Howie Roseman wasn’t on an island by himself two years ago when he passed on D.K. Metcalf in the second round of the 2019 draft.
Even after he ran a 4.33 40 at the NFL scouting combine, teams had questions about the 6-foot-3, 228-pound body-beautiful wide receiver from Ole Miss, from the elementary-school route tree he ran in college to the season-ending neck injury that limited him to seven games the previous fall.
Hell, two other teams – the Colts and the Cardinals – also selected wideouts in between the Eagles’ selection of JJ Arcega-Whiteside with the 57th overall pick and the Seahawks’ pick of Metcalf at No. 64.
Last April, however, the Eagles general manager absolutely was out on an island by himself when he selected TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor over prolific LSU product Justin Jefferson with the 21st pick in the first round.
The overwhelming consensus around the league was that Howie and the Eagles blew it. Not so much because there was a sense Reagor would turn out to be a bust, but because Jefferson clearly was the best receiver on the board when the Eagles picked.
Nothing that’s happened this season has changed that opinion. Reagor missed five of the Eagles’ first eight games with a thumb injury and has just 12 catches this season.
His performance in last Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Giants will be remembered more for a couple of passes that got away – a third-and-3 incompletion on a rub route on the Eagles’ first possession, and a fourth-and-10 incompletion on a back-shoulder throw in the fourth quarter – than for his four catches.
Jefferson, meanwhile, is a leading offensive rookie of the year candidate for the Vikings. He’s got 42 catches on 54 targets for 762 yards and three touchdowns. In front of a national television audience on Monday night, he notched his fourth 100-yard game this season in a 19-13 win over the Bears.
Mike Quick understands better than most the whole draft-pick comparison thing. In 1982, the Buffalo Bills took Clemson wide receiver Perry Tuttle with the 19th pick in the draft. One pick later, the Eagles took Quick.
Tuttle lasted just three seasons in the league. He had a grand total of 25 catches and three touchdowns. Quick went on to become a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. He played nine seasons and finished with 363 catches and 61 touchdowns.
Quick, the Eagles’ longtime radio analyst, didn’t want to get into the Reagor-Jefferson comparison. He thinks, ultimately, this will turn out to be a win-win situation for both the Eagles and the Vikings.
“Regardless of what happens with Jefferson -- and he’s a great, great player -- this kid [Reagor] has skills,” Quick said. “I love his skill set. He has stuff that 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 in college.
“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.
“If you take his first catch Sunday [a 10-yard completion on a fourth-and-1 on the Eagles’ first possession], he motioned in to a stack. He caught a quick screen with two guys in front of him.
“You can just see with the ball in his hands how explosive he is. He can make things happen. I just think the more time he has on the field, the more we’re going to like what we see.”
There is no question that the time Reagor missed with injuries – the final two weeks of training camp with a shoulder injury, then five games with the thumb injury – set him back.
“He’s got an uphill battle just to get back to where a lot of these other guys are already,” Quick said.
One of the reasons Roseman liked Reagor so much was because of his deep speed. But he’s more than a field-stretcher. He’s also someone who can turn a bubble screen or jet sweep or quick slant into a big play. And Quick thinks that’s where Doug Pederson’s focus should be right now.
“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. He needs the ball in his hands more. He’s missed a lot of time already.
“I’m sure it’s frustrating for him to listen to the talk about Jefferson and other receivers. 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.”
Figuring the Eagles
The Eagles’ average drive start last Sunday’s loss to the Giants was their own 16.0-yard line. That’s their worst in a game in Doug Pederson’s five seasons as head coach. The Eagles’ average drive start through nine games is the 26.3-yard line, also the lowest of the Pederson era. Their opponents’ is the 32.3. Their minus-6.0 drive start differential is the worst in five years. Their previous drive-start differentials: minus-0.5 in 2019, plus-0.6 in 2018, plus-1.8 in 2017, and plus-2.6 in 2016. The Eagles have started at their 40-yard line or better this year on just 12 of their 106 possessions.
The Eagles converted just 10 of 42 third-down opportunities (23.8%) in their last four games. They had converted 34 of 74 (45.9%) in their first five games. They’ve dropped to 24th in the league in third-down efficiency (39.7%). That’s their lowest third-down conversion rate since 2016 (37.9%).
The Eagles converted just 3 of 23 third downs of 7 yards or more in the last four games.
Doug Pederson has gone for it on fourth down 17 times this season, but the Eagles have converted only five (29.4%). That’s the third lowest fourth-down success rate in the league. They were 29th last year (33.3%), 10th in 2018 (60.9%), and third in 2017 (65.4$).
The Eagles have given up 33 runs of 10 yards or more this season, which is the seventh-most in the league. Just 16 of those 33 have been by running backs.
The Browns are second in the league in rush average on first down (5.4). That has helped keep them out of a lot of third-and-longs. Just 41 of the Browns’ 103 third-down situations have been 7 yards or more (39.8%). That’s the second fewest third-and-7-plus situations in the league. Sixty-one of the Eagles’ 116 third downs (52.6%) have been 7 yards or more.
Another passing game problem
One of the many problems with the Eagles’ passing game this season has been the ineffectiveness of running back Miles Sanders.
The Eagles drafted Sanders two years ago not only because of his skills as a runner, but also because of his potential as a LeSean McCoy-like pass-catching threat.
The Penn State product delivered on that as a rookie. Targeted 63 times, he had 50 catches and averaged 10.2 yards per catch.
He had five receptions of 30 or more yards. The only running back in the league with more was the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, who had six. In the Eagles’ final five regular-season games, Sanders had 23 catches on 27 targets.
Sanders missed three of the Eagles’ first nine games with injuries. But he was very productive as a runner in the six he has played in, averaging 86.5 yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.
But he has just 14 catches and four receiving first downs. His 46.7 catch rate is one of the lowest in the league among running backs.
In the loss to the Giants, Sanders was targeted five times and had just two catches for 10 yards. Late in the second quarter, Carson Wentz had a throw to Sanders tipped at the line of scrimmage. In the fourth quarter, Sanders dropped a second-and-10 pass in Giants territory. On the Eagles’ final possession of the game, Wentz overthrew Sanders on a 3-yard pass he should be able to make in his sleep.
“Yeah, it’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Sanders acknowledged Thursday. “But we still continue to come here and work. Still get extra work between special teams and defensive periods. We go on the other fields and do routes and stuff. Not just me. It’s Boston [Scott] too. It’s Corey [Clement].
“You’re still getting extra work and still catching [passes on the] Jugs [machine] before and after practice and stuff like that. Still working at it, still trying to get it right.”
All of the injuries to the Eagles’ offensive line have wreaked havoc with the offense’s screen game. The Eagles are averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt this year on passes behind the line of scrimmage. Last year, they averaged 6.1.
Wentz also has struggled with his accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws. His completion percentage on 0-10 yard throws is just 68%. Last year, it was 74.3%.
“We’ve definitely watched and talked a little bit about it,” Wentz said about his problems getting the ball to Sanders in the passing game. “I think Miles and I just have to keep working and being on the same page. I can be better and that’s what I told him.
“Are there misses and things that happen out there every week? Yes. Is that stuff that we can clean up in practice? That’s the plan. Those are things we can get cleaned up and get going in the right direction.”