Jeremy Reaves may have gone undrafted, but the rookie safety was far from unwanted.
“The phone was going crazy,” said Reaves, one of 15 rookie free agents signed by the Eagles. “It was draft 2.0 for me.”
Reaves is accustomed to being overlooked. After drawing interest from multiple SEC schools, he wound up attending a mid-major due in part to an injury. Throughout the draft process, so-called experts said he was too small and too slow. The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year wasn’t even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
So, when Reaves’ phone started ringing off the hook post-draft, it was unlike anything he had experienced since high school.
“It was a pretty good feeling,” Reaves said. “The feeling of going undrafted, yeah, it hurt a little a bit. But then I had another draft, and it was like, ‘You’re all calling me?’”
More than a half-dozen teams reached out after the draft. The Eagles ultimately won the Reaves sweepstakes, luring the 22-year-old with $30,000 in guarantees.
That may turn out to be a small price to pay for an unheralded prospect with Reaves’ pedigree and versatility.
This was not the first time the South Alabama product was heavily recruited. LSU, Mississippi State and Memphis were among the programs that had interest in Reaves until fate intervened.
“I didn’t get hit, I didn’t hit anybody crazy,” said Reaves. “I just woke up one day and was walking around and my back started hurting.”
Doctors told Reaves he had an L5 lumbar fracture and wouldn’t be able to play football for over a year, if at all.
“I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to play again,” Reaves said. “It was the middle of my senior year, they said 12 months and then rehab. I was looking at missing pretty much my freshman year of college, and then having to miss a lot more time the following spring.
“It was very uncertain. I didn’t know what was to come.”
Neither did recruiters. Six weeks later, Reaves suddenly felt better and was back on the field, but the damage was done. Interest in Reaves waned until only South Alabama was left.
In a strange way, the injury may have done Reaves a favor. He admits the success started to go his head.
“It sat me down and made me realize that I was taking the game for granted,” he said.
“I have a story, and I try to tell guys all the time, appreciate everything that you’ve got. Appreciate every practice, appreciate every lift. You’re not guaranteed anything.”
South Alabama was also the perfect place for Reaves’ star to shine. After beginning his college career as a cornerback, he moved to the “rover” safety position halfway through his junior season and became the focal point of the defense.
Reaves racked up 104 total tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and three interceptions as a senior on his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors. He developed a reputation as a ferocious hitter along the way as well.
“That comes from me just being doubted my whole life,” Reaves said. “Everybody saying that I’m too small, or my hands are too small, my arms are too short, I’m too slow, I don’t have the structure to play in this league.
“I’ve thought about that and every time I hit somebody. It’s to show don’t doubt this 5-foot-10 1/2, 205-pound body. It’s coming whistling behind you.”
All those experiences have led Reaves to this point with the Eagles, where he walks into a great situation. The depth chart is wide open behind the starting safeties, and while the club added three more after the draft, Reaves was easily the most notable.
Reaves has a perfect mentor in Malcolm Jenkins, too, from the standpoint he could fill multiple roles in the secondary.
“I can’t wait to get under (Jenkins’) wing and get some of his wisdom and learn how he’s developed in this game and this league,” Reaves said. “I think he’s definitely somebody that they can see me emulating. That’s definitely somebody I can see myself emulating. He’s a ball player. The film speaks for itself.”
More than the money or the chance to compete for a roster spot, Reaves said there was something else that drew him to the Eagles.
“I could just tell the culture here is everything I’m about,” said Reaves, who works with the same trainer as Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills. “I’m a winner. That’s something inside of me that will never burn out.
“That was a selling factor for me. There’s a reason they won the Super Bowl.”