Jalen Reagor never missed games because of injury. He played every chance he got at Waxahachie High in Texas. He was as durable in college at Texas Christian.
But in a span of about a month, the Eagles wide receiver suffered two injuries, the second causing him to miss five games. And in that time a lot happened. Many of Reagor’s draft classmates at receiver established their NFL bona fides. And even on his own team, there was a breakout performance at the position.
Reagor, however, wasn’t concerned enough to be distracted. He was too busy rehabbing and attempting to subvert most estimations for his return after he tore a ligament in his thumb against the Rams on Sept. 20.
“It’s all mental. If you want to get back, you’ll get back,” Reagor said Friday. “If you want to keep nursing the injury, you’re going to keep nursing it. It’s all mental. People don’t really realize that and people try to put a stamp on when I’ll come back, but nobody knows my body better than me.”
Just four weeks earlier, Reagor suffered a labrum strain during training camp. Initial reports suggested that he could be sidelined for over a month. But he recovered in time to play in the season opener at Washington.
Reagor got off to a flying start with a 55-yard grab in the first quarter. There were a couple of poor routes run, but the receiver expanded upon his early resume with a variety of catches the next week.
The last, though -- a 16-yard snag over the middle -- led to the thumb injury. Saints quarterback Drew Brees tore the same ulnar collateral ligament a year ago and missed five games, so there was always the chance that Reagor could be out until after next week’s bye.
But he returned to practice Monday, will likely be activated off injured reserve Saturday, and be ready to suit up Sunday night against the Cowboys. They’re an apropos opponent. Reagor grew up just outside Dallas, and he’ll get to see up close one of the rookie receivers he’ll often be compared with, CeeDee Lamb.
Lamb and several other early-round receivers have wasted little time making an impact on their respective teams. Asked if it was difficult to watch his colleagues thrive while he was languishing, Reagor said he remained patient.
“I want to see everybody succeed,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to stay in my lane and stay focused on me and the Eagles organization and then I’m going to move on from there.”
It is far too early to draw any conclusions about 2020 draft prospects. And it’s not as if Reagor didn’t show early glimpses of potential. But the NFL moves fast. It will wait only so long for players to develop, even first-rounders, and Reagor certainly doesn’t want to be labeled injury-prone.
While he was out, the relatively unknown Travis Fulgham was promoted off the Eagles practice squad and in four games caught 23 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Even fellow rookie John Hightower, who had his early struggles, pulled in two 50-plus-yard passes the last two games.
“When you have a receiving corps like we have, the sky is the limit,” Reagor said. “I haven’t been pretty fortunate with these injuries, but whenever I get back, you’re just adding pieces.”
But another subtraction does offer Reagor the opportunity to fill a void. DeSean Jackson was placed on IR with an ankle injury that could keep him inactive until mid-to-late December.
Reagor, who said that he was able to stay conditioned throughout his recent setback, should be able to slide into Jackson’s “Z” receiver role. The Eagles threw a lot on his plate right away and had extensive plans, even for a rookie, for him in their offense.
“I think it can change the dynamic,” quarterback Carson Wentz said about Reagor’s return. "Just what you can do with him in the screen game, and down the field. He’s a guy that has run-after-the-catch ability. Obviously, it’s been very limited, the sample size ... but we see it in practice.
“We see the explosiveness that he brings and how he can change a game in a heartbeat.”
When the Eagles drafted Reagor with the No. 21 overall pick, they placed a premium on acquiring an outside speed receiver and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. There were similarly skilled options rated slightly higher by some scouts, but it would have cost to move up for Henry Ruggs (No. 12), Jerry Jeudy (No. 15), and Lamb (No. 17).
That the Cowboys would have Lamb (36 catches for 497 yard and two touchdowns) fall to them without an immediate need at the position had to sting a little. But the Eagles didn’t want to forfeit picks and loved Reagor. They took the 5-foot-11, 197-pound receiver even though Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins were also on the board.
Jefferson went to the Vikings with the next selection. He leads all rookies with 537 receiving yards and his three touchdown catches are tied for second. The Eagles passed on the LSU product partly because they projected him as primarily a slot receiver.
But Jefferson has played more on the outside in Minnesota (58%) and 18 of his 28 catches have come when he’s lined up there.
The Eagles have already competed against Aiyuk (20-280-1) and Higgins (27-410-3). Aiyuk caught only two passes for 18 yards in the meeting, but he scored one of his two rushing touchdowns on a 38-yard end-around. Higgins finished with five receptions for 40 yards and two scores in last month’s game.
The Eagles have also faced two other second-round receivers -- the Steelers' Chase Claypool (18-333-4) and the Rams' Van Jefferson (7-98). The former caught seven passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns, and scored on the ground, while the latter had four receptions for 45 yards against Philly.
The 2020 draft class of receivers has already been forecast by some to be among the best ever. A high of 13 were selected in the first two rounds. The Broncos' Jeudy (19-286-1), Lamb, Jefferson, Aiyuk, Higgins, and the Jaguars' Laviska Shenault (29-324-2) have gotten out of the gate the fastest.
But Reagor hasn’t been the only receiver to have early injury struggles. The Raiders' Ruggs (8-212-1) has missed two games, the Colts' Michael Pittman (9-73) three, the Broncos' KJ Hamler (8-102) two, and the Jets' Denzel Mims (4-42) six.
Reagor talks a good game, but those who have known him for years and only recently say his bravado isn’t false. Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who briefly played with his father, Montae, with the Colts, said that being around the game his whole life probably factored into Reagor’s supreme confidence.
“From the time he was little to now he’s done really good things, and there’s no reason for him not to have confidence,” Moorehead said last month. “He has to continue to take that confidence, bottle it up, and keep pushing in the right direction.”
That was before the thumb injury, but the sentiment still applies. Reagor believes the injuries will only end up being small bumps in the road.
“It’s just a little bit of adversity. Just a test. And I feel like I passed them,” he said. “I’m not going to let them get me down or get me in a funk. It’s all about how you respond. It’s all about being resilient.”