On a day when the wide receiver the Eagles didn’t pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Justin Jefferson, notched his fifth 100-yard game, caught his seventh touchdown pass and went over 1,000 receiving yards, the guy they did pick finally turned in a performance worth talking about.
While it came in a 30-16 loss to the Packers that dropped the Eagles to 3-8-1, and while it was overshadowed by Doug Pederson’s decision to replace struggling Carson Wentz with second-round rookie Jalen Hurts, Jalen Reagor had his best game of the season.
He had an 11-yard run on a first-quarter end-around, caught a 34-yard pass from Hurts on a third-and-four in the third quarter, and had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown with 6:30 left in the game that got the Eagles within 7 points.
All of that pales in comparison to Jefferson’s nine-catch, 121-yard, 1 touchdown performance in the Vikings’ 27-24 win over Jacksonville. But it’s a start, and one that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman no doubt took some solace in on the return flight from Green Bay Sunday night.
As everyone knows, the Eagles passed on Jefferson with the 21st pick in the first round of the April draft and took Reagor, feeling he was a better fit for their offense.
Reagor had a 55-yard catch from Wentz in the Eagles’ Week 1 loss to Washington, but then torn a ligament in his thumb the following week and missed five games.
He returned in Week 8 against the Cowboys and has played the lion’s share of snaps in the last five games. Had four catches for 47 yards in a loss to the Giants and 4 for 52 in a loss to the Browns. He had just three catches for 11 yards in last week’s loss to Seattle and wasn’t really used much as either a gadget player or punt returner. Until Sunday.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the game when asked about Reagor. “I think there’s still more that we can do. Again, we have to be smart with how much we give him. I don’t want to overload him either. I want him to play free.”
The Eagles didn’t make Reagor available to the media on the team’s postgame videoconference Sunday night. During his last availability with reporters two weeks ago, he said he didn’t pay much attention to the comparisons with Jefferson, or the fact that Jefferson is off to a much better rookie start.
“That’s life,” he said. “The longer y’all bring it up, I’m just going to keep giving y’all the same answers. What else do you want me to do? I can’t go make those things happen when, you know, it’s just certain things that you’ve got to know. When your time is coming it’s going to come. When it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”
Ten years ago, the Eagles drafted defensive end Brandon Graham with the 13th pick in the 2010 draft, ahead of safety Earl Thomas and another defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. They received the same kind of criticism then for taking Graham over Thomas and Pierre-Paul that they’ve been receiving this year for selecting Reagor over Jefferson.
Former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, the team’s longtime radio analyst, said he doesn’t think the second-guessing over taking Reagor will last quite as long as it did over the selection of Graham, who has carved out a successful career with the Eagles.
“This won’t be a BG situation,” Quick said confidently. “Regardless of what happens with Jefferson, this kid has skills.
“I love his skill set. He has stuff I never had. That speed, that explosion that he has. His route running is so good. Better than I even thought when I watched him on tape at TCU. He understands how to set up a cornerback. He understands how to work him shoulder to shoulder to try and get him to turn his hips. I’m starting to see that.”
On his 34-yard reception Sunday, Reagor showed the same speed and moves he showed in Week 1 on his 55-yard catch against Washington. He got past the Packers’ fourth-year corner, Kevin King, and made a nice catch on the throw from Hurts.
Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp has picked his spots with Reagor on punt returns because he doesn’t quite have the same sure hands that the Eagles’ other punt returner, Greg Ward, does. But Ward doesn’t have Reagor’s home run ability.
Reagor actually dropped the punt he scored on, but quickly picked it up and got nice blocks from fellow rookie K’Von Wallace and Richard Rodgers that allowed him to get to the outside. He avoided a diving tackle attempt by one Packers defender, then outraced safety Raven Greene down the sideline and easily blew past Packers punt JK Scott.
“Probably the most important thing is just getting the ball into this guy’s hands,” Quick said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it. I would love to see them give it to him more on jet sweeps and bubble screens and all those different ways where you can just get it into his hands. He needs the ball in his hands more.
“You can’t help but listen to the talk about Jefferson and other receivers. It has to be frustrating. The best way to combat that, to get over that, is for them to feed him the football. And if they feed him the football, we’re going to like what we see.”