Eagles fans are feeling proud right now, and not just because of Sunday’s win in Denver. The team’s patient approach to developing young talent is winning big plaudits. From Jalen Hurts through to Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley, there’s a lot of love for taking things slow and letting players (or flowers) grow – until talk turns to Jalen Reagor. But there are still plenty of reasons to stay onboard the Reagor Train.
An express locomotive – with hands
Productivity has been a problem for Number 18. He’s made 22 receptions from 35 targets in 10 games so far this season, managing just 171 total yards. That puts him a long distance behind DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Dallas Goedert – although Reagor’s two touchdowns is level with Goedert and ahead of Watkins, who is still waiting for his first visit to the end zone in 2021.
Those two TDs showcased the second-year slot receiver’s most encouraging attributes. First, a late grab in triple coverage against the Raiders reminded fans that Reagor has good hands, just as he displayed during training camp. In the 2020 season, he caught 31 passes and dropped just one. Second, the 23-yard catch-and-run against the Falcons showed Reagor’s jet-force acceleration. In fact, NextGen Stats have clocked Reagor as the sixth-fastest ball carrier in the NFL this season, reaching 21.74 miles per hour.
Put simply, Reagor can catch and he’s fast. That’s a good starting point for a player who is only beginning his NFL journey.
Choo-choo-choose the right plays
Worryingly, however, #18 has had just five receptions in the last five games. That’s a downward trend, after Reagor managed 13 receptions in the first three games. At that early stage of the season, the Eagles were pass-heavy and screens were a big part of the playbook. Opponents grew wise to the repetitive play calls, and the offense transformed into a run-first unit. Both bad news for a player who thrives with the ball in his hands and green grass to explore.
Looking ahead, it’s reasonable to expect an uptick in Reagor’s utilization. That’s partly because it can’t get much lower. But it’s also because the schedule and weather will suit his skillset. The Eagles face three top-eight rushing defenses in the next seven games, with no top-fifteen passing defense to worry about. That suggests it’s time to throw the ball and try some end-arounds, sweeps, flim-flams and hanky-panky – especially when winter comes howling in.
Reagor may also profit from other developments in Philly. Jalen Hurts is spending longer in the pocket. The run is established and opponents will adapt accordingly. DeVonta Smith will attract more defenders as his stock rises. That’s a tasty recipe for a slot receiver who wants more space. And if Dallas Goedert misses Sunday’s game against the Saints, Reagor’s (platform) number might be called more often.
The Little Wide Receiver That Could
Reagor’s time in Philadelphia has been marked by criticism of his character and judgment, particularly regarding behavior on social media. In 2020, he traded barbs with fans on Twitter. Early in 2021, he exchanged unpleasantries via Instagram. When Nick Sirianni singled Reagor out for tough criticism during training camp this offseason, it added up to create a picture of a young man who was losing his way.
There have been signs of a change in the player’s mentality. The 21st overall pick from 2020 said he was a “different person” heading into Year Two. In any case, Philly sports fans are not averse to athletes who embrace social media as a sparring ring – as long as they produce on game day. And Reagor’s scrappy nature feels like a better fit for the city than a receiver who meekly huddles under his mom’s umbrella.
The stats show Jalen Reagor’s career in Philadelphia has gotten a little off track. However, that doesn’t mean it has gone off the rails yet. The player still possesses an impressive technical and athletic profile, and his off-field indiscretions seem to be behind him too. Given the right opportunities, that combination of a powerful engine and a clear sense of direction can still carry #18 as far as he wants to go. He may be a little behind schedule. But there’s still time for Jalen Reagor to pick up steam.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire