RICHMOND — As he watched Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed tear through secondaries en route to a career year last season, Trent Williams sensed that his friend had something special fueling him.
Reed, who had always flashed loads of potential during his first two seasons in the NFL, had financial incentive. He wanted to finally avoid serious injury and stay healthy long enough and play well enough in 2015 to earn a contract extension during the offseason.
But Williams had seen plenty of financially motivated guys before. This was something different.
“He was so intense, man, I never felt like it was about the money for him,” Williams said. “I always felt like he wanted to leave his legacy on this game. I’m real close friends with him, so I see the fire in his eyes every day.”
Reed impressed, recording 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns . Last spring, he earned a five-year, $46.75 million deal , which made him the third-highest-paid tight end in the league behind Seattle’s Jimmy Graham and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
Although the pay day proved gratifying, the tight end confirmed Williams’s suspicions of a stronger driving force throughout his 2015 season. Actually, there are two, Reed said.
“One thing that I always think about is my last name on my back, representing my family,” he said. “And, I’m a very competitive person. I always want to be the best at whatever I do. That’s what drives me.”
Because of those two factors, Reed hasn’t felt a true sense of satisfaction while reflecting on last season nor his offseason pay day.
He still wants to meet the expectations of his family members. He still feels the lingering presence of his grandfather and grandmother.
“It’s just a love for my family and the pride that we all have,” Reed explained. “My grandfather was a great man, my grandmother a great woman. I think about those people when I go out and play, and I carry them with me. I try to make them proud and make my family proud. It doesn’t put pressure on me at all. They’re gone. I ask for them to be with me, and when I do that, I feel more comfortable, like there are angels with me or something like that.”
For some, just reaching the NFL would be rewarding enough. But the Reed family already has witnessed one of their sons make it. Reed’s older brother, David, enjoyed a record-setting career as a wide receiver at Utah and then reached the NFL as a fifth-round pick by Baltimore in 2010. Primarily a special teams player, David Reed (three years older than Jordan) played three seasons for the Ravens and one for Indianapolis and was a member of Baltimore’s Super Bowl-winning team in 2012.
“He always helps me out,” Reed said. “He’s my big brother so I look up to him in a lot of ways. We both know how hard it is to be successful in this league.”
Avoiding complacency is one of the biggest keys to achieving success in the NFL. After a season like last, Reed feels like he has a target on his back. He expects more attention from defenses than he already commanded. In an effort to continue growing, Reed keeps his sights on players such as Graham and New England’s Rob Gronkowski and tries to implement their strengths into his game.
“Seeing guys like Gronkowski and the things he’s been able to do makes me believe I can do those kinds of things, too,” Reed said. “That’s the mind-set that I take: ‘If someone else can, why can’t I, too?’”
Reed also spent the offseason working to become stronger and more explosive. He also continued to glean knowledge from position coach Wes Phillips and veteran teammates Vernon Davis, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul in an attempt to improve his blocking techniques. Reed’s teammates and coaches have already started to notice a difference.
“I think he’s stronger. He was a puppy when he came in here physically; now he’s filling out and he’s a bigger guy,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s playing with a ton of confidence. Now he’s been in the same system with the same route tree. We can move him around and do a lot of different things with him. He’s a smart player. He can see coverages, he can work off leverage of the defenders, he’s got big strong hands and he’s excellent after the catch. Really, the sky is the limit for Jordan.”
Reed continues to strive for perfection, however, and says he can still improve every aspect of his game.
Thanks to that drive, teammates believe Reed can have a greater impact this year than he did last year.
“I can’t wait to watch him play this year,” inside linebacker Will Compton said. “Jordan is really one of the best receivers in the whole league, in my opinion. I mean, the dude, his routes, his stems and stunners, he’s very polished when it comes to running routes, and he’s really athletic. . . . God willing, he stays healthy a full year, and he’s really going to emerge as the best tight end in the NFL.”