It’s not exactly breaking news that the Eagles passed over drafting Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 draft and instead took Jalen Reagor.
Reagor is now Jefferson’s teammate with the Minnesota Vikings after the Eagles traded him to the Vikings in return for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024 and a seventh-round pick in 2023. And the Eagles will see Reagor and Jefferson and the rest of the Vikings on Monday night.
But the circumstances are very different for Reagor, whom the Eagles took with the 21st overall pick in the draft, and for Jefferson, whom the Vikings took with the next pick.
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Jefferson is on a record-breaking pace for receiving yards as he begins his third NFL season after getting 184 yards in the Vikings’ opener last Sunday. This after Jefferson amassed 3,016 receiving yards his first two seasons, the most of any NFL receiver in his first two seasons.
Reagor is not on that pace. In fact, he didn’t get any snaps at wide receiver in his Vikings debut, serving only as the punt returner. Still, I offered this nugget about getting revenge against his former team.
“Of course, why not?” he told reporters who cover the Vikings. “But I’m not going to go into the game pressing. Just going to let the game come to me. Whatever plays I make, make the best of them.”
The Eagles have spent the last two seasons trying to find receivers who can do what Jefferson does.
And what, exactly, is that? Well, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon explained when describing Jefferson:
“He can beat you all different types of ways, so when you’re looking at his game, he’s not a one-dimensional guy,” Gannon said. “He can take the roof off. He can beat you underneath. He can beat you with yards after catch. They do a really good job of deploying him different ways, so it’s hard to have a plan for him to always have two guys on him.”
Reagor was never that guy. The Eagles drafted him as a speed receiver on the outside because that’s what that 2020 team lacked. The Eagles saw Jefferson more as a slot receiver coming out of LSU.
Sure, the Eagles tried using Reagor like Jefferson. They lined Reagor up in the slot, but he couldn’t get open. They tried taking advantage of his speed on jet sweeps, but he was often stopped after minimal gain. They tried throwing deep, but he couldn’t make the catch.
Never was that more apparent than at the end of the Eagles’ 13-7 loss to the Giants, when he dropped the potential game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
So the Eagles punted, so to speak.
They drafted DeVonta Smith in 2021, and then they traded for AJ Brown last spring. But it is Brown more than Smith who gives the Eagles everything that Jefferson does.
That was evident in Brown’s Eagles’ debut last Sunday. He got open deep for his 54-yard reception down the sideline. I got open over the middle, with two 18-yard receptions. And he is well known for getting yards after the catch.
But it’s not because Brown resembles Jefferson.
“He’s not as big as AJ Brown,” Eagles cornerback Darius Slay said. “(Jefferson) is more of a Smitty guy to me. A guy that’s slim, can run, run great routes, very polished. He’s a great dude.
“I’ve been watching tape on Justin Jefferson since he’s been in the league … He’s a different breed. Them LSU receivers, man, they’re panning out really well.”
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni knows about that. He was the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator in the 2019 season, which ended short of the playoffs. So Sirianni made it a point to evaluate all of the wide receivers and quarterbacks in the college football playoffs.
“I watched DeVonta. I watched Justin. I watched (Bengals’ Ja’Marr) Chase,” Sirianni said. “I watched all those guys, and I remember putting on the tape and going, ‘Man, this Justin Jefferson guy is really, really good.’ Like he’s really quick. He’s got great hands. He runs really good routes.’
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“I’m watching the game, and he catches the ball, and he puts his foot in the ground quickly. You get the zoom-up of it on the TV camera, and it was like, ‘OK, he’s exactly what I thought . He does have all that quickness.’ That close-up view really helped me learn that.”
Brown doesn’t have to put his foot in the ground to pivot. He can either keep running with his speed, or take on a tackler and break free.
But he gets the job done the same way as Jefferson, with 155 yards in his Eagles’ debut.
It’s no wonder why Slay nicknamed Brown “Swole Batman.” When asked how he feels about that nickname, Brown replied: “We’re going to bring us a cape or something whenever we score a touchdown, so just have fun with it. We’re going to have fun with it.”
Then he added: “I know who I am as a receiver. I try to watch everybody … (Jefferson) is one of the best. I feel like he’s on the verge, in my opinion, he’s top three in this league. “
Brown is, too. Just ask him.
There are more similarities between the two teams than just star wide receivers. The defensive schemes, for one, are very similar.
That’s because Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell comes from the same background as Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
The Vikings have playmakers around the defense just like the Eagles do, starting with defensive linemen Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, linebackers Jordan Hicks, a former Eagle, and Eric Kendricks, and defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith.
On offense, the Vikings also boast a solid running game behind Dalvin Cook. We saw the Eagles struggle with the Lions running game as D’Andre Smith had 144 yards rushing.
Needless to say, the Eagles can’t allow Cook to have similar success. If that happens, Jefferson might have a record-setting day.
Then again, if quarterback Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders can run as effectively as they did against the Lions, with 90 and 96 yards, respectively, that can at least slow the Vikings offense somewhat by keeping them off the field.
That might end up being the Eagles’ best, and only, defense.
Score: Eagles 33, Vikings 31.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How ‘Swole Batman’ helped Eagles finally fix Justin Jefferson mistake