Rookie WR John Hightower needs to step up for the Philadelphia Eagles.
If you thought things were bad following the Philadelphia Eagles 0-2 start, it only got that much worse once it was revealed that first-round pick Jalen Reagor would be missing 6-8 weeks with a thumb injury. Reagor suffered a UCL tear in his thumb, an injury that requires hand surgery and will set him back close to two months. The former TCU wideout recovered remarkably fast from a shoulder injury during training camp, but seeing as his most recent ailment requires surgery, I wouldn’t bank on another miracle return.
Reagor’s first two professional games were one of the few positives during the team’s abysmal Week 1 and Week 2 losses, as he gave a minor glimpse into what he can bring to the table. Him and Carson Wentz connected on a 55-yard deep ball against Washington, and he caught four passes for 40+ yards against the Rams.
Reagor was the fourth-highest graded rookie WR through Weeks 1 and 2 (according to PFF), and there was plenty of reason to believe that he could give the Eagles even more on offense. Wentz hadn’t particularly been throwing him accurate passes, and Doug Pederson’s lack of creative offensive play calling was leaving him without any sort of easy touches.
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While these types of things would have undoubtedly been smoothed over as the season progressed, Reagor’s newest injury will keep him away from any sort of immediate success. Instead, the team will have to turn to a different speedy rookie WR.
Selected in the fifth-round out of Boise State University, John Hightower was lauded for his elite speed in college. He was an absolute burner, and his above average size (6-1) had many scouts believing he could play on the outside in the NFL, a desirable trait for a team like the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hightower saw plenty of snaps during the season opener, but he really struggled to capitalize on the impromptu opportunity. He came away with just one reception on four targets, and played a role in one of Wentz’ ill-timed interceptions. Hightower had at least one obvious drop across the middle, and his lone reception came on a blown up screen pass which lost two yards.
Hightower’s snap count went from 27 in Week 1 to just seven the following week. The Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff was clearly not pleased with his debut performance, but they’ll have to quickly get over that frustration moving forward.
Despite an obvious gap in overall talent, Hightower has a similar play style to that of Reagor. Fast, aggressive at the catch point, explosive with the ball in his hands, and legit outside ability. Morphing the game plan they had for Reagor into one for Hightower should in all honesty be an easy switch, but the Eagles will have to show an increased level of trust in their rookie to make plays.
Continuing to mix in screens, while also developing some quick routes over the middle for Hightower to use his YAC ability (yards after catch) are both necessities. From there, you can work in some of the deeper routes and big plays.
Regardless of how the team felt about Hightower after Week 1, they essentially have no choice but to turn some responsibility over to him while Reagor is out. The team opted to sign zero veteran receiving options during the offseason, and their second-round pick from 2019 looks like a complete and utter bust. DeSean Jackson can’t do it all himself, and Wentz clearly needs some help out there in the passing game.
Worst case scenario, the team continues to struggle. Best case scenario, Hightower has an awesome 7 weeks, establishing himself as a legit WR2 alongside Reagor moving forward into 2021.