But they passed on some more complete receivers, much to the chagrin of some fans.
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
The Philadelphia Eagles came into the 2020 NFL Draft looking to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with some young speedy wide receivers with the ability to quickly flip field position. If any of these guys can somehow pan out, the Birds may have their own version of “Speed City.
On what turned out to be an interesting draft for the Birds, Eagles executive vice-president and general manager Howie Roseman was looking to pick up speed on both sides of the ball. He managed to accomplish that, but not in the way that fans were expecting.
With the 21st pick, fans and NFL pundits were expecting the Eagles draft former LSU star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns with a team that won the national championship. His 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine was 4.42 seconds.
The Birds picking up Jefferson seemed a certainty after the Dallas Cowboys drafted former Oklahoma star receiver CeeDee Lamb. But then Roseman stunned fans and Philly media by selecting former Texas Christian University star Jalen Reagor (5-11, 195 pounds) as their first-round draft pick.
“We had an opportunity to sit there and try to find a player that fit us and fit what we were looking for in this off-season,” Roseman said. “Coach Pederson and I, after the season, right after it ended, we talked about our desire to bring some youth onto the football team and add some speed. [WR] Jalen [Reagor] does those things, obviously.”
While not having the kind of impressive numbers and championship pedigree as Jefferson, Reagor wasn’t necessarily a slouch during his days at TCU. During his sophomore season at TCU, he caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns. In his final year with the Horned Frogs, his numbers dropped down to 43 receptions for 611 yards and five touchdowns playing with an inexperienced freshman quarterback.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Reagor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. But, according to his NFL Combine profile on nfl.com, Reagor’s weakness is that he has difficulty with press coverage.
What the Eagles like about Reagor is his versatility. In 2019, Reagor had two punt returns for touchdowns and averaged 20.8 yards per return. He also touched the ball on end-arounds and jet sweeps. Head coach Doug Pederson also likes that Reagor has a 42-inch vertical leap-which is huge for a receiver of his size.
“Obviously, number one was the speed,” Pederson said. “This guy can definitely stretch the field. His vertical for a 5-10, 5-11, he can elevate. He can get balls above the rim, as we say. He has the flexibility of playing not only outside, but also playing inside and his flexibility as a special teams, punt return and possible kickoff return guy. So this guy had multiple roles coming out of college, and we’re going to see where he best fits us.”
But no matter how much the Eagles brass tout Reagor as the best fit for the team, there are many observers who believed that the Eagles made the wrong choice and that the team should have drafted Jefferson who is more of a No. 1 receiver because not only is he fast, but he’s also a good route-runner and can line up as an outside receiver or in the slot.
Additionally, Jefferson performed well in the talent-laden Southeastern Conference where he had to take on teams like Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. He also performed well on the game’s biggest stage –the College Football Playoff.
In the semifinal game against Oklahoma, Jefferson had a monster effort, catching 14 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns.
If Jefferson, who was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 22nd pick in the first round, goes on to have a better team NFL career with the Vikings than Reagor’s with the Eagles, more than a few fans will point fingers at Roseman for not making what was to them the obvious choice or not trying to move up in the draft to get Lamb.
With all the talented receivers that were rated ahead of him, Reagor said the thing that separates him Lamb, Jefferson, Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and Henry Ruggs (Alabama) is that he do a little bit of everything.
“To be honest, I feel like I’m just the most versatile. I can do everything,” Reagor said. “You know, I feel like I haven’t even gotten close to my ceiling. You know, I can play any position. Like I said, when I’m on the field it’s more than 11 players on the offense.”
After the first round, Roseman wasn’t done with finding receivers. In the fifth round, the Birds picked Boise State’s John Hightower, another receiver who ran a 4.43 during the NFL Combine. During the final season of his collegiate career, he caught 51 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns.
At 6-1, 189 pounds, speed is Hightower’s strongest asset, but he’s going to need to put a few more rocks in his pocket (gain a few more pounds) because according to his NFL Combine profile, he has to learn how to handle bump and run coverage.
The Birds also picked up former Southern Mississippi star Quez Watkins in the sixth around. During his junior year at Southern Miss., he a great season catching 64 passes for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns. He ran had the third fastest 40-yard dash (4.37) at the NFC combine.
As the team was loading up on wide receivers in the draft, Eagles used one of their draft choices to add another speedy wide receiver. The Birds traded a sixth-round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for speedy wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
The 29-year-old Goodwin is among the league’s fastest players, but knee, calf and Achilles injuries over the last two years have limited him to just 20 games. When healthy, he is arguably one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL. At the 2013, NFL Combine, Goodwin ran a 4.27 40-yard dash. He has averaged 16-yards per catch throughout his career.
With veterans like DeSean Jackson and Goodwin now on the roster, the Eagles will potentially have the kind of explosiveness that flips field position. Now the question can these receivers develop into complete receivers who can block, beat press coverage and create enough separation from opposing defenders.