Philadelphia Eagles fans were more than a little surprised on Sunday when former 5th round pick, Ed Reynolds, stole the show, intercepting 2 passes and thrusting himself into the conversation at backup safety.
To this point, Reynolds has had a pretty underwhelming –albeit short– career with the Eagles. The 162nd pick in the 2014 draft, Reynolds came to Philadelphia with relatively low expectations, yet still disappointed, and failed to find a home on the final 53-man roster in his rookie season. So, Reynolds made the practice squad his home for the next 5 months, all the while plugging away and hoping to make his mark on the team in 2015.
When OTAs and minicamp started in May, the safety conversation was dominated by Walter Thurmond, who had just made the transition from slot/outside corner at the request of the coaching staff. And then there was Earl Wolff, who many viewed as –barring injury of course– the favorite to assume primary reserve duties. Others talked about Jaylen Watkins getting reps, or Jerome Couplin‘s prospects as a developmental project, yet, there wasn’t so much as a whisper about Reynolds.
The lack of exposure that Reynolds has received during his time with the team made his performance against the Indianapolis Colts all the more shocking, and in turn, raised a lot more questions than answers; namely, who is Ed Reynolds, how does he fit, and what is his skill set?
Reynolds is a player that I was fairly high on coming out of Stanford. He played his ball in the Pac12, and possessed the headiness and size parameters that Kelly seemed to covet. After watching some tape, I was sold and thought that Reynolds could be a solid option in Philadelphia. Needless to say I was happy when the Eagles took a flier on Reynolds, but beyond that things didn’t go nearly as I anticipated.
So, in lieu of his performance against the Colts, I decided to review some tape and see where I went right/wrong in my evaluation, and determine how Reynolds could potentially fit into the Eagles plans moving forward.
The first thing that jumps out on tape is that Reynolds’ skill set isn’t exactly congruent with that of the Eagles’ archetype. Reynolds has the size, but not necessarily the long levers (just 30 3/4 inch arms). Furthermore, his speed/scheme specifics do not match up with what the staff asks of their safeties. Billy Davis wants a cornerback in a safety’s body; a moveable chess piece and versatile coverage specialist who can walk up and play the slot. Reynolds is more of a traditional safety, and while he isn’t a liability in coverage, asking him to cover the speedier, twitchier, slot receivers would yield less than ideal results.
Where I was initially very impressed with Reynolds was in his ability to get upfield and play the run. In retrospect, now knowing what Chip Kelly and Billy Davis ask of their safeties, this attribute is much less important, however. Reynolds sees plays very well and reacts quickly and naturally when things develop in front of him. He gets down hill in a hurry, and –as he demonstrated on specials last Sunday– can break down and square up to his target quickly and effectively. Additionally, Reynolds is a proficient form tackler. I have very few reservations with Reynolds in regard to his ability to play the run, other than that his play strength could improve.
Now, where Reynolds doesn’t stack up quite as well is in coverage. As previously mentioned, having Reynolds man-up against slot receivers would be a mistake; he simply isn’t the twitchy, rangy, player that I would trust to operate in space, and I’m sure the staff has similar views. Reynolds can be stiff at times, and though he generally has good instincts, one misstep can leave him trailing in coverage. Similarly, if he’s playing deep safety and QB looks him off, he has difficulty recommiting with his lack of recovery speed.
As an aside, Reynolds inconsistencies in coverage lead me to believe that he was a Howie pick. I’d find it hard to believe that Chip took a look at Reynolds –especially considering that he coached against him while at Oregon– and thought that he had the ability to mirror Malcolm Jenkins. I just don’t see it.
Now, to be clear, I still like Reynolds, but looking back, my original evaluation was a bit more glowing than it should have been. Reynolds has clear limitations within this scheme, however, his instincts and ability to play the run could make him an appealing reserve option. He’ll never be a starter, but given the lack of appealing depth at the position he could land a reserve role.
If Malcolm Jenkins or Walter Thurmond miss time, no player on the roster has the ability to step in and effectively replicate their respective roles. Concessions will have to be made, and with the relative inexperience and lack of functional talent in the safety corp, Reynolds could prove the most credible option. Simply put, the Eagles can not run the full scope of their playbook without both Jenkins and Thurmond. Without them, they’ll have no choice but to adjust.
I don’t know whether Reynolds will crack the final-53, but with the ever deteriorating knee of Earl Wolff, and ambiguous role of Jaylen Watkins, Reynolds could latch on with a strong finish to the preseason. However, what gives me pause is Reynolds inconsistencies in practice, as Kelly has mentioned in the past that showing up on a consistent basis in practice is integral to earning a role. As of now, I’d guess Reynolds lands back on the practice squad, but his recent success bodes well for his overall odds.
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