Eagles draft Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson, creating riveting case study


PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles’ pick of TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor at No. 21 overall in the 2020 NFL draft was a surprise not just to many fans, but also to some computer models. At the time of his selection, ESPN’s NFL Draft Predictor estimated there was a 9% chance Reagor would be drafted in the first round.

What couldn’t be properly accounted for was the Eagles’ thirst for speed. After watching Philadelphia’s offense plod its way through much of the 2019 season after veteran wideout DeSean Jackson was lost to injury, the priority was to add a dynamic blazer to complement the rest of the offensive players, including a quarterback in Carson Wentz who likes to rip it downfield.

The Eagles landed such a prospect in Reagor, but in doing so passed on the NCAA’s most productive receiver last season, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, who went a pick later to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 22. It sets up a fascinating case study for how heavily play style and scheme fit should be weighed when choosing receiver prospects.

Reagor will be judged against not only Jefferson for the foreseeable future, but also CeeDee Lamb, who dropped to No. 17 before being scooped up by the Eagles’ division rival, the Dallas Cowboys. The price to move in front of Dallas to No. 16 was going to be at least a 2020 second-round pick, a source said. Given that the Eagles had committed to having a high-volume draft, and had already had their stockpile go from 10 to eight picks as a result of the Darius Slay trade, the asking price to move up was too rich.

That left Philadelphia with a decision between Jefferson and Reagor at No. 21. Jefferson projects as a slot receiver in the NFL. The issue there is that in the West Coast offense, tight ends run a lot of same routes designated for slot receivers in other offenses, and the Eagles have two good ones in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The Eagles plan on using two-tight-end sets frequently, which means they would have had to get creative in making it all fit with Jefferson.

With Reagor, it’s a more natural fit. He can line up outside and present a deep threat that will push safeties back and open the intermediate area up for the tight ends and underneath receivers. And he’s effective in the quick screen game and on jet sweeps — all music to coach Doug Pederson’s ears.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m just the most versatile [receiver in the class]. I can do everything,” Reagor said. “I feel like I haven’t even gotten close to my ceiling. I can play any position. When I’m on the field, it’s more than 11 players on the offense.”

Jefferson, though, is more of a sure thing. He had extraordinary production (111 catches, 1,540 yards, 18 TDs last season) against better overall competition (the SEC vs. Big 12) and appears ready to produce right away in the NFL.

There are more questions with Reagor. He had a 47% catch rate in 2019, the third-worst in the FBS. A big reason for his overall dip in production last season was spotty quarterback play: only 59.8% of Reagor’s targets were catchable last season, which ranked 426th out of 436 qualified FBS players. Compare that to Wentz’s 83.4% mark from a season ago, 11th-best in the NFL, and you can project better results for Reagor moving forward.

But what about his 9.8% drop rate last season — fourth-highest in the Big 12? There’s a belief inside the building Reagor was forcing things last season, leading to drops and fumbles.

Some of that factored into why Reagor was not touted as strongly as Jefferson during the lead-up to the draft. But the Eagles know that it’s a speed league — outside burners aren’t abundant, even in this historic draft class — and the team is confident Reagor would have been drafted quickly if they passed on him, maybe even by Minnesota at No. 22.

“You’re talking about really good players, and it’s just the fit,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said of Jefferson and Reagor. “It’s how the coaches envision these guys being used and what they’re looking for to fit our quarterback skill set. So that was what we were trying to do, find the right fit for the Philadelphia Eagles and where we are as a football team, and be a complement to the other players we think we have on offense.”

Is the right move to take a skill position player who checks those boxes, even if some consider it a reach? Or is the move to take a better-prepared prospect and tailor your offense to make it work?

The Eagles’ next few seasons will go a long way in answering that riddle.



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