The Eagles candidates to return the balls, kicks after the trade of Galen Rigor

When the Eagles traded Galen Rigor on Wednesday, they not only got rid of their fifth receiver… they also got rid of their returning man.

Last season, Rigor was the Eagles’ top kick and kick return player, and all summer he was listed on top of the unofficial depth chart at both positions.

Now the Eagles have to figure out who will return the balls and kicks to them in 2022.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t see an upgrade. While Rigor was their primary return in 2021, he wasn’t very good. It ranked 17th in the NFL in average kick return (7.3) among players who qualify and 27th in the NFL for average kick return (21.3) among players who have had at least 10 attempts.

During the 16 drills in training camp, I tracked each player lining up as a return for the Eagles:

Lottery Returns: Rigor, Greg Ward, Britannia Coffee, Quiz Watkins, Lance Lenoir, Kenny Jenwell, Avonte Maddox, AJ Brown

Kick Returns: Jason Huntley, John Hightower, Kofi, Devon Allen, Zach Pascal, Lenoir, Watkins, Boston Scott

Among that group, Ward is on the IR, Lenoir and Hightower are no longer with the team, and Covey and Allen are on the coaching squad.

“Remember, the list isn’t just 53, is it?” Coach Nick Siriani said. “We have 70 men at our disposal. We feel we have good options.”

Let’s take a closer look at the internal candidates:

Britannia Coffee: While Covey is in the coaching squad, it would be very easy to bring him to the active roster and he is the most experienced comeback man in the group. Notably, Sirianni’s initial answer to the question about Punt Returner was to indicate that they view coaching squad players as an extension of the roster.

Sure, his experience is at the college level but Kofi was an electrician in Utah. In his college career, he averaged 11.9 yards per kick back with 4 touchdowns, and averaged 25.4 yards per kick with another pitch.

Really, kick back isn’t very common in the NFL today. The most important function is as a gambling returner. But Kofi did both at boot camp and it was clear he was the smoothest boat back in camp. I didn’t see him sway the ball once. In pre-season, he made four kicks (6.2) and four kicks (23.0). The only other two players to return this season are Rigor and Huntley.

Quiz Watkins: The Eagles’ hole-receiver got reps as kickback and return during training camp and at 4.35, it’s easy to understand why. Watkins tied for second with the team by eight kicks last season but averaged just 17.3 yards per comeback, worse than Rigor. Watkins returned kicks and kicks in southern Mississippi from 2017-19, averaging 9.4 yards per kick-back and 20.3 yards per kick-back; Take one bet home.

But even with the addition of AJ Brown, Watkins will be playing a big role in attack in 2022, so to think of him doing double duty on return may be an overkill.

Kenny Jenwell: I didn’t see the Eagles team running with the kick back in camp, but he put the kicks back in. During the junior season, Gainwell did not get a chance to return any shots but did return eight kickoffs for 137 yards (17.1). The Eagles really gave him a lot of reps as a boatman this summer, but Gainwell wasn’t as smooth as some of the other guys.

Boston Scott: Surprisingly, Scott didn’t get as many actors as a return this summer, as he got a little bit of work in the kick game. In his career, Scott served only six balls for 43 yards (7.2). He also returned 43 kickoffs for 928 yards (21.6). So it’s probably more of an option in the kick-back game.

Devon Allen: You would have thought the Olympian would be a threat in the second leg, but he made his mark on the special teams as a captain in pre-season. Allen never kicked back in college and the last time he kicked back in a game with Oregon was back in 2014. That year he returned with eight kicks averaging 26.1. He’s mixed up as a kickback this summer at times.

Avonte Maddox: While Maddox will occasionally get some cast as a practically asymptotic returner, he’s entering his fifth season in the NFL and hasn’t gotten any shots there. He brought back kicks and kicks some in college, but it might just be an emergency option if the Eagles need one.

Zach Pascal: He was once a good kick returner at Old Dominion and has returned 26 kicks in his NFL career (23.0). But he only returned once in each of the last two seasons and didn’t get many delegates back there this summer.

AJ Brown: Nah. Not worth it or not worth it.

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