In years past, the Philadelphia Eagles put a lot of stock into college production when it came to drafting players.
Sometimes to a fault.
The 2017 NFL Draft contains multiple examples. First-round pick Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions as a senior. Donnel Pumphrey became the NCAA’s all-time leader in rushing yards.
Based on how those careers have turned out thus far, it’s clear that the Eagles were weighing production too heavily. Barnett has been okay but not special. Douglas is on the trade block and likely won’t be signing a second contract in Philly. Pumphrey never even logged a single NFL regular season snap.
In the same vein, the Eagles have mistakenly devalued prospects who’ve lacked production. Philly notably passed on D.K. Metcalf, who only logged 1,215 combined yards in his final two years at Ole Miss, in the 2019 NFL Draft. Metcalf went on to have 1,119 receiving yards (including playoffs) as a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks.
After seeing this, Howie Roseman discussed how the Eagles might need to change their valuation system.
Q. What was the process that led to you guys drafting WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside ahead of Seahawks WR DK Metcalf and other wide receivers that were available?
HOWIE ROSEMAN: J.J. is a talented kid. He has tools in his body and he had production.
I think back to after the Baltimore preseason game, myself and some members of our personnel staff got some calls from people around the league that maybe he was going to be the Rookie of the Year. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to take a jump, because he does. This offseason is really important for him. I don’t think we saw the best of J.J. He was affected a little by injuries.
At the same token, there have been some successful receivers from this draft class, and we don’t have our head in the sand and not notice that and go back and kind of look at that. I think when we look at it, the most surprising thing for us as we’ve studied this and the things that are important, is that there are three rookie receivers who never had more than 40 catches in a college season who have been tremendously productive this year.
Is that a factor for us when we look at college production and we kind of see how important that is to us, do we have to go back and look at that? And I think we do.
Roseman’s quote here feels very relevant in light of the Eagles passing on the uber productive Justin Jefferson to select Jalen Reagor at No. 21. Whereas Jefferson logged 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019, Reagor only had 43 catches for 611 yard and five scores.
Instead of merely valuing production, the Eagles decided that Reagor’s explosive profile was more valuable than Jefferson’s stable track record.
I’d also wager the Eagles put a big emphasis on situational context. And by that I mean the thought that Reagor would’ve been more productive if not for dealing with some especially poor quarterback struggles at TCU.
Statistics bear this much out. Let’s start with the basic stuff. Three different TCU quarterbacks merely combined for a 53.4% completion rate, 6.2 yards per attempt, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 2019. That’s bad.
According to Pro Football Focus, only 30.7% of Reagor’s 2019 targets were charted as accurate and only three FBS receivers had it worse in that regard. Here’s how that figure compares to other top receivers prospects from the 2020 NFL Draft:
Quality QB play is obviously a large part trying to evaluate wide receivers coming into the NFL.— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) February 27, 2020
Using PFF data, here is how often the 2020 WR class saw an accurate pass on their targets: pic.twitter.com/1DleCybZKe
(You’ll notice that Jefferson benefited from the highest percentage of accurate passes from No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.)
To further demonstrate just how Reagor was negatively impacted, let’s take a look at a number of missed oppotunities from TCU’s quarterbacks:
To pass the time before tonight, I’m going to watch every TCU game from last year I can find, and count how many times Reagor was targeted with a dogshit throw. Starting with Oklahoma. pic.twitter.com/cjX5txeEif— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
Reagor should strut into the end zone. Instead has to stretch out for a spectacular catch. pic.twitter.com/GSDHMopKlY— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
Miscommunication but still. Ball sails 10 feet even if Reagor keeps running. Love to see the FF and effort at the end. pic.twitter.com/i6hRbPHIUV— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
A fade from the 9 yard line and almost puts it back into the tunnel. Moonshot pic.twitter.com/Wxa2aus9Dk— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
QB #15 was pulled for being dogshit. Here’s the backup wiping a TD off the board. pic.twitter.com/MvNhy8x0cR— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
Another miscommunication, and another instance where Reagor immediately reminds the quarterback which signal he was expecting. Man was frustrated. pic.twitter.com/YSu5cSNIu2— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
Knock on the door of the red zone. Comeback route. Gets a ton of separation from his guy. Late throw and defender easily steps in front. Literally threw a scoring possession away. pic.twitter.com/tIB19aQQgG— FQ Eagles (@FQEagles) April 24, 2020
One could theorize that if Reagor had a better quarterback throwing to him, he might not have even been available at the Eagles’ pick at No. 21. It’s possible the Eagles took advantage of Reagor being an undervalued commodity. Reagor did post 72 receptions for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns with a better college passer in 2018.
To be clear, though, it’s not like poor quarterback play at TCU was the only thing holding back from Reagor being some kind of perfect prospect. He still has legitimate weaknesses. Reagor had a troubling drop rate in college and there were questions about his attitude/effort/focus,
The Eagles are obviously counting on Reagor to be much more productive at the NFL level. It’s quite possible that playing with an actually good quarterback in Carson Wentz could make a major difference for him.