Sports

Jalen Reagor, after critical drop, faces pivotal moment in career with Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — The moment to play hero arrived, and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jalen Reagor just wasn’t able to secure it.

With Philadelphia trailing the New York Giants 13-7 Sunday, quarterback Jalen Hurts dropped back on fourth-and-10, scrambled around and then let one fly over the middle for Reagor, who attempted a leaping catch at the 1-yard line, only to have the ball carom off his hands and hit the turf.

He dropped a more difficult would-be catch in the end zone earlier in the drive as well — miscues that have made him a focal point of criticism in the fallout from the stinging loss.

That’s familiar territory for Reagor, who has had a slow start to his pro career (56 catches, 597 yards, 3 TDs) compared to the other first-round receivers in the 2020 draft class, a group that includes Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk and Henry Ruggs III. Jefferson’s meteoric rise has been particularly problematic for Reagor from a perception standpoint. The Eagles passed on Jefferson to select Reagor 21st overall, believing Jefferson would be primarily a slot receiver in the NFL and that Reagor’s skill set was a better fit for the offense. Jefferson was taken one pick later by the Minnesota Vikings, and went on to set a new rookie record for receiving yards (1,400) to go with seven touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl berth.

Limited by injuries, Reagor ended with 31 catches for 396 yards and a touchdown in 11 games his rookie season.

The combination of dealing with the Jefferson comparisons and the injuries took its toll.

“His mental health was in a bad place last year,” a source close to Reagor told ESPN. “Mentally, it beat him down. Big time.”

Reagor ditched social media, and instead of focusing on the outside noise, tuned into his inner circle. This offseason, he said he felt like a “totally different person” and that fans in turn would see a different player — one who was having more fun.

The celebrations, though, have been few and far between. Reagor (25 catches, 201 yards, 2 TDs) has not been featured much in the offense, playing a secondary role to rookie receiver DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert in the passing game. With the Eagles leaning heavily on the run of late, Reagor was targeted just eight times total over a four-week span before getting seven targets against New York, resulting in two catches for 31 yards and a pair of crucial drops.

Still, Reagor’s mindset “is in a great place right now,” a source said. His decision to be the first player out of the locker room Sunday to address the media and take responsibility was submitted as evidence.

“You’ve got to take the heat. [Outside criticism] doesn’t hold as much weight to me, so it’s fine. This was for me to take ownership. Whatever is going to be said is going to be said regardless,” Reagor said.

“You just have to move forward because tomorrow is still going to be there. I still have to go practice, I still have to play next week. You can’t too much dwell on it. Just me taking ownership and then moving forward.”

Reagor caught 148 balls for 2,248 yards and 22 touchdowns over three seasons at TCU while posing a threat in the run and return game. He ran an unofficial 4.28 40-yard dash at his pro day after a disappointing 4.47 time at the scouting combine, while ranking in the 97th percentile among draft prospects with a 42-inch vertical jump. Those skills have surfaced on the playing field at times, including in joint practices against the New England Patriots this summer when he made an Odell Beckham Jr.-like one-handed catch and and his soaring 21-yard snag in the first half against the Giants Sunday.

But to this point, it’s only been flashes.

“He does work extremely hard in practice to get himself better,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “What you want out of every player, not just Jalen, is consistency, and I think what we saw yesterday is he wasn’t consistent throughout the game. He knows that. We’ve already talked to him about that. Consistency is when you’re making the next step in your development. He showed that he has playmaking ability. He shows that he can make some big-time plays. You just want to see that more consistently.”

Asked whether he has considered sitting Reagor for at least a game following Sunday’s late struggles, Sirianni said he hadn’t “because I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the team, because I think Jalen Reagor gives us the best chance to win.” Sirianni added postgame that the coaches “have to do some things to get him some touches because he is an explosive player.”

The Eagles have poured a lot of resources into the receiver position in recent seasons, including using first-round picks on Smith and Reagor in back-to-back drafts. Reagor, 22, still has two years remaining on his rookie contract after this season. Best-case scenario, he and Smith become a formidable tandem, allowing the Eagles to invest at other positions of need.

Time, though, is running out on this season. The Eagles’ offseason plans will be shaped in full before long, and it seems likely a veteran receiver will be part of them at this point. Growth happens at different rates in the NFL, particularly at receiver. Giving up on a talent like Reagor too early could come back to bite them. But if he wants to send a message to the organization heading into free agency and the draft, and if he intends on changing the narrative and the trajectory of his career, now is the time to get going.


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