Eagles candidates to return punts, kicks after Jalen Reagor trade

When the Hawks traded Jalen Regor on Wednesday, they not only got rid of their fifth receiver… they also got rid of their returning player.

Reago was the Hawks’ No. 1 player last season, and he landed on their unofficial depth charts at both positions over the summer.

Now the Eagles have to figure out who will return to punt and play for them in 2022.

Of course, that’s not to say they won’t see an upgrade. While Regor is their main return for 2021, he’s not very good. Among eligible players, he ranks 17th in the NFL in punt return rate (7.3) and 27th in the NFL in kick return rate (21.3) among players with at least 10 attempts.

Over 16 practices in training camp, I followed every player preparing for a return for the Eagles:

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

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

In that group, Ward was at IR, Lenoir and Hightower were no longer with the team, and Covey and Allen were in training sessions.

“Remember, the list isn’t just 53, right?” coach Nick Ciriani said. “We have 70 players at our disposal. We feel like we have a good selection.”

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

UK Covey: While Covey is in the practice lineup, it’s easy to bring him to the active roster, and he’s the most experienced returning player of the bunch. It’s worth noting that Sirianni’s original answer to the punt returner’s question was to point out that they viewed the scrimmage as an extension of the roster.

Of course, his experience is at the college level, but Covey is an electric returner in Utah. During his college career, he averaged 11.9 yards per kick, four touchdowns, 25.4 yards per kick, and an additional score.

Really, kicking back the ball isn’t very common in today’s NFL. The more important job is as a punt returner. But Covey did it all in training camp and was clearly their smoothest punt returner of the camp. I haven’t seen him play once. In the preseason, he returned 4 punts (6.2) and 4 drives (23.0). The only other players to return this preseason are Rigg and Huntley.

Quiz Watkins: The Eagles’ slot machine receiver gained a 4.35 rate during training camp as a rep for punts and back kicks, and it’s easy to see why. Watkins tied for second on the team with eight returns last season, but averaged just 17.3 yards per return, which is even worse than Reagor. Starting in 2017-19, Watkins played and kicked in southern Mississippi, returning an average of 9.4 yards per kick and 20.3 yards per kick; he brought a punt to the house.

But even after joining AJ Brown, Watkins will have a big role on offense in 2022, so the idea of ​​him doing double duty when he returns may be going too far.

Kenny Gainwell: I didn’t see the Eagles running back work with the kicker returner in training camp, but he did return to the punt. Gainwell didn’t get a chance to return any punts in his rookie season, but did return eight drives for 137 yards (17.1). The Eagles did give him a lot of reps as a punt returner this summer, but Gainwell hasn’t been as smooth as some others.

Boston Scott: Surprisingly, Scott didn’t get much rep as a returner this summer, doing just a little bit of work in kicking the game. In his career, Scott only attempted six punts for 43 yards (7.2 yards). He also returned 43 drives for 928 yards (21.6). So he’s probably more of an option for kicking back the game.

Devon Allen: You’d think the Olympian would be a threat in the return game, but he made his mark on special teams in preseason as a Gunner. Allen never played a ball in college, and the last time he kicked the ball back in a game was against Oregon State in 2014. He returned eight balls that year with a 26.1 average. This summer, he did mix in the kicker’s return at times.

Alfonte Maddox: While Maddox sometimes gets some reps in practice as a punt returner, he’s entering his fifth NFL season and hasn’t gotten any snaps there. He also played some ball in college, but he might just be an emergency option if the Eagles need it.

Zach Pascal: He was once a very good returner for the Old Dominion, having returned the ball 26 times (23.0) in his NFL career. But he’s only returned once in each of the past two seasons, and hasn’t gotten much rep this summer.

AJ Brown: Do not. not worth it.

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