With apologies to Lightning McQueen, the Eagles had the need, the need for speed.
But did they push that need when they selected wide receiver Jalen Reagor in the first round of the NFL draft?
It seemed all but a foregone conclusion that general manager Howie Roseman would steer the Eagles toward taking a receiver Thursday night. While it is never a good idea to go into a draft thinking one position, if there was a year to focus on that position, this was it.
Roseman talked about all the different flavors of receivers in this year’s class, but he said there were only two elite outside speed demons. The first — Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III — went to the Raiders at No. 12. But the second was still on the board at No. 21 and the Eagles took Reagor, before many draft analysts had slotted the TCU product to go.
“Just even talking to teams right behind us, this guy was going to go,” Roseman said during a teleconference when asked if the Eagles considered trading back. “It was hard to find this kind of speed. I say it a lot, but when you look at the overall class, sometimes medical comes into play, sometimes character comes into play. It’s not always as clean as it kind of looks.”
Ruggs was the first receiver drafted. His college teammate Jerry Jeudy went three picks later to the Broncos. CeeDee Lamb, though, was still available at No. 16. Some had considered the Oklahoma receiver the top talent at his position. Did Roseman consider moving up five spots for Lamb?
“We’re very aggressive in working the phones and having conversations with these teams and trying to figure out where we can move and when we can move,” Roseman said. “It’s got to work for both sides, obviously, but we were also very comfortable sitting here and taking a player that has a great skill set for what we’re looking for.”
The Eagles’ board will likely remain a mystery, and whether Lamb or any of the other top receivers were flagged for medical or other concerns will remain unknown for now, but it had to sting a little to see the Cowboys take Lamb at No. 17.
Still, the next three picks weren’t receivers and LSU’s Justin Jefferson — who was rated by many analysts to be one of the top four at his position — was still there for the taking. Jefferson didn’t play much outside in college. He was mostly in the slot, but many scouts believe he could play both and he actually ran a faster 40-yard dash at the combine (4.43 seconds) than Reagor (4.47).
“The Eagles really wanted speed. Reagor provides that,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on Twitter. “I just couldn’t pass up my 14th-rated player [Jefferson] for my 56th player [Reagor]. It’ll be fascinating to follow both of their careers.”
Jefferson went to the Vikings with the next pick.
Reagor was clearly a prospect the Eagles had targeted. It’s hard to knock them for wanting to upgrade at receiver and find outside speed. Injuries and underwhelming play made that position one of the glaring holes on the roster last season.
DeSean Jackson, one of the fastest players in NFL history, will return this season, but he’s 33 and the Eagles are looking to build for the future around quarterback Carson Wentz. Roseman wanted his own Tyreek Hill, to offer a comparison to the pinball-like receiver who was a part of the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs.
“You see the separation on tape,” Roseman said of Reagor. “You see the vertical separation as an outside receiver. Those things are hard to find when you look at this draft. … Those guys are hard to find in this league. That fits our quarterback’s skill set. Our quarterback likes to throw the ball down the field.”
The 5-foot, 10½-inch Reagor said he “was heavy” at the combine when he ran the 40. He weighed 206 but dropped nearly ten pounds when he was clocked at 4.2 during a virtual pro day. But the Eagles, who had access to his GPS tracking numbers in college, said his play speed is what mattered most.
Reagor isn’t just about speed, though. He had a 42-inch vertical leap at the combine. He made catches above the rim in the Big 12, but he was probably more explosive with the ball in his hands on gadget plays, jet sweeps or as a returner. He had two punt returns for touchdowns in college.
As a sophomore, Reagor caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns. But his production declined as a junior partly because TCU was nurturing a rookie quarterback. He finished with only 43 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns and snared only 47 percent of his targets last season.
Some of the incompletions fell on quarterback play, but Reagor also had eight drops. And he occasionally allowed his frustrations to bubble to the surface.
The Eagles, though, spent a lot of time on the Waxahachie, Tex native, whose father, Montae, played eight seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL, including the 2007 season with the team that drafted his son.
Nearly every possible Eagles scout, coach and executive spent time either interviewing or going over offensive install with Reagor during the last year. The team expended one of its 45 combine meetings on the 21-year old. They didn’t have the benefit of attending his pro day or having him to the NovaCare Complex, but there were many Face Time chats and Zoom conversations, according to Andy Weidl, Eagles vice president of player personnel.
“There was a comfort level with him,” Weidl said.
The Eagles won’t know what they got until they get him in the building, of course, and it could be months with the coronavirus still a national crisis. It could be years before we know how Roseman did, despite all the rushes to judgment many had made about the selection on social media.
Should he have mortgaged picks to move up for Ruggs, Jeudy or Lamb — who Dallas took even though they already have two young receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup? Should he have taken Jefferson? Should he have traded back and gambled on getting Reagor later in the first round or in the second?
Should he have selected Brandon Aiyuk, who went to the 49ers at No. 25, or waited until Day 2 for other notable names like Denzel Mims or Tee Higgins?
Time will tell. But Roseman’s record in drafting receivers hasn’t been great, and if the Eagles had confidence in last year’s second-round selection, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, maybe they wouldn’t have seemingly pushed a need.
But every team needs speed, and elite speed is hard to find.