The receiver who may be most important to the Washington Redskins wasn’t their leader last fall or a high-profile addition this offseason. But if all goes according to plan, pass-catching tight end Jordan Reed will play a vital role in Washington’s passing game for years to come.
The Redskins are counting on the second-year player to be among the NFL’s most productive at his position. In a solid rookie season cut short because of a concussion, Reed proved he possesses what it takes to become a difference maker.
The next step is for Reed to consistently stand out in Washington’s new-look passing game. New Coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who formerly coached the Redskins’ tight ends, will put Reed in position to succeed. Reed is confident he can do the rest.
“I just expect to be out there making plays,” Reed said last week.
During offseason practice, which resumes Tuesday in minicamp at Redskins Park, Reed already has shown newcomers to the coaching staff that he is “one of the more talented young tight ends in the league,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy that is very much needed.”
You don’t have to be a football coach to recognize Reed’s value to the Redskins — and especially to quarterback Robert Griffin III.
As a rookie, Reed played in just nine games, starting four. He sat out the final six games after suffering a concussion in a Week 11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the Redskins got just a snapshot of Reed’s ability, they saw more than enough to be excited about the future.
Only top wideout Pierre Garçon had more receptions and receiving yards than Reed, who caught 45 passes for 499 yards (an 11.1-yard average). With three touchdown receptions, Reed finished tied for second on the team.
His best performance occurred in a Week 7 victory over the Chicago Bears, when he had nine catches, 134 yards — the highest totals for a Redskins rookie tight end — and a touchdown. When receivers were covered on midrange and deep routes, Reed became Griffin’s primary target, often on short patterns in the middle of the field. The best tight ends provide a reliable “safety valve” for quarterbacks when plays break down. Against the Bears and other opponents, Reed earned Griffin’s trust.
At first glance, Reed’s size and speed — he’s listed at 6 feet 3, 236 pounds and covers the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds — would seem to be the keys to his success. Obviously, both have helped him break free from linebackers and defensive backs after the snap. Route-running, however, is what sets Reed apart from other tight ends.
The 2013 third-round draft pick, who turns 24 in July, changes direction so smoothly that it’s difficult to determine where he is headed until he finishes his route. It’s highly unusual for a young tight end to run routes better than many experienced wide receivers.
Reed’s combination of size, speed and route-running “makes him a matchup nightmare,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said recently. “If you can’t [anticipate] where he’s going, it’s harder to make a play on the ball. A lot of [linebackers and defensive backs] just don’t know what to do with a big guy like that.”
Redskins coaches do. McVay, who became close with Reed while tutoring him individually, knows the tight end was underutilized early last season. That probably won’t happen again.
The Redskins, however, still lack a big wideout capable of helping Griffin consistently move the chains on third-and-short plays. A polished pass-catching tight end could fill that role.
Reed also figures to benefit from Washington’s change in offensive philosophy. Gruden, previously the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, is known for utilizing screens, devising plays that get the ball to top playmakers quickly and giving the quarterback much more freedom to audible than Griffin had his first two seasons in the league.
In addition to Reed’s increased responsibility in the passing game, the Redskins expect him to significantly improve his run blocking, by far the weakest part of his game. The Redskins will look to Reed to do a lot, which is what he wants.
“It’s not pressure,” Reed said. “I just have to work hard, not think about anything negative and just think of everything positive.”
Eventually, Reed could move to the front of the line among all NFL tight ends. For the Redskins and their fans, the fun part will be watching him try to get there.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.