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Don't Stop Believing in Jordan Reed


Trying to find value is important in any fantasy draft, but there are some positions where it is more important than others. Tight end is one of those positions where finding a sleeper can be the biggest differentiator. At a position which has so much middle-of-the-road performance, plucking a top option out of nowhere can put you over the top to win the league.

In 2015, Jordan Reed was fantasy’s third-best TE, putting up numbers that were comparable to Rob Gronkowski’s prime. However, injuries and mediocre offensive production have handicapped his performance and his fantasy value. There’s room to believe, though, that in this upcoming 2019 season, Reed could return to form and be one of the draft’s biggest sleepers.

Let's take a look at the potential upside and downside of drafting Reed, and why he could be a league winner for you if he can put it all together.

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Upside

At a glance, Jordan Reed’s 2018 season looks mediocre; he caught 54 passes for 558 yards, averaging about 43 yards per game and 9.2 PPR fantasy points per game. However, there’s more to Reed in 2019 than those stats suggest.

Volume

First, Reed hogs targets. In 2018, across all tight ends, he had the fourth-highest target share (20.1%). If you adjust per snap or the chance he’d be targeted on any given play, Reed rises to second place (16.7% chance). This isn’t an anomaly. Throughout his career, he’s consistently registered a top-five target share when compared to his peers. In seasons where Reed has played at least 10 games, he’s maintained above a 17% target share. Take last season, for example. Despite only playing 12 full games, Reed led the Redskins with 84 targets. His 6.9 targets per game in those contests put him on a 16-game pace of 111, which would have ranked fourth among TEs in 2018. 

Furthermore, there isn’t any competition for targets amongst receivers. Jamison Crowder is now in New York, and Ryan Grant is in Oakland. Paul Richardson, Jr. is back for another year, but concerns about injuries kept him from finishing last season. Even when healthy, he saw fewer targets per game than Reed and had an abysmal 20 receptions for 262 yards across 7 games. His counterpart, Josh Doctson, while much healthier, has continuously failed to breakout over the last few seasons. Over the course of 15 injury-free games (three more than Reed), he had fewer receptions (44), fewer receiving yards (532) and fewer PPR fantasy points per game (7.3). The only other competition is the former Mr. Irrelevant, Trey Quinn, but as a sophomore who hasn’t fully adjusted to Jay Gruden’s system (mainly due to injuries), he’ll need time to get up to speed. For the upcoming year, it is safe to assume that Reed’s volume will not be of concern.

Scheme

But why the high usage rate? Washington, specifically Jay Gruden, loves designing plays for him in third-down situations. Not only is he able to generate the sixth-highest separation (1.74 yds/play), Reed has one of the surest hands in the league. While his catch rate of 64.3% appears horrible on paper, it’s best to put context to these numbers; for a majority of last season’s games, he had Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Johnson at QB.

Additionally, only 70.2% of his targets were catchable, the 35th lowest rate amongst other TEs. If you take the 59 passes that were catchable, his reception rate skyrockets to 91.5% (5th). So not only will Reed generate space from his primary defender, but if the QB can throw a ball within his range, over nine times out of ten Reed will corral it in. Thus, he is an effective threat in must-convert situations.

It’s not just third-down usage. New offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell, hopes to implement pass plays on 1st and 2nd down to keep defenses on their toes, while also increasing short-to-mid yardage passing to boost the Redskins’ pace of play. For Reed, that’s great news; in regards to the former, more passing indicates more volume, while for the latter, his average target distance is about 6.9 yards, making him the perfect mid-range threat. These facts, combined with his high catchable target rate and incredible volume, should allow him to be a starting-caliber fantasy TE.

 

Downside

Of course, while there is a significant upside to drafting Jordan Reed, there’s also considerable risk. Bear in mind these concerns when selecting him.

Injury History

Jordan Reed’s list of injuries is probably one of the longest in the NFL. From a fractured toe that kept him out of the last three games of 2018, to multiple hamstring sprains, to repeated concussions, to an MCL sprain, to a shoulder separation, it’s clear that Reed has been hurt a lot. In fact, he’s missed 17 games in the last three years alone. During last week’s preseason game, he suffered his seventh career concussion, partly in thanks to a late hit by Keanu Neal.

Before the concussion, there was still hope that this upcoming year could be injury-free. Reports out of training camp indicated that this was the first time in over five years where Reed entered the preseason without any lingering issues. Jay Gruden had expressed confidence that Reed would be active and healthy for the Redskins’ Week 1 contest against the Eagles. However, as the recent concussion shows, if you’re drafting Reed, you should pick another, injury-free TE on your roster because It’s a safe bet to assume that Reed will miss at least two to three games in any given season.

Touchdowns

Remember when I noted that Gruden loves to scheme for Reed? Apparently, in 2018, that same love did not carry over when deep into an opponent’s territory. Across the first 10 weeks of last season, the Redskins ran 71 plays in the red-zone. Reed was only targeted once and over the year, finished with only three catches within those 20 yards.

There is a great likelihood that this could be a fluke. He still finished second on the team in red-zone target share at 16.3%; that percentage rises to 26.3% inside the 10. However, more of than not, within the 20, Gruden has consistently turned towards the run game, with RBs accounting for 60% of the position player utilization. Reed, in comparison, only had a 9.3% usage rate in the red-zone.

Furthermore, he had two touchdowns across his 12 full games in 2019. The number may positively regress in 2019, but there is still a chance that it remains low. The Redskins offense is projected to be abysmal in the upcoming year, thanks to below-average QBs at the helm (Case Keenum was mediocre at best in Denver, while Dwayne Haskins is a rookie), and a severely weakened offensive line (Trent Williams continues to holdout). As a result, even moving the ball down-the-field, let alone into the red zone, will be difficult for an offense that last season, finished in the bottom quarter of NFL teams in total yards per game. For Reed, that means his value dips in standard leagues because it is unlikely that he will score touchdowns in an offense that will most likely be ineffective.

 

Conclusion

Currently, Jordan Reed’s ADP across formats is a TE16. Following the concussion, it could drop him to possibly being undrafted. For someone who will be force-fed targets when healthy, he is a great value-pick near the end of most drafts.  If he recovers successfully from the concussion, he should be a lock for about 8-9 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, and if he returns to his 2015 form, Reed could easily finish within the top-10, if not top-seven, amongst his peers.

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