COVID-19 has put the NFL in a tricky situation for the 2020 season. While still scheduled to go on, all preseason games have been officially canned. This leaves fantasy players in a strange position when it comes to how to evaluate their investments in the strong rookie wide receiver class, for both the immediate and distant future. Jalen Reagor stands as the receiver with the least resistance to immediate success.
My initial favorite rookie wide receiver landing spot was Justin Jefferson with the Minnesota Vikings. His insane stat line of 111 receptions on 122 targets for 1,540 yards was impressive on its own. The initial report from Chad Graff, writing for The Athletic Minnesota, quoted offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak who said Jefferson would “move inside quite a bit.” All the stars seemed to be aligned, but there were a few issues which have popped up since to ruin the whole party. To start, the team ran the lowest amount of three wide receiver sets in the league last season, just 25% of offensive plays. While Jefferson is stepping into an offense with 110 targets now open due to Stefon Diggs departing for the Buffalo Bills, he may have to play outside his element to see those targets come his way. The Vikings are also now shorthanded at wide receiver, as the third man up is a combination of Tajae Sharpe, Chad Beebe, and Bisi Johnson, none with any real success at the professional level. What the Vikings do have are two tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. capable of both run blocking and being weapons in the passing game. The Vikings’ best alignment of personnel includes two tight ends on the field, removing the slot as an option for Jefferson. Announced by Adam Schefter, Jefferson has now been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. This has made me have a change of heart, focusing on Jalen Reagor as my immediate favorite rookie wide receiver to target in both dynasty and redraft formats.
The overall quality of rookie receivers could be on the downturn across the league, getting the report with their quarterbacks and timing in their routes will have to be worked on all summer long. My endorsement of Reagor here with the Philadelphia Eagles is his path to targets and playing time is Office Depot easy button easy. The Eagles’ overall passing attempts in 2019 was 613, as starting quarterback Carson Wentz had the fifth most attempts of any player in the league. The Eagles receiving corps saw a collective 255 targets, tied for fourth least with Tennessee and Indianapolis. The only teams to see less were San Francisco, Minnesota, and Baltimore with a league low 182. These three were the only teams with more rush attempts than passing attempts. However, the percentage of Eagles pass attempts to wide receiver targets was second-lowest in the NFL at 41.6%, only higher than the Ravens at 41.4%. So, what happened with this wide receiver corps in 2019, and what is the current state which makes Reagor able to walk in and be an instant contributor?
An immediate hit to the 2019 Eagles happened in Week 3 with the loss of receiver DeSean Jackson to the season. His 2020 roster spot is in jeopardy due to anti-Semitic social media posts he made and then apologized for. As of writing, he has shown enough remorse for his words that the Eagles front office has not cut him. The second most explosive wide receiver would be that of Alshon Jeffery, who also got hit with an injury bug late last season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. The one-time standout for the Chicago Bears, posting back to back 1100-yard seasons in 2013 and 2014, he has since never eclipsed the 1000-yard mark and only one season of 16 game participation since 2014. Jeffery is slated to start on the reserve/PUP list, which would mean a six-game absence to start the season at least. While he could be taken off anytime before the season starts, receiver is one the Eagles can ill afford to mess around with when it comes to injuries. The top two receivers for this team combined to miss 16 games during the 2019 season. Both are over 30 years old, and injuries seem a likely reason for the lack of targets to the position and suggests room for Reagor moving forward. A roulette of unappealing options filled the holes last season, with Nelson Agholor, Greg Ward, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside filling in. A combined stat line of 131 targets for 77 receptions, 786 yards, and five scores is WR3 level production for one player, but not as appealing when spread amongst three sources.
Reagor has the opportunity, and opportunity is money in fantasy, to just waltz into production. The Eagles have no true X receiver, limited competition for target share with Jackson’s role is set, and the backup options so disgusting, and a team that has had 560 or more pass attempts in the past three seasons. Dave Zangaro for NBC Sports Philadelphia reports instead of learning one position as was originally the plan, Reagor now states that “…been emphasizing to me to learn X and Z and just to learn.” The idea that he would be picking up on how the roles are going to work where Jeffery and Jackson both lineup, X and Z respectively, means that his route tree and overall usage could be much more varied than initially thought. The news of Jeffery being possibly nowhere near ready to rock and roll for Philadelphia and Marquise Goodwin deciding to opt out of the 2020 season means more opportunities abound.
Multiple paths to playing time have opened wide for Reagor. Rookies rarely see 100 targets and 60 receptions in a season. Seattle wideout D.K. Metcalf being the only one to come near that in the last three seasons at 100 targets and 58 receptions. This outcome is on the table for Reagor in the short term, and he with aging competition around him is the favorite option for the Eagles for the future as well. The discussion is still open to long term returns with dynamic receivers Ceedee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy. Nevertheless, neither has an immediate impact scenario Jalen Reagor has playing out for him.
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