Philadelphia Eagles: Let Jalen Reagor return kicks over Quez Watkins

Quez Watkins might just be the Philadelphia Eagles‘ most electric wide receiver.

He currently ranks second on the team in receiving yards with 219, has the team’s longest play from scrimmage on his resume with that sweet Week 2 91-yarder, and just generally finds ways to turn nothing into something, whether that’s a simple screen pass or a quick slant across the middle.

Despite being drafted 179 picks after Jalen Reagor, Watkins has unquestionably leapfrogged the former horned frog on the depth chart for the Eagles in their second shared season with the team and might just end up being the biggest sixth-round steal to land in South Philly since Jason Kelce all the way back in 2011.

With that being said, Jalen Reagor is a much better kick returner than Quez Watkins and deserves to hold that role indefinitely for the Philadpehila Eagles moving forward.

Jalen Reagor might just become a special teams ace for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Through the first four games of the 2021 NFL season, Quez Watkins has returned five kicks for the Philadelphia Eagles.

He’s recorded a long of 22, a short of zero, and an average yards-per-return of 14.8.

League-wide, that isn’t very good. While the exact positioning of the average league-wide is impossible to know considering there are still games being played in Week 4, through the first three contests of the season, 14.8 yards per kick return ranks 44th league-wide, ahead of only Demetrius Harris, Avery Williams, Darnell Mooney, Keith Smith, and Michael Burton.

Considering both Smith and Burton are fullbacks, that’s really not a good club to be in.

While it’s impossible to put all of the blame for such a meager average solely on Watkins’ shoulders, as there are 11 players on the kick return unit and they all have to work in tandem to execute a successful return, when you actually watch his runs back, there isn’t a whole lot to like.

Yes, Watkins is fast; wicked fast, to be exact. His 4.35 40 puts him in the 92nd percentile league-wide, and his proficiency in both the broad and vertical jump profiles a player who can explode off the line of scrimmage and burst his way down the field. However, one area Watkins didn’t test particularly well in during the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft was agility drills like the 3-cone or the 20-yard shuffle, where he finished in the eighth and 20th percentile according to Mockdraftables.

These shortcomings haven’t prevented Watkins from being an absolute weapon in the screen game, but when he’s running up the field on a kick return looking for a crease, his lack of side-to-side shake-‘n-bake has made his movements rather easy to choreograph and thus, easy to neutralize.

Considering Watkins didn’t return double-digit kick returns in a single season at Southern Mississippi since 2017, it’s clear that’s an aspect of his game that isn’t particularly noteworthy.

After getting shaken up in the third quarter in the endzone and turning in an ugly return shortly thereafter, the Eagles decided to shake things up on their next return opportunity and gave the proverbial ball to Jalen Reagor instead.

*spoiler alert* it worked.

Reagor took his first return of the season back 44 yards, juking his way to mid-field, and helped set his team up for a much-needed seven-yard rushing touchdown to Kenny Gainwell; his second as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Is that solely on Reagor? Again, no, but it’s a whole lot easier to get points when you start a possession out at the 44-yard line than the 11, where Watkins’ final return left the team just before the half.

In college, Reagor was a very efficient return man, even if he didn’t use it a ton because of his offensive usage, returning 13 kicks for a 24.2 yards per return average. While Reagor similarly underperformed in agility testing metrics, as his 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle finished in the bottom-10th percentile, his tape is filled with elusive plays in space.  Considering Reagor has been relegated to the Eagles’ third receiving option and a primary slot contributor, giving the 22-year-old a more expansive role on special teams might just be the way to keep him engaged and hopefully unlock the player many lauded coming out of college.

Worst case scenario? Reagor struggles in the kick return game, and Michael Clay has to give a player like Boston Scott a chance to return kicks moving forward.

Considering Scott has basically been MIA over the first month of the regular season, that wouldn’t be the worst thing imaginable.

Typically, NFL teams don’t use their starting wide receivers and/or running backs on special teams unless they really need a big play late in a game. There are too many players running down the field at full speed, and the thought of losing a key offensive cog for better field position just isn’t worth the risk. In 2021, the Philadelphia Eagles felt otherwise, as they never brought in a return specialist over the summer and primarily relied on only Quez Watkin, Jalen Reagor, and Greg Ward as their return men over the summer. Assuming the team doesn’t poach a dedicated returner off of a practice squad or the street this week – ex-All-Pro Pharoh Cooper is still unsigned after all – it might be wise to retire Watkins from the return man rotation for the foreseeable future and give Reagor the runway to get things going with the ball in his hands.