Eagle Eye: Jordan Reed Is Breaking Out

Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports Images

Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports Images

The third-most prolific tight end in the National Football League isn’t a member of the old guard like Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham, nor a well-known up-and-comer like Zach Ertz or Tyler Eifert.

Instead, it’s Washington’s Jordan Reed who ranks third in the league in receiving yards by a tight end after three weeks, piling up 19 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown. He’s just three yards behind Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce for second place.

Reed is on pace for an astounding 101 catches, 1,285 yards and five touchdowns if he keeps up the frankly unsustainable pace with which he’s picking apart defenses.

While the eventual return of DeSean Jackson to Washington’s offense, among other things, won’t allow Reed to crack those numbers, the third-year tight end is showing that he indeed possesses the size and skills to be another in the long line of game-breaking tight ends taking the NFL by storm in recent years.

When Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans and Brandon Graham were all asked what they thought made Reed’s game so successful, they all had a similar reaction.

“He’s pretty much a receiver,” Graham said, laughing.

“That’s what he is, pretty much a glorified receiver at the tight end position,” Ryans affirmed later.

Reed, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs roughly 237 pounds, drew plenty of comparisons to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez coming out of college, including from senior NFL Films producer Greg Cosell, because of his size and skill set.

“He stands out, watching him on tape,” Ryans said. “He’s one of their top targets on the offensive side when they’re throwing the ball.”

Reed only caught eight passes for 55 yards in his first three career matchups with the Eagles, but his first two seasons in the league were hampered by injuries. This year, he seems to be healthy, and he’s been Kirk Cousins’ most dangerous weapon through the air.

When Cousins throws to Reed, he completes five percent more of his passes for 4.1 more yards per completion.

Let’s take a look at a few of the things he does really well.

1. Picking Up First Downs

Cousins likes to look for Reed when Washington needs a first down, especially on third downs. Fourteen of his 19 catches this year have gone for first downs, six of which came on third downs. But unlike Jason Witten’s patented button hook over the middle, Reed can pick up first downs in myriad ways.

“They move him all over,” Barwin said. “Obviously he’s a big target for Cousins. He does a nice job of using his body, he runs good routes, and he’s pretty fast, too, for a tight end.”

On this play, however, Reed effectively runs his own version of the Witten button hook route. The Giants play him with man defense, with a linebacker lining up over him on the line of scrimmage.

Reed is so big, fast, and quick with his swim move off the line that the linebacker is essentially playing catch-up for the entire play.

He runs the route with precision, gets the linebacker on his back hip when he turns and looks for the ball, then uses his speed to gain separation from his defender and pick up a few extra yards after getting the first down. Like Witten, Reed is good at using his frame to box out defenders.

2. Big Chunks of Yardage

Reed is close to impossible for a linebacker to defend in short-yardage situations, like the first example. But he’s also plenty elusive in the open field, and he’s able to make the same moves on cornerbacks or safeties. Ten of his 19 catches this year have picked up at least 10 yards, and five have gone for at least 20 yards.

“A lot of guys underestimate that he can move, and he’s pretty fast,” Graham said. “That’s what we talked about in our meeting rooms. We’ve got to make sure that when we get him, we cover him.

In this play, Reed displays that speed. First, Washington already bought Reed in motion to line up on the right side of the field. When Cousins snaps the ball, Reed runs across the line and out into the flat on the left side of the field, an unorthodox but extremely effective route.

He catches the ball in the flat and turns upfield, where he makes two separate cornerbacks miss  with quick, receiver-like moves near the sideline. When Reed is finally contacted by a third Miami defensive back, Reed turns his back and bowls him over for an extra yard, picking up a first down — and then some — for Washington.

3. A Big, Physical Player

Reed also uses his physicality to simply overpower defenders.

“That’s what a lot of teams are going to now, more athletic tight ends with more receiver-like bodies,” Graham said, “and they pose matchup problems for a lot of defenses.”

Here, Reed poses a serious problem for the Miami defenders trying to keep him in check on this 3rd & 6.

Reed lines up out left like a wide receiver and runs a quick hook route with his cornerback playing off the line of scrimmage. Reed catches the pass from Cousins about a yard or two short of the first-down marker, and is first contacted by his defenders with a couple of yards before the first down.

But Reed, being much larger and stronger than the corner, spins out of the grip and drags his defender with him for another yard, then spins out of another defender’s oncoming tackle, and eventually has enough strength to stretch for the extra yard he needed to pick up the first down.

It’s an impressive play by Reed, who is simply too strong and athletic for plenty of defenders in the league to handle him on their own.

Ryans and Graham both said the key to keeping him in check will be making sure they know exactly where he is on the field on each play, so his constant movement doesn’t give him size advantages like this one, which he can exploit and turn into big plays.