The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 25, 2020 · C4
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The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · C4

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Saturday, April 25, 2020
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INSIDE THE EAGLES | BY JEFF McLANE Draft COMMENTARY | BY MARCUS HAYES By Marc Narducci STAFF WRITER Samarth Mannikeri, like many die-hard Eagles fans, has been hunkered down this weekend to watch the three-day NFL draft. What will separate Samarth from other fans: He will have a role in the broadcast. The 13-year-old eighth grader at Charles Boehm Middle School in Yardley recorded a video mes- sage that is scheduled to air Sat- urday, the final day of the draft, before one of the Eagles’ picks. The draft is being telecast by ESPN, ABC, the NFL Network, and ESPN Deportes. “It was really cool,” Samarth said of the experience. “I told all my friends and their parents, and it is really exciting.” Samarth got the call to partici- pate because of his work with the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which encourages kids to exercise for an hour a day and practice healthy eating hab- its. He’s been involved with Fuel Up to Play 60 for five years, in- cluding the last two as the pro- gram president for his school. Recently, he created a Google Classroom to share the pro- gram’s lessons online during the coronavirus pandemic. Samarth has used the platform to give tips to fellow students about ways to stay healthy during this time, including offering some of his own recipes. “We congratulate Samarth on this well-deserved opportunity and would also like to thank him for being so proactive in keep- ing the Pennsbury School Dis- trict healthy and fit at home,” said Julie Hirshey, the Eagles’ director of community relations. “Samarth is a wonderful ambas- sador of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. We are proud to have him represent the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend during the 2020 NFL draft.” In his 24-second video spot, Sa- marth talks about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. (Better watch out for your jobs, TV an- nouncers: He delivers his mes- sage with passion and looks ex- tremely comfortable on cam- era.) This isn’t the first time Sa- marth’s work with Fuel Up to Play 60 has gotten him close to real NFL action. He was chosen to attend an Eagles game last year, a 17-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 22. It was his first time seeing the team play in person. “That was a lifetime experi- ence,” he said. And now he will enjoy another. "sjnard Samarth Mannikeri, whose taped remarks will precede an Eagles draft pick on Saturday, attended the win over the Cowboys in December. though, was still available at No. 16. Some had considered the Oklahoma receiver the top tal- ent at his position. Did Roseman consider moving up five spots for Lamb? “We’re very aggressive in working the phones and having conversations with these teams and trying to figure out where we can move and when we can move,” Roseman said. “It’s got to work for both sides, obvious- ly, but we were also very com- fortable sitting here and taking a player that has a great skill set for what we’re looking for.” The Eagles’ board will likely remain a mystery, and whether Lamb or any of the other top receivers were flagged for medi- cal or other concerns will re- main unknown for now, but it had to sting a little to see the Cowboys take Lamb at No. 17. Still, the next three picks weren’t receivers and LSU’s Jus- tin Jefferson — who was rated by many analysts to be one of the top four at his position — was still there for the taking. Jef- ferson didn’t play much outside in college. He was mostly in the slot, but many scouts believe he could play both and he actually ran a faster 40-yard dash at the combine (4.43 seconds) than Re- agor (4.47). “The Eagles really wanted speed. Reagor provides that,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on Twitter. “I just couldn’t pass up my 14th- rated player [Jefferson] for my 56th player [Reagor]. It’ll be fas- cinating to follow both of their careers.” Jefferson went to the Vikings with the next pick. Reagor was clearly a prospect the Eagles had targeted. It’s hard to knock them for wanting to upgrade at receiver and find outside speed. Injuries and un- derwhelming play made that po- sition one of the glaring holes on the roster last season. DeSean Jackson, one of the fastest players in NFL history, will return this season, but he’s 33 and the Eagles are looking to build for the future around quar- terback Carson Wentz. Roseman wanted his own Tyreek Hill, to offer a comparison to the pinball- like receiver who was a part of the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs. “You see the separation on tape,” Roseman said of Reagor. “You see the vertical separation as an outside receiver. Those things are hard to find when you look at this draft. … Those guys are hard to find in this league. That fits our quarterback’s skill set. Our quarterback likes to throw the ball down the field.” The 5-foot, 10½-inch Reagor said he “was heavy” at the com- bine when he ran the 40. He weighed 206 but dropped nearly 10 pounds when he was clocked at 4.2 during a virtual pro day. But the Eagles, who had access to his GPS tracking numbers in college, said his play speed is what mattered most. Reagor isn’t just about speed, though. He had a 42-inch verti- cal leap at the combine. He made catches above the rim in the Big 12, but he was probably more explosive with the ball in his hands on gadget plays, jet sweeps, or as a returner. He had two punt returns for touch- downs in college. As a sophomore, Reagor caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns. But his production declined as a junior, partly because TCU was nurtur- ing a rookie quarterback. He fin- ished with only 43 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns and snared only 47% of his tar- gets last season. Some of the incompletions fell on quarterback play, but Reagor also had eight drops. And he oc- casionally allowed his frustra- tions to bubble to the surface. The Eagles, though, spent a lot of time on the native of Waxah- achie, Texas, whose father, Mon- tae, played eight seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL, including the 2007 season with the team that drafted his son. Nearly every possible Eagles scout, coach, and executive spent time either interviewing or going over offensive installa- tion with Reagor during the last year. The team expended one of its 45 combine meetings on the 21-year-old. The Eagles didn’t have the benefit of attending his pro day or having him at the NovaCare Complex, but there were many FaceTime chats and Zoom conversations, according to Andy Weidl, Eagles vice presi- dent of player personnel. “There was a comfort level with him,” Weidl said. The Eagles won’t know what they got until they get him in the building, of course, and it could be months away with the coro- navirus still a national crisis. It could be years before we know how Roseman did, despite all the rushes to judgment many have made about the selection on social media. Should he have mortgaged picks to move up for Ruggs, Jeudy or Lamb — whom the Cowboys took even though they already have two young receiv- ers in Amari Cooper and Micha- el Gallup? Should he have taken Jefferson? Should he have trad- ed back and gambled on getting Reagor later in the first round or in the second? Should he have selected Bran- don Aiyuk, who went to the 49ers at No. 25, or waited until Day 2 for other notable names like Denzel Mims or Tee Hig- gins? Time will tell. But Roseman’s record in drafting receivers hasn’t been great, and if the Ea- gles had confidence in last year’s second-round selection, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, maybe they wouldn’t have seemingly pushed a need. But every team needs speed, and elite speed is hard to find. "Jeff_McLane Continued from C1 increase of almost 25% over the first round last year when the event set a three-day record with 47.5 million viewers across all networks and platforms. “The technology worked,” com- missioner Roger Goodell told “It was a touchdown,” said an- other NFL source, who then cau- tiously added, “we know there’s a lot of time left on the clock.” The draft resumed with Rounds 2 and 3 Friday, then finishes Saturday. These days, it is must-see TV. We will continue to peek into the living rooms, dens, and base- ments of the NFL’s coaches, gener- al managers, and, of course, Good- ell. Makeshift war rooms will stream into our homes, delivered by more than 100 video feeds that drew more power than Caesars Forum, where the announcement stage would have been before the coronavirus lockdown canceled the sixth extravaganza. The league also arranged for live feeds from the homes of 58 potential first-round picks, which treated us to a range of reactions: the tears of Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, a Camden na- tive who lost his father as a boy; CeeDee Lamb’s phone-snatch from his girlfriend after Dallas drafted the receiver; and receiv- er Henry Ruggs’ lucrative Old Spice robe. Cha-ching. Plenty more reaction-cam was on tap for Friday, since the NFL still had its setup in the homes of 30 prospects. These look-ins have been so popular and so effi- cient that they are likely to be a part of future drafts for players who don’t want to attend the draft in person or who are less likely to be taken on the first day, a source said. The virtual draft wasn’t seam- less, but, frankly, neither is the in-person draft. Goodell is wood- en and corny in either two or three dimensions. But this year, stripped of the hoopla and his cor- porate persona — he traded his usual draft-night suit for a dark sport coat, then a dark sweater — Goodell came across warmer than ever. He seemed especially sensitive to criticisms that the draft should be delayed as the na- tion still hovers near its peak pan- demic death rate. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the voice of reason during the White House daily press gatherings, led the broadcast by endorsing the deci- sion to hold the draft. This, on a day that COVID-19 killed more than 3,000 Americans, which brought the total number of deaths to about 50,000. Goodell nonetheless managed to strike a nostalgic chord, like a well-meaning uncle doing his best to carry on in a time of great stress, fear, and grief. Much of his delivery was clumsy, but that’s who he is; and most of his come- dy was accidental, such as when he mistakenly announced that, since the 2020 draft extravaganza was canceled, Las Vegas would host ... the 2020 draft. He meant the 2022 draft. It’s Roger. Goodell’s “man-cave” in the basement of his suburban New York home looked like some- thing from the set of “The Gold- bergs” — a bit archaic for a man who makes $40 million a year, but maybe retro-’80s is fashion- able these days in Bronxville. He offered virtual hugs, tried to pump up virtual crowds being streamed on screens behind him, and good-naturedly cele- brated the ritual booing that ac- companies his entrance to the draft stage. He even made a TikTok video with Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy, whom the Denver Broncos drafted 15th overall. It went viral: 2.5 million views in 12 hours. Goodell’s warmth dovetailed with the indefatigable, crisply professional ESPN draft host Trey Wingo, whose nimbleness in the studio sidestepped preg- nant pauses and missed cues as he communicated with analysts, guests, and producers. The Eagles principles — gener- al manager Howie Roseman, coach Doug Pederson, player personnel chief Andy Weidl, owner Jeffrey Lurie, the scouts and medical staff — stayed con- nected well enough to draft Jalen Reagor without a hitch. He was the 21st overall pick and the fourth receiver taken, all amid a flurry of six wideouts drafted from No. 12, when Ruggs went to the Las Vegas Raiders, to No. 25, when Brandon Aiyuk went to the San Francisco 49ers. A glitch on a postdraft conference-call application kept Pederson from hearing many of the questions, though he didn’t seem to mind. The remote feeds provided glimpses into the personalities of the NFL’s rainmakers — a wel- come and humanizing dynamic as we endure our sixth week of relative isolation, with several more weeks likely to come. New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s sparse setup sparked some derision, and his choice to wear a mask caused some confusion — he’s a cancer survivor and had a guest in his home — while Roseman’s spa- cious and tasteful home office won the design award. It fea- tured seven monitors, two lap- tops, a press-conference stage, and a working fireplace in case he has an FDR moment. Logistics concerns meant that Goodell would announce the sec- ond and third rounds himself this year. In the recent past, former NFL players would ap- pear on stage to represent the team making the second-round pick, and, occasionally, they would riff. Eagles fans certainly recall how Drew Pearson used the Dallas Cowboys’ second pick in 2017 to tease them on the Phil- adelphia Art Museum steps. Of course, former Eagles kicker David Akers repaid Pearson the next year in Dallas, when the Ea- gles drafted a tight end named, of all things, Dallas Goedert. Former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, the NFL’s execu- tive vice president of football op- erations, usually announces the third round. NFL football opera- tions executives Dave Gardi and Dawn Aponte will announce Sat- urday’s picks from their homes. But the man of this moment has been Goodell: star of the draft; a comforting, familiar bea- con of normalcy. "inkstainedretch Continued from C1 Jalen Reagor is the speed guy the Eagles desired. It’s hard to knock them for wanting to upgrade. AP Wide receiver Henry Ruggs sports his Old Spice robe as he and his family celebrate his draft selection by the Raiders. NFL via AP Before we announce the Eagles’ pick ... Yardley youth has a message for draftniks around the world as a local leader in NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60. Reagor NFL DRAFT C4 | THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER | SATURDAY, APRIL 25, 2020 C | INQUIRER.COM

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