NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as the eventful final day of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall finally brought a flurry of quarterback news...
? If there's one thing I gleaned from sitting with Chip Kelly for the full hour at last month's NFC coaches media breakfast at the league's annual meeting in Phoenix, it's that the new Eagles head coach doesn't want to be put into a box when it comes to his reputation for outside-the-box thinking. If you get my drift.
Kelly doesn't like being labeled. And he chafes and pushes back against some of the stereotypes that have sprung up around his innovative coaching style, as well as his penchant for an up-tempo, push-the-envelope offense. Ever since he got to Philadelphia in January, Kelly's been trying to tell us that he doesn't require a mobile quarterback with a quick-trigger release in order to run his fast-break offense, despite what we watched during a good bit of his tenure at Oregon.
But he really shouldn't have to tell us any more. Because he just showed us, by trading up to the top of the fourth round on Saturday to pick Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley with the draft's No. 98 selection. In creating a coach-quarterback marriage that few could have forecast, Kelly is underlining that his intent is to make his offense work, even if he doesn't start a passer who wears the "mobile'' label. In aggressively moving to land Barkley -- the Eagles traded up three spots with Jacksonville -- I think now we're all starting to believe him.
"He's going to make that offense work with the personnel he has,'' Barkley said, relieved to have finally found his NFL home after going undrafted for two agonizing days and three rounds. "He's said before he doesn't have to have a mobile quarterback. I'm ready to fit into his offense.''
In reality, what Saturday's biggest draft headline means is Kelly and the Eagles are ready to fit their offense around what Barkley does best. He doesn't have the biggest arm, and he probably isn't the best guy to run a lot of read-option looks, but he doesn't have to be a jackrabbit to direct an up-tempo attack. Kelly admired Barkley's football smarts, his competitiveness, and his ability to see the field and make quick and accurate decisions. Think Tom Brady and you start to get the real model for what Kelly is after in his goal of running as many plays as possible in a game, and Barkley's 40 time has little to do with the equation.
It's easy to say Barkley looked like a steal that Kelly couldn't resist in the fourth round, given that he was thought of as a potential top 10 pick in 2012, and a likely first-rounder even this year, after returning to USC for a disappointing senior season. He played in big games, for a storied collegiate program, and dealt with a lot of different types of adversity over his four seasons at Southern Cal. There are plenty of reasons Barkley was worth the level of investment Philadelphia just made in him, not the least of which was Kelly considered him a known quantity, having competed against him in the Pac-12.
Where Barkley fits immediately on the Eagles depth chart is a question that can't yet be answered. Kelly said he sees no reason not to wage a wide-open competition between Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Dennis Dixon and Barkley, but it would appear that Foles, the second-year pro from Arizona, is the guy whose game most resembles Barkley's, and thus he might be vulnerable to losing his roster spot.
Though Barkley could certainly catch on quickly to the pro game and perhaps even earn the starting job with a strong preseason, in going to the Eagles he has found a close to ideal situation in which he could develop for a year or so before he has to play. Unlike when he started for Pete Carroll as a freshman at USC, Barkley should have time to work on his craft and thoroughly learn Kelly's offense before the pressure of expectation descends. If there's an upside to the sting of receiving 97 rejection notices spread out over two days (Barkley was taken 98th), that's it.
As for Kelly, maybe we should start taking him at his word. As he has reminded us more than once, he won at Oregon using a lot of different types of players, and had no one-size-fits-all quarterback template. Drafting Barkley drives the point home in convincing fashion. Kelly isn't constructing a gimmick offense in Philadelphia. If you're a quarterback who can play, you can play for him. Mobility is not a prerequisite.
BURKE: Eagles trade up to get NFL-ready Barkley
? To me, it was a bit of an echo of Washington drafting Kirk Cousins early in the fourth round last year, after taking Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick, and I kind of feel for Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. In going in the fourth round to the Giants as nothing more than Eli Manning's backup and maybe eventual trade bait if he develops, Nassib's draft experience had to be a colossal downer.
Everybody and their brother thought Nassib was headed to another team in New York, the Bills, to be their likely starter or quarterback of the future, playing for his old collegiate coach, Doug Marrone. Instead, he's headed to the Giants, where Manning never misses a game and an old Syracuse grad in Tom Coughlin coaching the team.
I suppose it could all work out for the best for him in the long run, but Nassib could go years without seeing the field in any significant measure in New York, as Giants general manager Jerry Reese gleefully admitted: "If he doesn't ever play, that'd be great,'' Reese said.
Way to kill a kid's dream. If the Giants do wind up needing him to play, and he plays well, chances are he won't be in New York indefinitely. But for the time being, Nassib's future looks to be on hold.
? And speaking of the Giants, Coughlin and Syracuse, people are going to start to talk. First, New York selected Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh in the first round, and then it came back Saturday and tapped Nassib to play the backup QB role David Carr has held down for several years.
Talk about your Orange crush. Or crush on the Orange.
? You know who had a great weekend? Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, Arizona's Carson Palmer, and to a degree, Oakland's Matt Flynn. Because none of them looked up to find their teams drafting a clear-cut challenge to their starting quarterback jobs. The Raiders did spend a fourth-round pick on Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, but he's likely to be competing more with Terrelle Pryor for the backup job than he is with Flynn for the No. 1 spot in 2013.
? Heard a great point made on the NFL Network Saturday about this draft: It should really raise the importance level of the Senior Bowl back to where it once was, instead of being an event that routinely gets skipped by some of the draft's top prospects.
Why? This year, so many of the top picks helped themselves considerably in Mobile, including game MVP E.J. Manuel (the draft's only first-round quarterback), Lane Johnson, Ziggy Ansah, and the No. 1 overall selection, Eric Fisher. All told, there were 10 first-round picks who played in the Senior Bowl this year, the highest number in years.
On the flip side, the projected top-rated quarterback at the beginning of the draft season, Geno Smith, avoided the Senior Bowl, and where did that move get him? Maybe the second round.
KING: Looking back on a strange first round
? Was that a quintessential Steelers draft, or what? Pittsburgh went after a little of everything we've come to identify with the Steelers over the years. First, they landed an impact edge-rushing outside linebacker in Jarvis Jones in the first round. Then, in the second round, they went after a power running back in the jump-happy Le'Veon Bell, and on Saturday, in the fourth round, they found a potential long-term replacement for Troy Polamalu in hard-hitting Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas.
That's a Steelers draft sent over from central casting.
? There can not be a unit in the NFL that has improved more dramatically since the season ended than Tampa Bay's defense. In what feels like a relative blink of the eye, the Bucs have added All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson in free agency, best-in-the-game cornerback Darrelle Revis via trade with the Jets, and drafted second-round cornerback Johnathan Banks of Mississippi State and fourth-round defensive tackle Akeem Spence of Illinois.
The Bucs are obviously led defensively by that star-studded secondary, which also includes 2012 first-round safety Mark Barron, the former Alabama standout. If fourth-round defensive end William Gholston of Michigan State turns out to be a much better pass rusher than his cousin, former Jets top-10 flop Vernon Gholston, Tampa Bay's D could really take a quantum step forward in 2013.
? This just in: The SEC dominated this draft kind of the way it has college football for the past decade or so. Thirty-three of the first 99 picks in the proceedings -- or one third -- were SEC products.
Like it or not, it may be time for the NFL to negotiate and merge with the SEC like it did with the AFL in the '60s. With Nick Saban being named the new commissioner.
? The 49ers">49ers were such a perfectly logical fourth-round landing spot for South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, whose horrific knee injury last fall will in all likelihood mean he won't make his NFL regular-season debut until 2014. Lattimore needed to find a team that could afford to be patient with him, had a deep backfield, and had plenty of draft picks to spend (the 49ers started the draft with 13).
And it certainly didn't hurt that San Francisco had a little history with this sort of thing, once taking running back Frank Gore in 2005's third round, despite Gore suffering an ACL injury in college at the University of Miami. With Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James to carry the ball, the 49ers don't need Lattimore this year. But when you're loaded at a position is exactly when you should be on the lookout to buy cheaply, if an elite player falls for some reason.
"We're not going to put him on the field until he's 100 percent, and that may not be this year,'' said head coach Jim Harbaugh on the NFL Network, whose 49ers are expected to, in effect, redshirt Lattimore this season, leaving him on the physically unable to perform list.
? The race in the NFC West gets better all the time. I love the work of at least three teams in that division in this year's draft, and it can't be forgotten that Seattle's draft class has to include Percy Harvin, obtained last month from Minnesota in exchange for Seattle's No. 25 first-round pick.
I hate to tell the rest of the NFC, but the 49ers defense has a new wave of talent in LSU safety Eric Reid, Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine and Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier. On offense, the two-time division champs added useful pieces in Rice tight end Vance McDonald (replacing Delanie Walker) and playmaking Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton.
From the looks of it, the Rams got markedly better on both sides of the ball. West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin is instant offense, and his fellow ex-Mountaineers teammate and receiver Stedman Bailey gives Sam Bradford another upgraded target. Alabama guard Barrett Jones was a quality fourth-round pick to help boost the offensive line, and first-round inside linebacker Alec Ogletree was one of the more athletic sideline-to-sideline defenders in the draft. Southern Cal safety T.J. McDonald rounds out the obvious defensive improvement in St. Louis.
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Arizona is still a fourth-place team in this division, by a good margin, but props to the Cardinals and the quality draft results produced by first-year GM Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians. Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford make Arizona so much better at guard, and I like Stanford running back Stephan Taylor's chances to contribute significantly as a fifth-round pick. On defense, the Cardinals landed solid finds in inside linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback turned safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Alex Okafor.
What a division. If the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams aren't all either in the playoffs or in the thick of the chase until Week 17 in 2013, I'll be thoroughly surprised.
? Another new decision-making team that deserves great reviews for its first draft together is Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell and new Jags head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville didn't take any swings and misses that I can see, getting a cornerstone type player in first-round tackle Luke Joeckel at No. 2, and then following him up with instant starters in Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien, and UConn cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Fourth-round South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders, and fifth-round Michigan quarterback turned receiver Denard Robinson are also valuable and versatile weapons who should make the Jaguars offense that much more dangerous.
There's plenty more work to be done in Jacksonville, and it's hard to see huge improvement coming without the team getting its quarterback problems fixed. But there's a new regime in town, and I'm guessing it was a very hopeful three days in the northeast corner of Florida.
? I'm not smart enough to know who "won'' this year's draft yet, but my money's on the Browns taking that title in 2014. Cleveland was absolutely trade happy the past three days, stockpiling picks for next year in an obvious judgment that this year's crop of prospects didn't hold enough value for its taste.
The Browns made just a first- and third-round pick heading into Saturday, and then shipped away a fourth-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for a 2014 third-rounder, and sent a fifth-round selection to the Colts for a fourth-rounder next year. Cleveland actually went from pick No. 68 in the third round to pick No. 175 in the sixth round without taking a player, finishing tied with a league-low five selections overall.
? Hey, I've got a novel idea. Let's try something new and see if any player who surprisingly slips down the board decides against vowing revenge on the teams that passed on them. Because I can't begin to keep track of all the paybacks that are owed from this weekend's draft decisions.
It's really become one of the biggest draft cliches, to promise retribution on 31 other teams, as Matt Barkley did on Saturday, tweeting: "I'm going to remember this weekend for a long time, and so are the teams that didn't draft me.''
It's fine to feel that way, but maybe keep it to yourself until you accomplish some of that revenge? Actions speak louder than words, remember?