Football is a hard game to master. It takes hard work and dedication, but even that is often not enough. Still some players seem to be almost destined to play football at a high level. Maybe it’s in the genes. Jalen Reagor was born on the busiest bowl game day of the year; January 1. His dad was an NFL player for 9 years and won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts when Jalen was 7. That type of excitement, seeing your Dad reach the pinnacle of his profession at such a young age, can create a spark that is difficult to douse.
Jalen’s dad, Montae Reagor, wasn’t a star defensive tackle, but he was a solid player who did the dirty work inside so Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeneyc could go to work on the outside. Having Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James on the offensive side of the ball didn’t hurt the cause either.
Going into a locker room with all those stars is intoxicating to a young man. You dream of being like them,, but most of the time those dreams are dashed because those players are amazing athletes. There are only so many of them in the world.
Fortunately for Jalen he was one of those special athletes. His family noticed it right away, but he wasn’t a huge strong defensive tackle type like his dad. He was just really fast.
“When he was a little boy, I knew he was going to be better than his dad. When he starting running, I asked myself why he didn’t walk first. He just ran — everywhere,” Jalen’s mother Ishia Johnson said.
Jalen’s grandmother (his dad’s mom) Laveeda Bell was always around to keep Jalen on the straight and narrow.
“I’m proud to know the morals and values I instilled in my first two kids is inside Jalen. I’m glad he knows that if he wants something, he has to work for it. They’ll work with you if you’re patient and can take criticism. He knows he can make it and be anything he wants to be — it only requires hard work. It’s the same thing I taught his daddy. No one’s going to give you anything.” Bell said
Jalen was never going to be as big as his dad so he just worked to be the best he can be. His high school football coach was Jon Kitna who played quarterback for 4 different teams during his 14 year NFL career. Under Kitna’s guidance Jalen had two 1,000 yard receiving years in high school. Jalen also was a track star and won the gold metal for the long jump at the Texas State Championships.
Jalen was a star in the making so he was heavily recruited. Some of the schools offering scholarships were Notre Dame, Alabama, TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Ole Miss, Texas and Oregon. He originally picked Oklahoma as his school but later changed his mind to stay closer to home, near friends and family. The TCU campus in Fort Worth was only about 30 miles to his home.
Jalen played in 2017 as a true freshman. He played in all 14 games, starting 2. Even though he wasn’t a true starter Jalen had 33 receptions. His 576 receiving yards and 8 TDs were both team highs.
Jalen ran a lot of different routes during his time at TCU, but he is best known for his game changing speed. It’s difficult to describe the type of speed Jalen has as a receiver. It is best just to show you. This first play is of Jalen as a true freshman against Stanford in the Alamo Bowl.
This 93 yard TD was just one of his 5 receptions on the day for a total of 169 yards. His efforts helped TCU beat the Cardinal 39-37. The 169 yards is an Alamo Bowl record. Be was rewarded with true freshman All American honors as well as Co-Big XII Offensive Freshman of the Year recognition. With this game, included Reagor ended the year with a TD catch in four straight games. He had a catch in every game but one. He provided a reliable big play element to the team as a freshman.
To put the year in perspective, Jalen’s 8 TDs were the most by any true freshman in the nation and the 6th most by any player in the (defense optional) Big XII. On his own team the next highest TD reception totals were Desmond White with 5 and John Diarse with 3. Three players had more receptions, but Jalen led the team in receiving yards. Remember, he only started two games all year.
During his freshman year Jalen had a senior QB who led the team to an 11-3 record scoring 470 points that year which ranked 29th out of 130 schools. The senior QB (Kenny Hill) was efficient if unspectacular completing 67% of his passes for over 3,000 yards. The following years the QB efficiency deteriorated, (Hill graduated.) and the offensive line failed to give adequate protection. Jalen’s forte is being the deep threat, even though he can run any assortment of routes. The problem is when you have poor QB play and your line struggles to hold its blocks, throwing the ball deep becomes hit or miss but mostly miss.
This next play is against a mediocre Kansas squad who had some talented players but not a lot of them. This pass is a deep crossing pattern that takes time to develop. When your line can’t hold off the rush or avoid penalties for holding, the system fails. On this play the offense held up just long enough to let the play materialize.
This is a play that should never have succeeded against the 2-high safety look the Kansas defense ran on the play. Jalen starts out on the far right. His defender is in retreat mode all the way. He is eight yards away from Jalen and is backpedaling at the snap. This makes it easy for Jalen to cross his face and traverse the width of the field. For some strange reason both safeties come up on short routes, Jalen is ten yards ahead of them when he catches the pass. At least one safety has to be deeper than the deepest receiver for the defense to work the way it’s designed. Jalen’s path on the route is up, out, and back across the field. On this 56 yard TD catch Jalen probably ran 75-80 yards on the play.
Jalen’s defender tries to cut off the distance by taking an direct angle between Jalen and the goal line but doesn’t leave himself enough of an angle. He just underestimated Jalen’s speed which results in the TD. I can only guess that the safeties had been jumping short routes prior to this play, and the offensive coordinator saw this and then took advantage of this style of defense. This is not the type of play you would normally call against a two high look. You are running straight into the teeth of the defense.
Jalen is not exceptionally elusive in the open field, but he is not just a straight line runner either. He was not used as a returner much in his career at TCU but was effective when he did. Jalen returned 13 kickoffs for a 24.2 average and 23 punts for a 17.8 yard average which is outstanding. TCU did use Jalen in some bubble and slip screens to some good success. Here is a spectacular example on a 65 yard TD on a 3rd and 5 play against Baylor.
Jalen is only 5’ 11 and a shade under 200 lbs, but he is very strong for his size and has tremendous balance. He is not easy to knock off his feet. He also can break arm tackles
He is just a very solid physical receiver for his size. If you watch this play closely you don’t see a lot of side to side moves or jump cuts. Jalen runs around his defenders. He continually moves upfield with a north-south mentality. Speed and quick subtle moves are his tools.
This next play shows you some of the “solid” physical traits Jalen has. This is a corner fade route that never makes it to the corner. Now this could be how they practice it during the week. Each team has their own version of this. The two things to watch are the body control and the catch.
Once Jalen makes it to his spot on the field it doesn’t matter where the defender is. He reaches the spot, turns to locate the ball, and jumps high to pull it in with the strong hands.
When Jalen goes up the defender is all over him, but it hardly fazes him. Remember Jalen was the gold medal winner in Texas for the long jump. This is the fruit of that labor. With strong arms, legs and hands, Jalen usually catches the ball away from his body. I also like the no wild celebration when he is losing on the scoreboard. Just toss the ball to the ref and jog off the field like you expected to win that battle.
Here is another strong catch against an Oklahoma defensive back. This is straight man coverage, but the corner doesn’t get his hands on Jalen. I don’t know if that was by design or mistake, but it is costly. There is a linebacker and safety blitz on the play. The safety is coming from Jalen’s side of the field which means the corner is on his own.
This play needs correct timing, and with the double blitz the QB has a short window of time to get the ball to Jalen. If he has to hold the ball for a count it could be a sack instead of a TD. Because the corner is not pressing the release, Jalen runs around him to the outside and gains a step right away. The corner has his back to the play and can’t see the ball. Once Jalen spots the pass he is able to hold the corner back with his left arm (legally) then pull his arm back when the ball arrives to make the catch.
The pass needed to be a little longer with less hang time. The reason Jalen has to use the left arm is because he has to wait for the pass to arrive. A better throw would hit Jalen in stride, leaving no chance for the defender who is in catch up mode all the way. Notice the corner is all over Jalen, pushing him and trying to fight through that left arm to no avail. Jalen is just a solid physical receiver in a smaller than usual package. He also has great speed.
The following season the Horned Frogs are playing Oklahoma again, this time at home. With the ball about 4 yards further from the end zone TCU runs the exact same play with the same coverage with the same defender (Parnell Motley) with similar results.
Jalen even runs by Motley again to the outside, gaining a step. This time you can see the ball has less air under it and is thrown further out in front of Jalen. The result was a pass that only Jalen could catch. It was a nice job all the way around offensively.
This next play is another play that is very similar to the corner fade pattern that Jalen ran earlier. It’s just a longer throw, but all the elements are the same. This is a timing pattern with Jalen needing to beat his man to the end zone and his QB to get the ball there on time.
Jalen gets a free release as the corner is playing off coverage. Jalen comes out fast, shoulders over knees, and quickly eats up the cushion. Then he passes the defender. The pass is a little late so Jalen has to wait a split second to make the play. If you notice, this should be a 3 step drop by the QB. Take 3 steps, plant your back foot, and throw to a spot in the end zone. Yet the QB crosses his feet (a no-no) and needs four step to complete the play. Thus the throw is late. The QB’s technical flaw has no bearing on the play as Jalen again jumps super high over a defender who has his back to the play for an easy score.
If the throw was earlier, Jalen could have stacked the receiver on his back and made an over the shoulder catch which would have kept the defender from any chance of making a play on the ball. You can see on the catch the defender flails his arms in hopes of getting lucky and deflecting the ball. In the end it was a strong hands catch with great elevation. The defender hitting Jalen does little.
This is a play similar to an earlier one. It is another slip screen pass with two blockers out in front and a north-south run with speed.
This time the QB does everything perfectly as he gets the ball, gives the play fake, and quickly zips the ball to Jalen who takes it to the house. Again Jalen uses his speed to get around a defender, turns on the jets, and flies upfield with no wasted steps. This is a good example of quick speed (which is different from long speed).
Let me explain.
Players like D. K. Metcalf or Calvin Johnson who are tall (6’ 4” or taller) can run a 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds, but it takes them a good ten yards to get up to speed. A player like Jalen (we’ll just say he runs 4.3) runs faster than the big guys during the first ten yards, or where it really means something in a play like this.
Watch Jalen. Once he gets around the defender, he is able to accelerate he is up to top speed in a matter of a few steps. In close quarters quick speed is essential. This is where Jalen has an advantage.
On deep pass plays the taller receivers are running faster than Jalen after 20 yards. The 40 time for players might be the same, but their speed at a given point of the 40 yard run varies.
I mentioned earlier that Jalen didn’t do much special teams work in comparison to his entire career. On this play you get a good view of Jalen’s skill set as a returner. Again he is not super elusive, but that isn’t always super important.
First he makes a mistake by taking his eye off the ball to watch the coverage team and see where they are. This causes him to drop the ball, but he quickly regains the prize and heads upfield. After a single step he is hit by a coverage player who doesn’t wrap up so with his exceptional balance Jalen moves forward. You see no juking and no dancing. You only see him go full speed ahead, running around would be tacklers. With the defenders so spread out it almost seems too easy, but he will take it.
Jalen was tasked with running some jet sweeps along with reverses, but it was not a staple of the TCU offense as he only carried the ball 35 times in his three years with the Horned Frogs. Jalen averaged over 9 yards a carry so maybe they should have done it more. This play is one of the few plays that Jalen was lined up in the backfield for a read option.
You can see it all. The defensive end does a poor job of securing the edge. The slot receiver does a nice job of blocking the OLB, and the safety overruns the play allowing an easy cutback by Jalen into the open field. After that no one is going to catch Jalen on an 83 yard TD run.
I showed you some huge plays that Jalen has made in his college career because...well he made a lot of big plays Yet Jalen was more than that as a receiver. He had 148 receptions for 2,248 yards (15.2 yard average) and 22 TDs in 3 years with TCU. A pair of those years were with questionable QB play and not a lot of players around him to take away coverage.
In his second year with TCU the team scored only 23.5 points a game which was 107th out of 130 schools. That was down from 33.6 points a game when Jalen was a freshman (rankied 29th). That second year the team passed for 2,744 total yards and only 18 TDs from 4 different QBs. Jalen had by himself 1,061 yards and 9 TDs which is 39% of the team’s receiving yards and half the TDs.
In his third year the team was led by a freshman QB and passed for only 2,444 yards and 15 TDs switching to a run based attack. The team averaged only 203 yards passing and 204 rushing which may have been the best course of action with an inconsistent freshman QB (53.4% completion percentage). The team scoring went up to 30.3 points a game which was 55th out of 130 schools, but Jalen had only 43 receptions for 611 yards and 5 TDs. Those totals were 25% of the receiving yards and 33% of the TDs. These aren’t bad numbers but way off of the previous year.
I will end with 4 plays from a game against West Virginia in Jalen’s sophomore year. This game was played in 30 degree weather and a 15 MPH wind which made the ball feel as hard as a rock. A hard, cold ball is usually slick and difficult to catch. The first play is just a 9 yard curl pattern on a 2nd and 11 play.
With his defender playing off coverage Jalen who is at the top of the screen takes off like he is running a fly pattern to get his defender to flip his hips. Once he does that he is 14-15 years downfield. He then comes back to his QB and gives a big target. The QB has the throw but takes an extra hop which makes him late on the pass. Jalen had the first down but continued coming back to his QB (which is what he is supposed to do) to negate any possibility of an interception.
After getting the first down (later in the same series) Jalen is again to the top of the screen and runs the same exact looking play, but instead of coming back for the curl he continues downfield. He leaves his defender in the dust.
The throw is late and behind Jalen, but he is able to make the catch and cut inside the safety. He is caught by a defender who comes off his man who he is covering from the slot. If the throw is on time and in front of Jalen this is probably a TD. Nevertheless it is a 35 yard gain and a good start to the drive.
Later in the game with his team getting crushed Jalen runs a 10 yard out cut on a 2nd and 10 play. Jalen tries to juke the corner (something he rarely does). By doing so he loses the great balance he usually has and is taken down with an arm tackle.
The things to watch on this play are the score (33-3 just a little after half) and the effort Jalen gives. This is a cold day on the road. His team is getting blown out, and Jalen comes off the ball like it’s a tie game in the Orange Bowl. These are the type of players you look for, players who give a consistent effort no matter what the score or situation. Some players would think that on a cold day right after halftime they could pull a hamstring or groin and just go through the motions as a result. The efforts players give when when things go poorly shows a lot about their character.
This last GIF is later in the same drive with the defense up in press coverage. Jalen avoids the press by using a jab step to the inside. He gets the corner to take a false step that way then Jalen releases outside. He gets in front of his defender after only 5 yards.
The QB is not pressured at all on the pay, bbut the ball is late, short and behind. Jalen basically has to slow down and turn around three quarters of the way to secure the pass. He takes a hit and still scores the TD. With many receivers this is an incomplete pass, but Jalin shows quick feet, agility and strong hands to make the play. Jalen is a sure handed, hands catcher who is unafraid of contact. It was a perfect pass on a short hook route. Like I said, a cold slick ball is difficult to catch consistently.
Jalen Reagor is a big play receiver who has great speed but also possesses a highly competitive nature. He can be a game changer, a 1st down maker, or both on any given day. He is physically solid, one of the strongest wide receivers I have seen under 6’ and under 200 lbs. He shows a tenacity that could rub off on other receivers on his team.
Jalen has very good hands. You can tell he was coached well on how to catch a ball. He comes off the line hard and fast. You cannot decipher whether he is running a go route, a curl, or a dig route. Jalen has a demeanor similar to but not exactly like Steve Smith. Jalen is a larger receiver, but brings an attitude onto the field that makes him difficult to stop.
Jalen was not asked to block a lot at TCU, and when he did try he had mixed results. Jalen has the requisite physical tools to be a good blocker but does not have the technical skill to be effective as of yet. Jalen has a great enthusiasm for the game so if he is given proper coaching he would progress quickly as a player that could make a timely block.
I currently have a mid 2nd round grade on Jalen, but if he does well at the Combine he will probably go in the mid 1st round. Teams love speed so Jalen will be a sought after player. If he interviews well he could go even earlier. It just takes one team to fall in love with him.
With the Jets possibly losing their longest tenured deep threat Jalen Reagor could be a person to help fill the void. He has the speed you need but bring skills to the table beyond that. It might not all click his first year, but as he builds a solid rapport with his QB he will build some admiration in the receiver room.
Jalen Reagor is a strong, fast receiver who plays the game the right way. What’s not to like?
What do you think?