As the 2020 NFL Draft unfolded the only person in the organization who might have been happier than Carson Wentz that the Eagles drafted three speedy wideouts is Dave Fipp.
Because the Eagles didn’t just get three weapons for Wentz.
They also got their special teams coordinator three players with the ability to be huge contributors in the return game.
“Oh gosh, man,” Fipp said with a smile on a Zoom call Friday morning. “We’ve got all kinds of options there right now. I would just say Howie (Roseman) and those guys, they’ve always done a great job. But this year, they’ve given us a lot of options back there. I mean, everyone wants to be a returner. We’re meeting with those rookies right now and they’ve all done it and they’ve all been really good at it.”
Last season, the Eagles used five different punt returners and five different kick returners.
Their leading punt returner from the 2019 season was Darren Sproles, who is now part of the front office. And their leading kick returner was Miles Sanders, who will have a huge role on offense this season.
So the Eagles are going to need to figure out new guys to take over. Maybe the answer could be with returning players like Boston Scott, Corey Clement or even DeSean Jackson, at least at crucial moments.
But maybe it’s one of these new draft picks:
Jalen Reagor (Round 1-21)
Without knowing how big of a role Reagor will have on offense, we do know he’d be a great candidate to be a return man in the NFL. While he returned some kickoffs in college, he returned more punts and had a tremendous season as a punt returner in 2019.
His numbers went down as a receiver as a junior in 2019 but he had a punt return average of 20.8 yards per return and took two to the house, including this one that was awfully reminiscent of that famous DeSean return against the Giants.
“Jalen’s obviously a really explosive player,” Fipp said. “When the ball’s in his hands, he’s electric. He made a lot happen. Obviously had a huge average in college. We’re really excited about him, definitely excited about him for us here.”
Here are his return stats at TCU:
Punt returns: 23 returns, 312 yards (17.8), 2 touchdowns
Kick returns: 13 returns, 315 yards (24.2)
The problem with using Reagor as a returner is the possibility of overloading him, especially if he has a big role on offense. And given the fact that he’s learning both outside receiver positions, it seems pretty likely he’ll be playing a lot on offense as a rookie.
John Hightower (Round 5-168)
Unlike Reagor, Hightower was definitely more of a kick returner than a punt returner during his college career.
He had an average of 24.6 yards per return as a senior at Boise State and returned this one the length of the field against Portland State.
Maybe Hightower isn’t the best option as a punt returner given his limited experience doing it at Boise but he could be a viable option as a kick returner. He has 4.43 speed and seems to understand how to set up his blockers.
Here are his return stats at Boise State:
Punt returns: 1 return for 2 yards
Kick returns: 36 return for 840 yards (23.3), 1 touchdown
Thanks to rule changes, kickoff returns aren’t as big a part of today’s NFL as they used to be, but knowing one return could change a game is reason enough to find a good one.
Quez Watkins (Round 6-200)
The Eagles’ sixth-round pick ran a 4.35 at the combine, so you’d understand why the Eagles might like to try him out as a return man in the NFL. He can fly.
Coming in at Number 8 on our Special Teams Play of the Year REFY Award list:— C-USA Refs (@F5_CUSARefs) July 20, 2019
🦅Southern Miss’s Quez Watkins showing off his skills with this 80-yard punt return for a touchdown vs. Jackson State! pic.twitter.com/0UbRcfG5Yn
Here are his return stats at Southern Mississippi:
Punt returns: 19 returns for 178 yards (9.4), 1 touchdown
Kick returns: 18 returns for 365 yards (20.3)
While Fipp has been having conversations with these rookies about the possibility of being used as returners in 2020, he hasn’t yet been able to see them work at those positions in person. That will come during training camp, when they’ll rotate in and out.
“But we definitely have a lot to work with,” Fipp said, “so we’re definitely excited about that.”
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