There are a few different ways to look at the Patriots’ elevation of wide receiver Jalen Reagor from the practice squad to the 53-man roster ahead of Sunday night’s NFL matchup against the Dolphins. For one thing, because the Patriots did not need to dip into the practice bunch for an offensive lineman, it’s probably a good sign that the team feels confident it has enough depth on a unit that has been knackered by injuries to open the season.
At the same time, the Patriots remain very shaky about the team’s wide receiver situation, and turning to Reagor to find whether the team can unearth a gem might be taken as a sign that coach Bill Belichick’s confidence in that unit continues to wane.
The Patriots also called up linebacker Calvin Munson, who has been a Pats favorite on special teams for the past two-plus years.
Reagor Has Had ‘Unacceptable’ Fumbling Issues
But Reagor is the story here. He has talent, coming in as a first-round pick (21st overall) of the Eagles out of TCU in 2020, where he topped the 1,000-yard mark with 1,067 in 13 games as a sophomore. He also has a very difficult time keeping his hands on the ball, a trait that typically sends players straight to the Belichick doghouse.
Reagor struggled in Philadelphia in his first season, hampered by a torn ligament in his thumb that required surgery and kept him out for five games. His second season was worse, as Reagor played all 17 games but struggled with dropped passes (on 7.0% of his plays, according to Pro-Football-reference.com) and fumbles (2).
He was traded to Minnesota for draft compensation, but fumbles continued to rule the day. Reagor, while operating as a receiver and a return man, fumbled four times for the Vikings last year. One play that got considerable notice came in the final game of last season, when Reagor failed to call a fair catch and instead fumbled a punt.
Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen famously said on the play, “Jalen Reagor muffed it where he should have called fair catch, and the Vikings held onto it. That’s so freaking unacceptable, that’s unbelievable he just did that.”
The Vikings waived Reagor on the day of 53-man roster cut-downs this summer, and the Patriots picked him up the next day.
Smith-Schuster’s Struggles Draw Attention
Certainly, it can’t hurt to give Reagor a shot, especially considering the state of New England’s receiving crew. DeVante Parker (knee) is still listed as questionable for his season debut, and speculation has swirled all week around lead receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who was on the bench for the Patriots’ crucial final drive against the Eagles, when New England trailed only by five points.
The Pats had rookies Kayshon Boutte and Pop Douglas on the field for that drive.
Smith-Schuster said he had no issues with how the Patriots used him in the game, but his lack of playing time seemed to confirm speculation that his health is an issue, specifically the state of his knees.
Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald wrote this week that Smith-Schuster’s spot is in peril for a few reasons.
Wrote Callahan: “Smith-Schuster will get his chance to sink or swim. The problem is his increasingly shaky standing on the depth chart. Multiple team sources believe Smith-Schuster is not presently among the team’s five most effective pass-catchers. According to those same sources, his place in the offense has been complicated by a variety of factors.”
Thos factors: the health of his surgically repaired knee, the talent of his teammates and the question of whether he’s formed a bond with quarterback Mac Jones. Smith-Schuster could slip well back on the depth chart if Week 1 is any indication—and if Reagor can start to hold onto the ball, that slippage could get worse.