In recent weeks, Jalen Reagor has provided glimpses of the multifaceted explosiveness the Eagles said he would provide when they drafted him in April.
There was the 73-punt return for a touchdown at the Packers, the 19-yard end around against the Saints, the 23-yard screen against the Cardinals, and the two times he got open deep only to have passes miss their mark.
“It would be great to connect on some of those deep balls,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday. “He’s getting in behind the secondary. His biggest thing is he’s continuing to learn, and he missed so much of the first half of the season.
“Now he’s put himself in a position to really be explosive for us. We just keep ... bringing him along as well with the offense.”
It often takes a year or two, even for first-round receivers, to adjust to the NFL. This year, the pandemic tossed another curveball at rookies. And in Reagor’s case, he suffered two injuries, the second a torn thumb ligament which forced him to miss five games.
But his development has been relatively slow, especially when compared to other rookies selected in the first two rounds of an unprecedented draft for receivers. Much has been made of Reagor’s production vs. Justin Jefferson, who was selected one pick after the TCU product. But he has also paled in comparison to most of the first 13 receivers drafted.
The numbers are incomplete, of course, and tell only a portion of the story. But of greater concern may be that Reagor’s speed hasn’t appeared to translate to the NFL. The next generation explosiveness the Eagles touted has yet to show up on the field.
“I feel like I’m pretty fast,” Reagor said last week. “I’m a fast player, and it’s going to translate the more I learn and the longer I’m here. It’s going to all come together.”
The more experience he gains, the more the game should slow down. But Reagor has yet to be clocked at the maximum speed he hit in college – 22.6 mph – with the ball in his hands. The NFL doesn’t provide all the speeds on players, but he has yet to top 21.38 mph this season.
Reagor ran a respectable 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but his handlers thought he’d run a sub-4.3 rather than a split that was only in the 64th percentile among receivers. He would later say that added bulk – he tipped the scales at 205 pounds – accounted for the slower-than-expected time.
At his pro day, Reagor was clocked at 4.28 and 4.22 seconds and weighed 197 pounds, the same at which he’s currently listed. The Eagles, though, said they were focused mostly on the separation he showed on tape.
“You see the vertical separation as an outside receiver, and those things are hard to find,” general manager Howie Roseman said after the Eagles took Reagor with the No. 21 overall pick. “When you look at this draft about guys who can just separate as an outside vertical receiver, there are not a lot of those guys.”
While there have been more recent examples, Reagor hasn’t shown consistent outside separation against man coverage on film. The Eagles projected Jefferson as a slot in their scheme, but the receiver has run 67 percent of his routes from the outside with the Vikings and has the second-most 20-plus yard catches (14) in the NFL.
There are many variables that can affect a rookie receiver’s production, from quarterback play to intrasquad competition. The Eagles’ offensive struggles have clearly affected individual performance, but Reagor hasn’t lacked opportunity. He’s played 78 percent of snaps when active, the most among Eagles receivers.
In nine games, Reagor has caught 27 of 46 targets for 351 yards and a touchdown. His per-game averages, though, rank ninth (3 catches) and 10th (39 yards) among the top 13 receivers drafted.
In terms of yards per route run, Reagor is 12th (1.29 yards) behind Jefferson (2.65), Chase Claypool (1.96), CeeDee Lamb (1.85), Brandon Aiyuk (1.79), Tee Higgins (1.76), Denzel Mims (1.71), Jerry Jeudy (1.52), Laviska Shenault (1.50), Van Jefferson (1.49), Henry Ruggs (1.41), and Michael Pittman (1.39), and ahead of KJ Hamler (1.18).
He got off to a hot start in the opener when he caught his first target for 55 yards. Reagor’s (No. 18) route was crisp. He attacked cornerback Ronald Darby, who had opened up his stance, and got him to flip his hips with a slight move indicating an outside route.
Reagor finished strong by tracking Carson Wentz’s (No. 11) pass over his head, something he had shown repeatedly in college.
But his first game wasn’t without faults. Reagor could have come back to the ball on a Wentz pass that was intercepted. And he was targeted on another deep post that would have likely been a home run had he not eased up mid-route.
Reagor wasn’t asked to go over the middle much at TCU, but he showed the following week that he wasn’t just a field stretcher or gadget. On this dig route, he hung in and took a shot.
Reagor injured himself on the play, though, and the Eagles have been reluctant to throw to him in between the numbers since his return. That may be one reason why it’s been harder for him to win on the outside. But his route running also needs to improve.
On this short third down against the New York Giants, which drew a lot of attention at the time, Travis Fulgham’s (No. 13) rub route wasn’t precise. But Reagor also went a little too deep on his route, which caused Wentz to pump.
Later in the game, on a last-gasp fourth-and-10, Wentz signaled with a tap of his helmet that he wanted Reagor to run a back shoulder route vs. James Bradberry (No. 24). His receiver, though, ran well past the first down marker, and the timing was off.
“Just got to get more timing on it, more reps, and we’ll get it right,” Reagor said after the game.
Chemistry, or a lack thereof, was often cited as why Wentz and Reagor struggled to develop a rhythm. But some of the issues have remained since Jalen Hurts took over at quarterback.
Reagor has to learn never to give up on routes. On this pass against the Cowboys in Week 8, Wentz was rightly criticized for throwing into double coverage on a first-down play. But, with his quarterback in scramble mode, Reagor needed to make as strong an effort on the ball as Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs (No. 27).
His footwork off the line could also improve. On this slot fade vs. the Seahawks, Reagor was sluggish out of his break, which affected his ability to get separation at the top of his route.
He likely had zero chance of pulling that ball in, but his leaping ability has also yet to show up on game days. Reagor’s vertical at the combine was 42 inches, and his broad jump was 138 inches, both of which were in the 97 percentile.
The Eagles hyped the 5-foot-11 receiver’s ability to play “above the rim,” but Reagor has yet to win many contested passes.
Pederson has scripted more opportunities for him in the quick pass game. Many of Reagor’s yards in college came after the catch. He averages 5.7 yards after the catch, second to only Pittman (7.2) among rookie receivers.
Screens have been the most popular way to get the ball in his hands. The Eagles needed only two yards to get into the end zone on this sprint out vs. Dallas, but Reagor maintained his balance after contact and snuck the ball over the pylon for his lone receiving touchdown of the season.
To some degree of surprise, the Eagles haven’t utilized Reagor much as a punt returner, even since the Packers touchdown. In college, he averaged 17.8 yards, and in his last season took two returns back for touchdowns.
The Eagles have instead favored Greg Ward even though he averages just 6.8 yards per return and has made questionable decisions near his own goal line. Reagor has had his mistakes as well, but special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said that the coaches don’t want to overload the rookie’s plate.
Reagor has also had to adjust to a new quarterback in Hurts. He said last week that they have spent extra time after practice working on details. They hooked up on Hurts’ first attempt after he took over for Wentz in Green Bay, a 34-yard fade, but have been off on two other deep balls.
On this shot play against the Saints, Reagor beat his man on a deep cross and got the post safety to lose his balance and fall. Hurts (No. 2) led him too much, though, and the receiver could only get one outstretched hand on the ball.
A week later at the Cardinals, Reagor caught 5 of 8 targets for 49 yards, but he struggled on the outside against Patrick Peterson (No. 21).
There was a fade pass, for instance, on which Reagor had space but couldn’t get his hands on the ball. The telecast caught Pederson after the play looking at his receiver and pointing to his eyes.
“I can’t remember what I said,” Pederson said, “probably something about location, trying to find the ball.”
But Reagor did motor past Peterson (No. 21) later on this post route into the end zone.
Peterson was playing outside leverage, but an accurate throw by Hurts would have likely produced six points. The pass was underthrown, however, and the corner recovered in time to break up the pass.
The Eagles see improvement and think that Reagor is getting closer to having a breakout game. Consistency, though, remains an issue, and whether he has elite game speed. He said it will all come in due time.
“I don’t think I’ve really gotten the chance,” Reagor said, “to really run as fast as I can.”