The personal exposure came from Brian Billick while hosting a radio show.
“Need is the worst talent evaluator in sports,” the former Super Bowl-winning coach told me.
Fast forward to 2020 and the context of that conversation has been lost to 1,000 others but those words always stuck with me. Billick was hardly the first to say them and obviously not the last as many pay the wisdom forward.
For those with skin in the actual game, however, it’s hard to stay true to prophecy existing inside a vacuum which doesn’t take into account real-world problems.
The Eagles “needed” a playmaking receiver for Carson Wentz and preferred one who could stretch the field.
They ended up with Jalen Reagor, the TCU speed demon who could be impactful in so many ways as that Kansas City-like vertical threat who can pop the top, win in space on manufactured touche,s and even serve as a dynamic return man who can flip the field for Dave Fipp in a blink of an eye.
It all sounds perfect until you add into the equation that one of the perceived top four in what is the deepest WR class in years was available to Philadelphia at No. 21 overall, LSU’s Justin Jefferson.
The optics to the average fan were poor.
Reagor struggled mightily to put up numbers in 2019 with an overmatched freshman quarterback throwing to him and Jefferson was the biggest playmaker on the best team, excelling on the grandest stage with the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow throwing strikes to him.
The comparisons will be made for years because Jefferson went one spot later at No. 22 to the Minnesota Vikings where he asked to replace a star in Stefon Diggs but also have the luxury of playing opposite of Adam Thielen, one of the NFL’s most technically-efficient receivers.
Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl explained Philadelphia’s decision on a video conference call after the selection Thursday night.
“The one thing I think that stood out about Jalen was his ability - the outside speed, his vertical threat, his ability to go up, play above the rim, and catch the football,” Weidl said. “His 40-plus vertical inch, that transferred to the field. And you can see his speed. You can see it on tape running by people, downfield, going up and making adjustment catches. Then on the return, as a punt returner you can see it, too.
“So a lot of talented players, believe me. This is what really stood out about Jalen was that vertical threat, his ability to go up and [get the ball] and make big plays.”
The stopwatch in Indianapolis read 4.43 for Jefferson, though, and 4.47 for Reagor.
Reagor himself explained his lower than expected 40-time from the combine.
“I was heavy at the Combine; I picked up weight. I dropped weight and I ran 4.2,” the Texas native said. “So all I have to say, man, like coaches tell me, like tape doesn't lie. So I mean, whether it's a 4.47, 4.28, whatever it was, I'm ready to play fast; I'm ready to make plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.”
In a virtual year with few pro days and even less top-30 visits the Eagles leaned on that tape.
“I think that you see the separation on tape,” said general manager Howie Roseman. “You see the vertical separation as an outside receiver, and those things are hard to find. When you look at guys who can just separate as an outside vertical receiver, there are not a lot of those guys.
“Those guys are hard to find and they're hard to find in this league. You see it, that it really fits our quarterback skillset. Our quarterback likes to throw the ball down the field and make vertical throws.”
The marriage to what Wentz needs is what was always the end game here and really the genesis of the need vs. best-player-available mindset.
And the crux of that decision came long before Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
According to a source close to the Eagles, Philadelphia was intent on adding a young receiver to grow with Wentz, one who hasn’t been exposed to outside stimuli, be it different schemes or other quarterbacks.
That sentiment kept Roseman out of free agency at the position, essentially pigeonholing him to the WR position in the first round.
The Eagles tried to move up, perhaps for Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, who slipped to Dallas at No. 17 overall or Alabama's Henry Ruggs III, the 4.27 speedster who was the first receiver off the board to Las Vegas at 12.
It takes two to tango, however.
“We were very aggressive in working the phones and having these conversations with teams and trying to figure out where we can move and when we can move,” said Roseman. “It just has to work for both sides obviously, but we are also very comfortable sitting here and taking a player that has a great skill set for what we're looking for.”
Ultimately, need was the winner for Philadelphia in 2020. Eagles fans now have to hope its reputation is better than advertised.
John McMullen covers the Eagles for SI.com and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every day on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, Every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio, and every weekday on ESPN 97.3 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen