After entering the 2021 NFL season with quite a few holes on their depth chart, the Philadelphia Eagles have largely patched up their roster with the sort of solid top-end and depth players teams need to make a deep run in the playoffs.
They’ve added a shiny new WR1, parity at tight end, and a trio of new linebackers who could theoretically all start for the team in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season.
And yet, if there’s one position of need the Eagles still have above all others, it’s…… kick/punt returner.
What? You thought I was going to say safety, right? Though it may not be a popular opinion, the idea of rolling with Marcus Epps at free safety isn’t the worst idea, as he played very well in 2021 in limited action, has extensive experience playing under Jonathan Gannon, and, at just 26, could parlay a successful fourth season into a long-term, relatively team-friendly contract. Kick returner, by contract, remains a relatively big issue heading into 2022, with only two UDFAs, Devon Allen and Britain Covey, signed to potentially compete with Jalen Reagor for the “starting” spot.
Will Allen or Covey shock the world and win a spot on the initial 53-man roster? Only time will tell, but for the former specifically, if things don’t work out, he can always go back to track for money, as, by his own admission, he won’t run for free, even against his new Philadelphia Eagles teammate Darius Slay.
The Philadelphia Eagles might need to fork up for a race at their open practice.
When some football players are described as having “Olympic-level athleticism,” it’s largely hyperbolic. Unlike in basketball, hockey, soccer, and about 60 other sports, football is not played at the Summer or Winter Olympic Games, and thus, it’s very rare to see a player make the jump from the gridiron to a Team USA uniform or vise versa.
Devon Allen is the rare exception to that rule, who has represented the United States in two Olympic Games in 2016 and 2020, and two more World Championships in 2017 and 2019.
A master of the 110-meter hurdle, Allen has won the NCAA Track and Field Championship twice during his time at Oregon, the USA Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships once each, and finished fourth in the most recent running of the Olympic Games, where he cleared 110 meters in 13.14 seconds.
Regardless of how the 27-year-old’s run in the NFL ultimately shakes out, those accomplishments are incredibly impressive and should parlay nicely into a coaching gig when his professional athletic days are done. But until then? Allen is trying to make the Eagles and has become a bit of a target by speedy teammates like Darius Slay, who want to test their mettle against a legitimate Olympic athlete who ran a 4.35 40 time at Oregon’s pro day earlier this year.
Could his teammates, or a segment of the fanbase who actually make it out to an open practice, preseason, or regular season game, actually see a race between Allen, Slay, and any other speedy athlete who wants to test their mettle against a two-sport pro? Potentially so, but someone is going to have to pay up for the privilege, as Allen detailed to John Clark on his Take Off podcast.
I appreciate Allen’s confidence, I really do, but forcing teammates to pay for races probably isn’t the best way to ingratiate oneself to their new teammates.
Will Devon Allen ultimately makes the Philadelphia Eagles’ initial 53-man roster? No, probably not, unless he absolutely kills it in camp or rips off a few touchdowns during the preseason as a return man/offensive gadget guy, he’ll probably end up on the practice squad as he attempts to re-learn his craft. Could Allen still find himself on the field for the Eagles as a practice squad elevatee – assuming the NFL retains that ability – where he’ll earn a few test runs at the return game? Yes, that feels much more likely. While returning kicks and punts isn’t identical to jumping over hurdles while running in a straight line for 110 meters, Allen’s explosive athleticism is theoretically very well suited for special teams… assuming he can take a hit.