Eagles’ return game has been putrid in recent years; will it improve in 2022?

Way back in the early to mid 2010’s, the Eagles had one of the best special teams units in all of football. Chip Kelly, for all his faults, had consistently great special teams play. Darren Sproles played a huge role in that as well, leading the league in punt return yards and touchdowns from 2014-’15.

Since Kelly’s departure and Sproles’ retirement, Philly’s special teams units have been average at best.

They’ve failed to find any kind of explosiveness in the return game and it all came to a head last year. In 2021, the Eagles averaged 7.2 yards per return which ranked 28th in the NFL. Philly’s primary return man last year, Jalen Reagor, has shown some flashes in the return game, but not enough to silence the skepticism.

Given how the depth chart is shaping up, Reagor will ideally be the primary return man once again. He’s buried on the wide receiver depth chart at the moment and barring a slew of injuries, his playing time in Nick Sirianni’s offense will take a major dip this season.

It would be nice to see Reagor make an impact in the return game, but up to this point, for every decent return he has, he follows it up with a muff or a boneheaded mistake. His outing against Tampa in the playoffs last season was a low-point.

Even with these abysmal plays in his catalog, Reagor manages to break off impressive run backs every once in awhile to remind us that he was one of the better returners in the NCAA during his time at TCU.

Who knows what kind of Reagor we’ll get this year. I have my hopes, but I’m admittedly still skeptical of what he can do as both a receiver and return man in year three. If Reagor can’t secure the returning duties, the Eagles did add some insurance this offseason.

Undrafted rookie wideout Britain Covey out of Utah probably has the best shot to take the job from Reagor. In my mind, the primary reason Covey was even brought in was because of his expertise in the return game. With all the capable bodies in the receiver room, the team doesn’t need Covey to contribute on offense.

At just 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Covey obviously has an uphill battle to earn a roster spot. Although he’s not the fastest guy on the field — he ran a 4.5 40 at his Pro Day — his explosiveness in the return game is undeniable. During his five-year collegiate career, Covey recorded five return TDs, four punts and one kickoff return.

Last season, Covey accumulated 427 punt return yards, the most of any player in the BCS. His 14.7 punt return average ranked fourth and he was tied for the most punt return touchdowns with two.

Obviously, this type of production in the return game doesn’t always translate to the NFL. In Reagor’s final season at TCU, he came in fourth in punt return yards (312), second in punt return average (20.8), and tied for first in punt return touchdowns (two). Reagor’s return acumen has clearly taken a major dip since entering the NFL.

Nevertheless, the addition of Covey this offseason tells us that the front office recognizes this issue. If Reagor fails to bring some extra oomph to the return game this season, Covey will be waiting in the wings.

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