Dave Fipp

Eagles rookie receivers offer options for dynamic return men

Eagles rookie receivers offer options for dynamic return men

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. 

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.”

Subscribe and rate the Eagle Eye podcast: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Miles Sanders isn't giving back Eagles' kick returner job

Miles Sanders isn't giving back Eagles' kick returner job

Even though the Eagles came into this season with Corey Clement as their primary kick returner, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp admitted this week that he actually thought Miles Sanders was their best option. 

Turns out he was right. 

And now that Sanders has taken over the job, don’t expect him to give it back. 

“With Corey being out, it kind of pushed him up,” Fipp said. “Excited and happy for him that he was able to make a play and show that he’s got some talent at that and can help us out. I think it also helps being able to justify playing him back there.” 

Clement injured his shoulder in the Atlanta game, so Sanders became the Eagles’ primary kick returner and he kept the job even after Clement returned to action last week. 

On Thursday night against the Packers, Sanders returned a kick 67 yards to give the Eagles a short field early in the second quarter. Five plays later, they scored their first touchdown of the game. That return was a huge momentum play in the eventual 34-27 win. 

The 67-yarder was the Eagles’ longest kick return since Josh Huff had a 98-yarder for a touchdown back in 2016. For reference, Clement’s longest-career return is 48 yards. 

Sanders, 22, has returned seven kicks this season for 183 yards. His average of 26.1 yards per return ranks second in the NFL among players with at least five attempts. 

“I like it, personally,” said Sanders, who returned 38 kicks at Penn State with an average of 20.1 yards per attempt. “Hopefully, [I will] break one one day.” 

The reason the Eagles went with Clement as their kick returner to start the season is because of Sanders’ offensive workload. Through a quarter of the season, Sanders leads the Eagles’ running back rotation in offensive snaps and touches. 

But with today’s rules, there just aren’t a lot of kick returns anymore. The Eagles returned a total of 33 kicks last season for an average of just over two per game. So, theoretically, there won’t be much more stress on Sanders. And, like we saw Thursday, the pay-off can be huge. 

“I would say that would be one way to argue it,” Fipp said through a laugh. 

Is that how he argues it? 

Yeah, Fipp says that too. But they have to manage every player’s role. And while there are fewer returns, that play does have some danger associated with it. For now, the Eagles think the reward outweighs the risk. 

Through four games, Sanders has 445 all-purpose yards. That’s the second-most ever for an Eagles rookie behind just DeSean Jackson in 2008. And the previous three NFL running backs to put up that many all-purpose yards in their first four games are Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt and Ezekiel Elliott. That’s elite company. If Sanders keeps his job as a return man — and he should — he can stay with that group.

So what makes Sanders good at returning? 

“He’s got a great feel for letting the play develop out in front of him,” Fipp said. “He’s got really good vision. The guy obviously has a really talented skillset. That’s why he was drafted. He can run, he’s got good feet, he’s elusive. He’s got speed. He’s a good player.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

All three of Doug Pederson’s coordinators returning for 2019

All three of Doug Pederson’s coordinators returning for 2019

Doug Pederson on Tuesday afternoon confirmed all three of his coordinators will be retained this offseason. 

That means defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, offensive coordinator Mike Groh and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp will return for the 2019 season. 

“Yeah, my three coordinators will be back,” Pederson said.  

Let’s take a look at each guy individually: 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz

Even though injuries devastated the secondary, Schwartz’s unit finished the season as the NFL’s 12th-best defense, giving up 21.8 points per game in the regular season. They gave up an average of 17.5 in their two playoff games. He’ll be back for his fourth season as defensive coordinator in 2019. 

Plenty of folks hated how little Schwartz blitzed this year, but it’s hard to blame him when guys who haven’t been on the roster all season are starting in the secondary. Only Malcolm Jenkins remained as a starting DB from the beginning of the year. Schwartz felt like he needed to give his inexperienced defensive backs as much help as they could get, which meant not sending blitzes. And that’s really been the foundation of his defense. He wants his front four to generate most of the pressure. At times is he too passive when that doesn’t happen? Yeah, probably. But the defense played fairly well all season. Those who want to pin the loss to the Saints on the defense, are misguided. They gave up just 20 points on the road to Drew Brees in the Superdome. That’s pretty good. 

The one are where Schwartz’s unit really struggled was on 3rd- and 4th-and-long situations. They Eagles gave up 19 first downs on those situations this season. That was the second-most in the NFL. 

It would make sense if Schwartz would like to one day return to a head-coaching post, but there aren’t a lot of NFL teams in a hurry to hire defensive coaches to run their teams. Most NFL owners are looking for innovative offensive minds, who are masters at the quarterback position. Maybe that will change, but until it does, Schwartz’s options will be limited. 

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh 

For a long time this season, it looked like Groh was a prime candidate to be a scapegoat for the offense’s struggles and the struggles of the team as a whole. It didn’t help in the public perception that he regularly didn’t inspire much confidence in his weekly news conferences. For much of the season, he was compared against former OC Frank Reich, whose legend grew much more after he left Philadelphia and became a successful head coach in Indianapolis. 

The Eagles’ offense looked stale and inconsistent early this season, but it was hard to figure out just how much to put on Groh. After all, he was an offensive coordinator under a head coach who runs the offense. Really, Pederson probably deserved more of the blame, but he was the constant and Groh was the new face after he was promoted from his post as wide receivers coach. 

Luckily for Groh, the offense started to play better toward the end of the season once Nick Foles got into the lineup, even though they scored just 30 points in their two playoff games. Groh will have a second season as offensive coordinator to help try to get the Eagles back to the high-flying offense they were during their Super Bowl year. 

Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp 

As much as the injuries hurt Schwartz this year, you can argue they hurt Fipp even more. Because for every starter that goes down, a backup gets promoted. And those backups are Fipp’s starters on special teams. So every little injury that happens across the board leads to a juggling act from Fipp. 

He’ll be back for his seventh season as special teams coordinator in 2019. 

Were the Eagles as dominant on special teams this year as they have been in the past? Probably not. They didn’t seem to have those big plays we’ve seen from them in years past. But they were still pretty good. Jake Elliott had a good season and it looks like they have something in young punter Cameron Johnston. Fipp has consistently kept his unit playing well for the last six years. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles