NFL: Preaseason-New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smith, Danny Watkins and the Eagles thankfully brief history with first-round busts

Busts happen. But just-cut Marcus Smith was a huge one.

NFL: Preaseason-New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
danlevy_0328s

The Philadelphia Eagles made a move with one of their first-round picks Wednesday. Oh, no, sorry. It wasn’t a trade to make the team better. They cut a guy. Marcus Smith. You might have heard of him if you were paying really super close attention.

Smith has been with the Eagles for three seasons after being selected 26th overall in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Louisville. He played in 37 games over three seasons on special teams and at defensive end, with zero starts, and recorded 12 tackles, 6 assisted tackles and four sacks.

In sports parlance, Marcus Smith is a bust. His tenure in Philadelphia was so bad he will forever go down as one of the worst draft picks in Eagles history. In Philly sports history.

Before this year’s NFL Draft, we took at look at the Eagles’ history in the first round. The Birds selected defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round this year, the 53rd time in 65 first rounds they drafted a player in the top 15. Only 12 times in history, including with Smith, have the Birds selected a first-rounder outside the top 20 picks.

It’s not easy to get those picks right.

And yet, Smith was roundly regarded as a player with a late second or third round grade when the Eagles shocked everyone and drafted him. Also remember, everyone thought the Eagles were going to draft Johnny Manziel in the first round that year but they traded back. Manziel is the only player in the first round who would have been a bigger bust than Smith that year. So there’s that.

It doesn’t help that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was taken two picks later, or quarterback Derek Carr was taken 10 picks later, or a number of much better players were taken in the handful of picks after Smith. Sometimes picks are bad because of who a team takes, but sometimes picks are bad because of who a team doesn’t. Smith’s pick was both.

Two seasons ago, before the Eagles traded up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz, we ranked every first-round pick in the Jeff Lurie era. At that time, there were only two picks worse than Smith: Jon Harris, who was taken 25th in 1997 and started eight games, registering two sacks; and Bernard Williams, who was taken 14th in 1994 and literally smoked himself out of the NFL after one season.

And still that one season was better than anything Smith did. The only player of the recent Eagles era that came close to Smith’s level of bust is offensive lineman and volunteer fireman Danny Watkins, who was an utter disaster with the 23rd pick. (Fun fact: The Eagles drafted Jason Kelce that year…in the sixth round.)

Thankfully, it seems like Smith and Watkins might be more the exceptions than the rule. The Eagles have done a pretty decent job drafting in the first round under Jeff Lurie overall, and most of their misses have come with picks No. 20 or higher.

Harris, Freddie Mitchell, Watkins and Smith are all huge busts and all were taken between picks 21 and 26. Nelson Agholor, for as much as people in Philly see him as a bust, was taken 20th overall. The NFL Draft is an inexact science and there are first-round busts every year. That’s part of the beauty of the draft, and how good franchises separate themselves from the bad.

It’s one thing to not waste a first-rounder. It’s another to find a Tom Brady, Antonio Brown or Jason Kelce in the sixth round. Teams that do both — hit on first rounders and find hidden gems later in the draft — are consistently successful. The Eagles need to get back into that category.

FWIW, the hand-written rankings above are pretty close to what my grades would be for each pick. I might give Lane Johnson a B+, because he’s got A- or A talent, were it not for last year’s 10-game suspension leaving him one failed drug test away from being out of the league. Agholor’s C- seems high, given his on-and-off the field tenure in Philly has been a series of drops and fumbles.

Assuming he gets cut after this season if he has another off year, Aghoor will be every bit as much a bust as Smith and Watkins. And Wentz? Well, that B could easily turn into an A+ or an F, depending on how the next three-to-five years go.

Barnett is just the second first-round pick of the Doug Pederson era. First rounders in the Chip Kelly era were, even with Johnson, a pretty big disaster. Whether you want to blame Kelly or Howie Roseman for Smith, Agholor or any of those picks is somewhat impertinent at this point. What’s clear is this: Barnett better be more like Brandon Graham or Fletcher Cox on the defensive line than Smith.

The team just got rid of one bust. The fans can’t take another like that.