Should the Eagles use Olympic hurdler Devon Allen as a kick returner?

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The Eagles once drafted a former Olympic skier in Jeremy Bloom in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, hoping he could become an impact receiver and returner. The Eagles appear to be returning to the Olympic pit.

The Eagles announced on their website that they signed Devon Allen, a 6-foot, 198-pound wide receiver who played for the University of Oregon. Allen’s best season dates back to 2014 when he caught 41 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns. Allen was also known for his returning abilities, averaging 26.1 yards per kickoff return that season.

After suffering a knee injury in 2016, Allen decided to focus full-time on athletics, a decision that led to two Olympic appearances in hurdles, most recently at the Tokyo Games. Allen just missed out on a medal in the 110-meter hurdles, finishing in fourth place.

Allen competed in Oregon’s Pro Day last week and ran a 4.35, catching the Eagles’ attention and leading to his eventual signing.

Allen, 27, said on pro day that his practice could have been his last chance to play in the NFL.

“It’s now or never because I don’t want to get too old,” Allen said via the Eagles website. “I don’t want to be 30, 31 and then try to get into the NFL. I know the skill gap is still there between college and the NFL, but I think when I played in college and when I played at a pretty good level, I would consider myself talented enough to play in the NFL.

As a receiver, Allen could be used on throw sweeps and fast screens to get him out in space and running down the field behind a block. Allen’s speed and jumping ability make him an intriguing kick-off return prospect, as returners need those skills, especially when there’s a pile-up in midfield.

The kick return game is a good way to get a good position on the court for offense (when not resulting in a touchdown). However, the Eagles haven’t had much success in this special teams area over the past two seasons. In 2021, the Eagles averaged 18.5 yards per kickoff return, the fourth-lowest total in the league. In 2020, the Eagles are averaging 20.9 yards per return. In fact, the last time the Eagles returned a kickoff for a touchdown was in 2016 when Josh Huff took a 98-yard kickoff for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

The bigger question will be how quickly Allen can reacclimate to football. Allen will need to show he can translate that speed to the field and show the vision to find cracks in kickoff coverage and exploit them by accelerating through the holeshot to pick up more yards.

It’s also worth giving Allen a try, as it doesn’t involve using any of the 10 draft picks the team has later this month. If Allen’s experiment proves unsuccessful, they can waive him at the start of OTAs or training camp.

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Chris Franklin can be reached at [email protected].


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