has led to speculation that Kendricks could be traded. That speculation increased when Kendricks did not report for the first week of offseason workouts.

Kendricks told Birds 24/7, a website that covers the team, that he was at home to be with an ill family member and to help his brother through the NFL draft. Eric Kendricks, a linebacker from UCLA, was selected by Minnesota in the second round Friday night.

“We haven’t talked to anybody about trading those guys during this draft,” Kelly said Friday night. “We’re excited to get [Kendricks] back here. I know he spent the draft with his brother, which we understand. He should be back here next week.”

The workouts Kendricks missed are voluntary.

“I told our guys they’re 100 percent voluntary,” Kelly said. “That’s what the league set up and that’s the way it is. If you want to be here, I think you’re going to get outstanding teaching and coaching. But I’m not going to make you come here. That’s your decision.

“I understand where Mychal is coming from. It’s only one time your brother gets drafted. I think it’s a special time for his family. The one thing I know about Mychal -- he always works. So I don’t think Mychal’s going to show up here and be 25 pounds overweight. I think he’s going to come running through the front door and run around like he always does.”

And, as Kelly said, injuries and other unforeseen circumstances tend to take care of extra numbers.

“You’re always going to take good football players and then figure it out after that,” Kelly said. “You can say we feel great about this and then the first training session we have next week, a kid goes down. Then you’re like, we wish we had that guy.”

PHILADELPHIA -- A pattern is emerging as Chip Kelly runs his first NFL draft. The Philadelphia Eagles coach was involved in the past two drafts, but general manager Howie Roseman had final say on the team’s decisions.

Kelly has final say now because owner Jeff Lurie thought that would be the best way for the Eagles’ personnel department to serve Kelly’s vision for building the team.

There were clues before the draft. Kelly said the team would build through the draft and emphasized the importance of making picks based on player evaluations, rather than needs on the roster. Ed Marynowitz, Kelly’s new personnel man, said the Eagles would take the best player available but added a qualifier: “Best player available for us.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Hicks
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJordan Hicks' intelligence and experience in a variety of defensive systems made him a top target for the Eagles in the third round.

In other words, the Eagles would identify players who fit their offensive and defensive schemes and draft them, regardless of where some other team might have them ranked. When the second round began Friday night, Kelly was hoping Utah defensive back Eric Rowe would still be available when the Eagles’ 20th pick (52nd overall) rolled around.

“Eric was a guy we really sweated out,” Kelly said. “Is he still going to be there? Is he still going to be there? If there’s somebody we really want, we’re going to take them.”

A pair of defensive backs, LSU’s Jalen Collins and Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt, were taken in the low 40s. Kelly decided to try to move up a few spots before Rowe got taken. The Miami Dolphins were willing, and Kelly traded a pair of fifth-round picks to move up five spots. He took Rowe with the 47th overall pick.

In the third round, Kelly went for Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks. Most draft analysts had Hicks as a fourth- or even fifth-round prospect, but he is described as a “coach on the field” and a player who will “probably be a coach” when he is finished playing. In other words, Hicks is a Kelly kind of player. So Kelly took him without worrying about whether another team would have done the same.

“He was our highest rated guy [available] by far,” Kelly said. “We had him rated in the second round. I think he was the individual we saw the most in the offseason, whether it was exposure at the Senior Bowl to him, his pro day, individual workouts, visits.”

In 2012, Hicks was suspended for the Alamo Bowl for what was officially described as a curfew violation. Hicks and a teammate were accused of rape by a young woman. After an investigation by San Antonio police, no charges were filed. Hicks was reinstated to the team without further discipline.

Rowe, Hicks and first-round pick Nelson Agholor are different people from different places. But they have characteristics in common -- ones Kelly wants to see in his players. When Kelly talks about the culture of his team, this is what he means.

“I was only there for half a day, and I felt their culture was different,” Rowe said of his visit to the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex. “They were doing things a different way that was positive. I felt like they did things a different way, and it kind of took my interest, and I was like, 'Man, I want to join this kind of culture and team.’ "

“I really wanted to be in this place, with this coaching staff and with these people,” Agholor said. “Right now, I’m in a comfortable situation."

“No. 1, [the Eagles liked] the fact that I’m a smart football player,” Hicks said. “I can get people lined up on the field. I have a great understanding of football and schemes and what it takes to call a play. I’ve seen four different defensive coordinators at the University of Texas. I have played in 3-4 defenses and 4-3 defenses. You name it, I’ve probably learned it.”

Agholor is a gym rat who is fascinated by not only what his coaches are trying to do but also why they're doing it.

Rowe played safety for three seasons at Utah, then was asked to move to cornerback for his senior season. He made the adjustment smoothly and developed into the physical, press corner Kelly covets.

“I do like to watch film on [Darrelle] Revis and Joe Haden,” Rowe said in naming two cornerbacks the Eagles would love to see emulated.

Agholor plays outside receiver or can move into the slot, something Jeremy Maclin wasn’t as comfortable doing. Rowe can play safety or cornerback. Hicks is an inside linebacker who feels comfortable diagnosing offensive formations and getting the defense lined up.

Instead of drafting players and hoping they have some versatility, Kelly is making versatility and football smarts high priorities. He talked about that the previous two seasons. Now, with full control of personnel decisions, he is applying those principles in the draft.

Will it work? That will be up to Agholor, Rowe, Hicks and the rest of Kelly’s first true draft class.


PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles’ third-round draft choice:

The pick: Jordan Hicks, inside linebacker, Texas.

My take: This one seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher. A quick scan of draft analyst’s work showed that Hicks was projected by most to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. The Eagles have a glut at inside linebacker, with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks joined this offseason by Kiko Alonso. But coach Chip Kelly said the Eagles had a second-round grade on Hicks and he was far and away the best player on their draft board with the 84th pick. So they took him. “He’s an every-down linebacker,” Kelly said.

A red flag: Before the 2012 Alamo Bowl, Hicks and a teammate were suspended by coach Mack Brown. According to reports, the players had been accused of rape by a young woman. No charges were ever filed despite a police investigation. “Me and a teammate, we made a mistake,” Hicks said. “We took full responsibility and ended up speaking to the team afterward, having to apologize. The suspension ultimately was because I missed curfew. But I’ve learned from it, I’m moving forward, I’m enjoying this moment. I’m so blessed to be here. That’s so far in my past, and I’m moving forward.”

Injury history: Hicks went to Texas as a highly recruited high school player from Cincinnati. Hicks missed the final 10 games of the 2012 season with a hip injury. He returned in 2013 and tore an Achilles early in the season. In 2014, Hicks was able to play the entire season and led Texas in tackling. “I’m completely, 100 percent clear,” Hicks said. “I feel great. I made it through the entire season strong, healthy and feeling great.”

PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles’ second-round draft choice:

The pick: Eric Rowe, safety/cornerback, Utah

My take: This had to happen. The Eagles have two glaring holes in their secondary. Rowe could fill either one. The Eagles showed a lot of pre-draft interest in Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones, who is best known for his record 12-foot, 3-inch broad jump at the scouting combine. Rowe is a similar player -- he has played both corner and safety -- without the athletic-marvel patina that vaulted Jones into the first round.

Where he fits: “We could start him at corner,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s another guy we can throw into the mix with the guys we’ve got in the secondary and figure it out at that point.” Rowe began his college career as a safety. He moved out to cornerback for his senior year. In 2014, Rowe was credited with 13 passes defended, which tied him for second in the Pac-12. “We’re looking for safeties that can cover,” Kelly said, “and he can play corner.”

Trade winds: The Eagles traded two fifth-round picks in this draft plus their own second-round pick to Miami to move up five spots for Rowe. “A lot of people were trading up,” Kelly said. “There were a couple more trades ahead of us. You really can’t predict what’s going on. We were working for a while.” Kelly said the Eagles went into the second round with Rowe as their priority. When cornerback Jalen Collins (42nd to Atlanta) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (45th to San Francisco) came off the board, the Eagles were motivated to make sure they got Rowe.

PHILADELPHIA -- It was a strange game, played with an awkwardly shaped ball on the hard blacktop, but Nelson Agholor figured playing it was a way to fit into his new home.

Agholor was born in Nigeria. When he was five years old, his mother got a visa and the family uprooted and moved to the United States. They tried New York, but wound up moving to Tampa, Florida, where his mother’s brother was living.

"If I could look back at 5-year-old Nelson," Agholor said, "I would probably be confused. He doesn’t really have a clear view. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do."

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesNelson Agholor's freshman year, he caught six passes for 162 yards and a TD against Chip Kelly and Oregon. Kelly is now his coach in Philadelphia.

That oblong ball helped him figure it out.

"It broke the cultural barrier," Agholor said. "A lot of the kids in the neighborhood, when I was younger, they played street football. My brothers and sisters always wanted to get outside and play. These kids were playing a game and I felt like, if we get out there and learn, they’ll accept us a little better. Which they did."

It didn’t hurt that young Nelson was very good at the game. He had a knack for catching that strangely shaped ball and for running with it. At Berkeley Prep School, Agholor played wide receiver and defensive back. He also met an important influence, head coach Dominick Ciao.

"He’s a very special guy," Agholor said. "He taught me the concept of progression, how maintaining is almost a form of regression. As long as you try to get better every day, you’ll be fine."

It was that trait that struck Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

"I guess the best way to say it is he's just dialed in as a football player," Kelly said. "Always striving to be better. I think the great thing about Nelson is he has a growth mindset, and not a fixed mindset. He's always trying to get better. What is his edge? You talk to the people he worked out with ... and he's like a sponge when it's just the game of football. He's one of those guys that's really a student of the game."

Kelly first encountered Agholor while recruiting him at Berkeley Prep. Scott Frost, now Oregon’s offensive coordinator, went to Tampa to visit Agholor. But the fix was in. When he was Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin sent his son to Berkeley Prep to play for Ciao. Kiffin’s other son, Lane, was the head coach at USC. Agholor decided to go there.

Kelly quickly was reminded of the kid from Tampa he tried to recruit. USC and Oregon are both in the Pac 12 Conference. They play each other every year. Agholor’s freshman year, he caught six passes for 162 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.

"Following him?" Kelly said, repeating the question. "I was following him with my eyes when he was running by me, saying, 'I hope we can cover this guy a little better than we're doing right now.' But obviously well aware of him. I think everybody in the country was well aware of him. He had 104 catches this past season, and was one of the top receivers in college football."

Kelly took over control of the Eagles’ personnel decisions after the 2014 season. Once again, he found himself contemplating Nelson Agholor. Only this time, Kelly had the advantage of the NFL draft. Agholor wasn’t making the decision, as he was in high school. Kelly was.

Fortunately, Agholor found himself very impressed with Kelly, both as a Pac 12 rival and as an NFL head coach on his TV on Sundays.

"As you probably know, most teams in the Pac 12 try to do what (Kelly) does," Agholor said. "At USC, we did a similar deal where we tried to get the guys the ball in space. It made it comfortable for players to run routes off of coverage.

"I really wanted to be in this place, with this coaching staff and with these people. Right now, I’m in a comfortable situation."

The ball is the same odd shape as the one he first played with in the streets of Tampa, and now, once again, Agholor is a world away.

videoPHILADELPHIA -- If the Philadelphia Eagles are going to land a defensive back in this year’s NFL draft, it is going to have to be tonight.

Sure, there will be safeties and cornerbacks available Saturday in Rounds 4 through 7. But history tells the story on them. The Eagles have drafted 13 defensive backs in the final four rounds over the past 10 years. Of those, four were at least serviceable players. Seven washed out completely and two -- last year’s picks, Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds -- appear headed that way.

With that in mind, here are a few players who could be available with the 52nd pick, the Eagles’ second-round slot:

  • Louisville safety James Sample is good in coverage and is a sure tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, Sample made 32 tackles last season without missing one. He is 6-foot-2, 209-pounds, and is a former teammate of Eagles’ 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith.

  • Quinten Rollins of Miami (Ohio) is an interesting case. He played basketball at Miami until his senior year, when he switched over to football. He has good size and a lot of athletic ability. He played cornerback last season, but could be moved to safety in the NFL.
  • Utah’s Eric Rowe might require a trade to move up from No. 52 to a spot higher in Round 2. Rowe is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, the kind of size Chip Kelly is looking for in his cornerbacks. It’s worth noting that Kelly attended Utah’s pro day and spent time with Rowe.
  • Jaquiski Tartt has one of the more interesting names in this year’s draft. The Samford safety could be available in the third round, but he has good size (6-foot-1, 221 pounds) and is a good tackler.
  • Cornerback P.J. Williams of Florida State was arrested early in April on a DUI charge. He was driving with a suspended license when police stopped him. The case was dropped this week, though. It is unknown how Kelly views a situation like that. He would approve of Williams’ 6-foot, 194-pound frame.
  • T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh is a tall (6-foot-5, 309 pounds), athletic offensive lineman. Kelly created immediate need at guard with the release of veteran Todd Herremans, but there is a sense the Eagles should be restocking their line in anticipation of the need to replace left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis.
  • Ali Marpet of Hobart is a 6-foot-4, 309-pound offensive lineman who played center in college but could switch to guard in the NFL. He is agile, which is important in Kelly’s offense, but he didn’t play against top-shelf competition.
  • Oregon’s Jake Fisher, of Oregon, is a 6-foot-6, 306-pound prospect who played tackle at Oregon. Fisher -- did we mention he played at Oregon? -- could play guard in the NFL.
  • There are a couple of interesting defensive front-seven players who could be there when the Eagles are on the clock. They include LSU’s Danielle Hunter, UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Virginia’s Eli Harold. With the premium placed on edge rushers (which lured the Eagles into drafting Marcus Smith last year in the first round), it would probably take a trade up for the Eagles to get one of these players.

PHILADELPHIA – Chip Kelly and Nelson Agholor had crossed paths before.

When Agholor was going to high school in Tampa, Florida, Kelly recruited him. After Agholor selected USC, he played against Oregon during his freshman year. The kid Kelly remembered from Tampa turned out to be a pretty good college player.

“He had six catches for 162 yards right in front of my face,” Kelly said Thursday night after selecting the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Agholor in the first round of the draft. “I knew he was a productive player when he walked in as a freshman. And he just kept getting better and better.”

When it was time to evaluate Agholor for this year’s draft, Kelly went to Tampa to work him out. He also invited Agholor to visit the NovaCare Complex and meet with the coaching staff. That meeting lasted longer than Kelly had planned.

“We were in the room with him for a long time because of the questions he had for us,” Kelly said. “How do we attack this coverage? What do we do here? He’s one of those guys who’s just really a student of the game. You get excited when you’re around guys like that. They just soak up everything you spit out. He always wants to get better. Really, exactly what we look for in a football player.”

Agholor has drawn comparisons to former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was a first-round pick in 2009. Maclin is about the same size as Agholor. Kelly tried to re-sign Maclin in March, but the Kansas City Chiefs offered more money plus the chance to reunite with coach Andy Reid.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Harry How/Getty ImagesWide receiver Nelson Agholor was the only offensive player drafted by the Eagles.

That created a bigger need for a wide receiver. But Kelly said the Eagles really tried to stay with their evaluations and simply take the best player who fit their system, regardless of position.

That is why the Eagles didn’t select Byron Jones, the University of Connecticut defensive back the Eagles visited with extensively. It’s why they didn’t take Arizona State safety Damarious Randall, who would have filled the hole left by Nate Allen. Jones was drafted by the Cowboys. Randall was selected by Green Bay. Those are two teams the Eagles need to get past in the NFC.

“There was a bunch of guys we liked,” Kelly said. “Nelson was the highest guy [rated]. He was the top guy there.”

When Kelly called Agholor, the receiver wasn’t completely shocked.

“I had a bit of a sense,” Agholor said. “I told them I wanted to end up in a situation with some truly special people. I felt that’s what they have over there. I thought [the call] was one of the most genuine conversations I’ve had in a long time. It felt like it was meant to be in a way. He left a great impression on me.”

The Eagles took wide receivers in the second and third round of last year’s draft. Jordan Matthews developed into a weapon from the slot, catching 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Third-round pick Josh Huff, hampered by a preseason shoulder injury, caught eight passes for 98 yards in limited playing time.

With Agholor, they now form the core of a new group of wide receivers. Veteran Riley Cooper is the lone wide receiver left from the team Kelly inherited from Reid two years ago. Free agents Miles Austin and Seyi Ajirotutu round out the group.

“I like the guys we have right now,” Kelly said. “I think the guys we’ve added, bringing Miles and 'Tutu' in here, to go along with the guys we had. We felt we wanted to get another guy in that room. That was kind of our plan going into this thing. We’re excited to add Nelson to that group.”

PHILADELPHIA -- A few quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round draft choice:

The pick: Nelson Agholor, wide receiver, USC.

My take: If you ignore the fact that the Eagles weren’t able to get quarterback Marcus Mariota, this is not a bad pick. Agholor is a solid player who fills the need created by Chip Kelly being unable to keep Jeremy Maclin as a free agent and cutting DeSean Jackson last year. Other pressing needs -- at defensive back especially -- remain unfilled.

Not Mariota: Agholor will have to live with not being Mariota, the player many Eagles fans were hoping for in this draft. Chip Kelly reportedly tried hard to move up to get Mariota, but it didn’t happen. That isn’t Agholor’s fault, of course, but it wasn’t Brandon Graham’s fault that he wasn’t Earl Thomas, either. Fans tend to remember these things and compare the player chosen to the player lost.

How he fits: Now that we know Sam Bradford will be the Eagles’ quarterback, it makes sense to get him a weapon. It was going to be rough for Bradford to be throwing to Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews. Aside from being a good return man, Agholor can play outside or in the slot. My guess is he eventually replaces Cooper in the lineup and occasionally lines up in the slot in three-wide-receiver sets.

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps the defining moment of Chip Kelly’s time in Philadelphia will occur tonight during the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.

It is the night that Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback that Kelly has described as having a Peyton Manning-level football mind with the legs of a sprinter, enters the NFL. Mariota could be going to Tennessee, which holds the second pick in the draft. He could be headed to Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Diego or St. Louis -- all of those teams have been linked to informed speculation about trading up for Mariota.

If Kelly can land Mariota, he will have the franchise quarterback that defines his tenure as Eagles head coach the same way Donovan McNabb defined Andy Reid’s. While that may seem underwhelming at this remove, in real time it was a pretty impressive partnership. It was Reid’s third season as head coach when he and McNabb reached their first of four consecutive NFC Championship Games. Kelly is entering his third season right now.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Images/Ross D. FranklinChip Kelly's 2015 draft will largely be measured on whether he successfully pursues Marcus Mariota.

If Kelly does not come away from tonight with Mariota, this draft will be viewed as a failure. There will be increased pressure on Kelly and on Sam Bradford, the quarterback who has been seen as a placeholder since being obtained for Nick Foles in a trade. In 1999, McNabb began his career with additional pressure -- his selection was famously booed by idiots clamoring for Texas running back Ricky Williams.

If McNabb had been a bust, that sentence would say he’d been booed by passionate fans who wanted Williams. By overcoming the pressure and succeeding quickly, McNabb tilted the scales on that bit of Philadelphia lore. He played in five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl in an Eagles uniform. If Bradford does that, Eagles fans will forget all about Mariota.

Kelly will be judged in large measure by how things unfold tonight. If he makes an honest effort to acquire Mariota and simply can’t, that won’t be viewed as harshly as if it becomes clear that he didn’t try at all. After all, Kelly can’t really control this situation. The Titans have the No. 2 pick and can decide what to do with it. Kelly can gain control only by overpaying for the pick, a risky gambit with the potential to backfire on him.

After all, there is no guarantee that Mariota will be as good in the NFL as he was in college. Look around the Eagles’ current quarterback room. Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma team played Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators for the 2009 BCS national championship. Both were first-round picks; Bradford was the No. 1 pick overall in 2010.

Neither has been a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Bradford showed promise but didn’t deliver many wins before two ACL tears sidelined him. Tebow won a playoff game in Denver, but is now with his fourth NFL team. Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley were stars at USC, and Sanchez had some early success with the New York Jets, but neither quarterback is viewed as an elite, championship-caliber quarterback at this stage of his career.

There are no guarantees. Mariota’s chances for success increase if he’s playing in a compatible offense and getting excellent coaching. Kelly can provide both of those elements. He just has to find a way to get Mariota into an Eagles uniform.

That has been the subject of considerable, passionate discussion and speculation among Eagles fans for months. Tonight, everyone will know which team gets Mariota -- and which teams don’t.