The Eagles Misued Jalen Reagor

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As the Minnesota Vikings prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, there comes another opportunity for a once-disgruntled player to make a statement against his former team on primetime television. The Vikings recently acquired Jalen Reagor in a trade with Philadelphia. They sent a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2023 seventh-round pick for the former first-round wideout, who the Eagles took one spot before Justin Jefferson.

While new acquisitions Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan each made big plays in the season opener, Reagor didn’t have the same impact in Week 1. That’s to be expected, considering he just arrived in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. Reagor is still learning the playbook, one Adam Thielen called “the toughest offense he’s had to learn,” That’s not to say he can’t make an impact in other areas, but it’ll likely be limited to punt returns and plays specifically designed to get him involved.

Still, the Eagles miscast Reagor in a role that didn’t suit him. Sure, he had some glaring issues he needed to improve on — specifically drops. (He was dubbed “The King of Drops” by Philly fans.) However, it became abundantly clear that Doug Pederson and his coaching staff at the time did not put Reagor in a position to succeed. Under Peterson, Reagor’s route tree consisted of curls, comebacks, and out routes. The purpose of this was to try and make defenders think he was running a deeper route, but that philosophy failed because opposing defenses didn’t respect Philly’s deep passing attack. There are several reasons for that, but it was primarily due to Carson Wentz‘s struggles and injuries to the offensive line and Philly’s WR corps.

Nick Sirianni took over as the Eagles’ head coach the following year, and they drafted WR DeVonta Smith 10th-overall in 2021. Then they traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts that same offseason and replaced him with Jalen Hurts, a developmental dual-threat QB. Sirianni’s scheme is heavy on RPOs and prioritizes getting tight ends and running backs involved in the passing game.

This meant more targets for Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders and fewer opportunities for Reagor. This year, the Eagles made a blockbuster move on draft day, sending the No. 18 pick and a third-rounder to Tennessee for star WR A.J. Brown. At this point, Reagor was no longer part of the team’s future. In two NFL seasons, Reagor played under two head coaches and two different QBs, both of whom had their fair share of struggles. Regardless of how you feel about him as a player, Philadelphia offered him little stability.

Things should be much easier for Reagor in Minnesota. Kirk Cousins is the best quarterback he’s played with in his entire career. Guys like Jefferson, Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Irv Smith Jr. will be able to shift the defense’s attention away from Reagor. Most importantly, head coach Kevin O’Connell is committed to putting him in the best positions to succeed.

As for what his role will look like in the offense, I would expect it to be similar to how TCU used him — lots of screen passes, shallow crossers, and slant routes. One of the goals should be to get him out in open space where he can break some tackles because his elusiveness is a staple. Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels was salivating over Reagor’s build, saying:

“He’s a very stout, cocky-built guy. He’s not really narrow. He’s got thick, strong legs, big glutes, really nice calves, you know. Again, I salivated over this guy,”

Obviously, people on social media had all the jokes about Daniels’ ultra-specific description of Reagor, but I think something deeper here needs to be explored. TCU used Reagor in the run game a lot. Of course, that includes jet sweeps, reverses, and other trick plays. But I also think O’Connell will use Reagor the way teams deployed Cordarrelle Patterson later in his career.

You can have him run the ball out of the shotgun on one play, and a few plays later, he motions out wide as a receiver. That constant pre-snap movement must be accounted for by opposing defenses, especially with an athlete like Reagor. I suspect this coaching staff is really going to maximize the threat of his athleticism and create mismatches.

When the Vikings traded for Reagor, it wasn’t just because they wanted a new punt returner. O’Connell wanted an athletic freak to use as a chess piece and move around the field, someone dangerous enough in open space that defenses have to account for him. Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a fine WR4withd some upside, but he wasn’t a first-round athlete. That’s what the Vikings have in Reagor, and if anyone can get the most out of him, it’s O’Connell.

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