Eagles candidates to return punts, kicks after Jalen Reagor trade

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When the Eagles traded out Jalen Reagor on Wednesday, they not only got rid of their fifth receiver… they also got rid of their return man.

Last season, Reagor was the Eagles’ top punt and kick returner and all summer he topped their unofficial depth chart in both positions.

Now the Eagles must figure out who will return punts and kicks for them in 2022.

Of course, that’s not to say they won’t see an upgrade. Although Reagor was their main returnee in 2021, he was not very good. He was ranked 17th in the NFL in point return average (7.3) among qualified players and 27th in the NFL in kick return average (21.3) among players with at least 10 attempts.

During the 16 workouts in the training camp, I followed every player who was in line as a returnee for the Eagles:

Point Returners: Reagor, Greg Ward, Britain Covey, Quez Watkins, Lance Lenoir, Kenny Gainwell, Avonte Maddox, AJ Brown

Returning kickers: Jason Huntley, John Hightower, Covey, Devon Allen, Zach Pascal, Lenoir, Watkins, Boston Scott

Of that group, Ward is on IR, Lenoir and Hightower are no longer with the team, and Covey and Allen are on the practice team.

“Remember, the roster isn’t just 53, right?” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “We have 70 men at our disposal. We feel we have good options.”

Let’s take a closer look at the internal candidates:

Great Britain Covey: While Covey is part of the practice squad, getting him to the active roster would be fairly easy and he is the most experienced return man of the bunch. Notably, Sirianni’s first response to the point return question was to point out that they see the practice team players as an extension of the roster.

Sure, his experience is college level, but Covey was an electric return guy in Utah. In his college career, he averaged 11.9 yards per punt return with 4 touchdowns and averaged 25.4 yards per punt return with a different score.

Really, the kick return isn’t very common in today’s NFL. Its main job is as a point return. But Covey did both in training camp and was clearly the smoothest punter they had in camp. I never once saw him bobble a ball. In the preseason he returned four punts (6.2) and four kickoffs (23.0). The only other players to return this preseason were Reagor and Huntley.

Quez Watkins: The Eagles final receiver got reps as a punt and kick returner during training camp and at a 4.35 pace it’s easy to see why. Watkins finished second on the team last season with eight kick returns, but averaged just 17.3 yards per return, which was even worse than Reagor. Watkins returned kicks and kicks in Southern Mississippi from 2017-19, averaging 9.4 yards per stair return and 20.3 yards per stair return; he took a punt to the house.

But even after the addition of AJ Brown, Watkins will start to play a big part in the offensive in 2022, so the thought of him taking on double duties in returning could be too much.

Kenny Gainwell: I didn’t see the Eagles running back work with the kick returners in camp, but he did return points. During his rookie season, Gainwell didn’t get a chance to return points, but did give eight kickoffs for 137 yards (17.1). The Eagles really gave him a lot of reps as a punter this summer, but Gainwell wasn’t as smooth as some of the other guys.

Boston Scott: Surprisingly, Scott didn’t get many reps as a returnee this summer, he only got a little kick-game work. In his career, Scott has scored just six punts for 43 yards (7.2). He also returned 43 kickoffs for 928 yards (21.6). So he’s probably more of an option in the kick return game.

Devon Allen: You’d think the Olympian would be a threat in the return leg, but he made his mark on special teams as a preseason gunner. Allen never returned a point in college, and the last time he recovered a kick in a game with Oregon in 2014, he returned eight that year with an average of 26.1. He sometimes mixed in as a kick returner this summer.

Avonte Maddox: While Maddox sometimes gets some reps as a punter in practice, he’s entering his fifth NFL season and hasn’t gotten any snaps there. He gave up points and spades in college, but he’s probably just an emergency option if the Eagles ever need one.

Zach Pascal: He was once a pretty good kick returner back at Old Dominion and has returned 26 kicks in his NFL career (23.0). But he only returned one in each of his last two seasons and didn’t get many reps this summer.

AJ Brown: no. Not worth it.

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The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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