As we reflect on the biggest draft busts in Eagles history, let’s remember Marcus Smith was almost unanimously considered a reach at the time he was selected No. 26 overall in 2014. Maybe the expectations typically bestowed upon a first-round pick were never entirely fair in the first place.
When we look back at his Eagles career, let’s not forget injuries necessitated Smith move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker just a few weeks into his rookie season, then back again. Nor did Chip Kelly see fit to put Smith on the field in the first place, let alone suit up for half the season. You mean to tell me there was nothing the NFL’s 28th-ranked defense could do with all that athleticism?
Let’s also keep in mind Smith actually showed signs of life under Jim Schwartz in 2016. Of the 61 defensive ends in 4-3 schemes with at least 100 pass-rush opportunities, Smith ranked 43rd in pass-rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus. He was not completely useless when given an opportunity.
None of which is to say the Eagles made a mistake in releasing Smith on Thursday. Aside from not being very good, he was somebody who clearly didn’t “get it,” too. That was never more evident when he skipped voluntary OTAs this past spring, then explained, “I don’t feel like I missed anything.”
Only the fight for his job.
Smith essentially vacated his roster spot with that decision after managing only 23 tackles and 4.0 sacks in his first three seasons with the Eagles. Nobody needs to feel particularly sorry for a person whose actions suggested he didn’t really want to be here.
It’s not like Smith was ever destined for stardom, either. That much was apparent just watching highlights from his 16.0-sack senior season at Louisville, often coming off the edge untouched against the likes of Rutgers, UConn and Florida International. He was AAC Defensive Player of the Year, not ACC.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if things might’ve turned out slightly different were he not treated as the child Kelly never really wanted from the get-go. Having the chance to learn and play one position – or just to play at all early in his career – could’ve gone a long way. There’s little doubt Smith’s development was stunted at least somewhat by the previous coaching staff.
Perhaps things even would’ve been different for Smith has he simply not been taken in the first round. We’ll never know or understand how much the intense scrutiny contributed to his demeanor, which much like his play on the field, left a lot to be desired.
With all of that in mind, it’s not very difficult to imagine Smith catching on somewhere else and making an impact as a situational pass rusher this season. He’s only 25, packs sub-4.7 speed into a 6-3, 265-pound frame, and once Schwartz simplified the defense and turned him loose at defensive end last season, we saw a marked difference in his performance. Albeit, his performance was still replacement level, but that was a drastic improvement over non-existent.
Should Smith experience even a modicum of success in the NFL, maybe all of the what-ifs from his time with the Eagles will finally be taken seriously. Until then, I doubt too many people really care whether one of the greatest draft busts in franchise history may have got a bit of a raw deal.
Smith also could've been a bust regardless of where he was drafted or how coaches cultivated his talent. Regardless, the Eagles also set him up to fail.