Time will tell whether the Eagles made the correct decision last month when they selected TCU’s Jalen Reagor over fellow receiver Justin Jefferson in the first round of the draft.
The Eagles took Reagor with the 21st overall pick. LSU’s Jefferson, rated higher by most armchair draft analysts, went one pick later to the Minnesota Vikings.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman used the word “fit’’ four times on draft night when asked what prompted him to take Reagor over Jefferson.
“We were just trying to find the right fit for our football team,’’ he said. “You’re talking about really good players, and it’s just the fit.
“It’s how the coaches envision these guys being used and what they’re looking for to fit our quarterback skill set. So that’s what we were trying to do. Find the right fit for the Philadelphia Eagles and where we are as a football team.’’
Why did they feel Reagor, who caught 68 fewer passes for 929 fewer yards and 13 fewer touchdowns than Jefferson last season, was a better fit for their offense?
Three reasons mainly: 1) they were focused on speed, and despite a forgettable performance at the scouting combine in late February, Reagor is considered more of a vertical threat than Jefferson; 2) Jefferson played almost exclusively in the slot last year, and the Eagles weren’t convinced he could be as effective outside as he was inside; and 3) they plan to attack teams both horizontally and vertically this season and felt Reagor, in addition to being able to take the top off a defense, is a better gadget player – jet sweeps, end-arounds, bubble screens, etc. – than Jefferson.
While he’s a little biased, Malcolm Kelly thinks the Eagles made a wise decision drafting Reagor. Kelly, a former second-round pick of the Washington Redskins, is TCU’s outside receivers coach. He believes Reagor is going to be a difference-maker in the NFL.
“He is one of those rare players who can do it all," Kelly said in a phone interview last week. “He literally can do it all.
“He has that rare combination of explosion, high-point ability – at 5-10, he can go up and high-point the ball like a 6-3 or 6-4 guy – and the ability to turn nothing into something."
Two years ago, Reagor caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns for the Horned Frogs. Last year, playing most of the season with a true freshman quarterback (Max Duggan), his numbers nosedived to 43, 611, and five. He also had eight drops.
Duggan completed just 53.4% of his passes, averaged 6.1 yards per attempt, and threw 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 339 pass attempts.
“There were a lot of factors" for Reagor’s drop in production last year, Kelly said. “You’re putting a lot on the shoulders of a kid [Duggan] who was in high school the year before and now is a starting quarterback in the Big 12.
“I’m not going to put all of the blame on that. Did it have something to do with it? Yeah, of course. But what I’ve always told Jalen and what I know about the NFL is those guys, yeah, they do look at production. But at the same time, they’re drafting movement.
“When they turn the tape on, they’re looking to see what movements you provide that other people don’t provide. That was my big thing with him throughout the season. Help the young quarterback out. But keep your head in the right place because when they turn the tape on and they see you again, you run by people and they see that 4.3 speed on tape. That’s what eventually is going to get you drafted.’’
Kelly said Reagor’s eight drops were an aberration. “He has elite-level ball skills," he said. He said most of the drops were the result of Reagor trying too hard to make something out of nothing.
“Last year, there were some growing pains" with the new quarterback, he said. “And every time Jalen touched the ball, he tried to turn it into a touchdown. When you do that, it means you’re pressing and you’re not letting the game come to you. That’s where a lot of those drops came in."
Reagor played last season at around 195 pounds. But he showed up at the NFL Scouting Combine in February weighing 206.
The extra weight clearly slowed him down. His 40 time (4.47 seconds) was just the 15th fastest among the 42 wide receivers who ran at the combine.
His 4.46-second short-shuttle time was just the 16th fastest among the wideouts. Two of the Eagles’ third-day selections – seventh-round edge rusher Casey Toohill (4.21) and sixth-round linebacker Shaun Bradley (4.24) -- had faster short-shuttle times.
TCU’s pro day was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, so Reagor never got a chance to improve on his disappointing numbers in front of scouts.
At the urging of several NFL teams, including the Eagles, Reagor conducted a virtual pro day two weeks before the draft. He ran a 4.22-second 40 and a 3.97-second short shuttle in his virtual pro day.
It’s hard to know how seriously to take virtual numbers. But Reagor’s college game tape clearly showed a player who can get separation, regardless of what his official 40 time is.
“The tape never lies," Kelly said. “You turn it on and you see how fast he eats up cushion, how he runs by guys with elite-level 40 times."
It’s not clear why Reagor showed up at the combine so heavy. He brushed off the question when asked about it by reporters on draft night but was back down to 197 for his mid-April virtual pro day.
Reagor’s work ethic never was a question at TCU. Adding the weight for the combine probably was just the result of some bad advice from a trainer or maybe some weight-room vanity.
“If you watched this guy during the offseason, he wins every sprint," Kelly said. “He runs hills and wins every hill. They run gassers and he wins every gasser. And not just barely wins. He’s putting his stamp on every rep.
“The amount of time and dedication that he’s put into cultivating his talent is remarkable. You get some guys who are really talented who don’t have a strong work ethic, and you get guys who have a strong work ethic but just aren’t that talented.
“But when you get both together, you get the potential of a really great player. And I think that’s evident in Jalen."
Reagor played the “Z" wide receiver position in TCU’s offense, lining up outside the numbers on the right side about 85% of the time last season.
While Kelly said he has tremendous respect for Jefferson, he also said he understands why the Eagles preferred Reagor.
“Don’t get me wrong," Kelly said. “I think Justin Jefferson is a helluva player. I know he is. Just watch the tape. But I know without a doubt that Jalen can play inside and outside.
"Having played the position, it’s always easier to move from outside to inside. On the outside, there’s somebody in your face pretty much every single play. When you’re in the slot, you get a lot more free releases and things like that.
“With Jalen playing outside, his transition to playing in the slot [with the Eagles] whenever need be will be an easier transition."
Reagor is going to see a lot more press-man coverage in the NFL than he did in college. The corners also are going to be bigger and stronger and more willing to mix it up.
But Kelly said Reagor will be fine. “We worked every day on beating press-man,’’ he said. “You never want to wait until the week you’re playing a press-man team to work on press-man.
“When you see Jalen in person, he’s not your average 5-10, 190-pound guy. He’s put together. He’s been that way since high school. I can’t remember his exact bench numbers [he benched 225 pounds 17 times at the combine]. But last spring, he was squatting over 600.