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What's Wrong with Jordan Reed?

Rule 86: If Jordan Reed is in Washington's lineup, he should be in yours.

This was the rule to live by when it came to Jordan Reed throughout his career. One of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers, Reed struggled to stay on the field but shined when he was on it. Reed led all tight ends in PPR points per game in both 2015 and 2016. Fantasy owners could only dream of what a full season of healthy Jordan Reed would like.

Sometimes dreams are better left as dreams. Reed has played in every game this season. He currently ranks 13th overall among tight ends in PPR scoring and 18th in points per game. It's been a dreadful year for the tight end position and yet a healthy Jordan Reed can't even sniff the top 10. What's wrong?

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Reed-ing Between the Lines

Washington's offense is in a much different place than it was during Reed's peak. The most notable departures are quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Here's how Cousins and Reed's numbers in 2015 compare to Smith and Reed's this year through eight games:

2015 Cousins through eight games: 206 for 309, 1,954 yards, 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions. Reed: six games, 54 targets, 38 receptions, 368 yards, four touchdowns. 

2018 Smith: 174 for 274, 1,867 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions. Reed: eight games, 53 targets, 33 receptions, 340 yards, one touchdown. 

Two things stand out here: the passing numbers from the two quarterbacks are surprisingly similar, and  Reed is no longer being used in the red zone like he used to be. Reed scored 10 of his 11 touchdowns in the red zone in 2015, including the four he scored in his first six games. Reed was seventh in red zone targets in the entire league that season and finished third in red zone touchdowns.

Reed has seen just three red zone targets through eight games this season. He's seen just one since the first game of the season. Washington simply isn't throwing the ball in the red zone much. Alex Smith ranks 27th in red zone passing attempts, while Adrain Peterson has the fifth-most red zone carries in the league. In 2015, Cousins was fifth in the NFL in red zone passing attempts.

Another thing that has been hurting Reed's touchdown numbers is the fact that Washington isn't scoring that much. The team ranks 25th overall in points per game, compared to 10th back in 2015. Kirk Cousins was having a career year during Reed's career year, whereas Alex Smith has played like Alex Smith this season. The offense is a far cry from Sean McVay's dynamic 2015 squad.

The re-emergence of Vernon Davis also hasn't benefited Reed. While Reed has out-snapped Davis in every game this year, there's no denying that another tight end producing is a bad thing for Reed's numbers. Davis has 232 yards and a touchdown on the year. It's just another thing Reed will have to overcome to get back on track.


Hope on the Horizon?

There's no need to abide by Rule 86 anymore. Reed is in no way a must-start anymore. Still, do you know who's leading Washington in receiving? Jordan Reed!

Washington's receiving core is a mess right now. Paul Richardson is on the IR. Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson have been dealing with nagging injuries. Richardson is the team's leader in receiving touchdowns with two. Even if injuries have affected Reed's playmaking ability a bit, he's still the best healthy receiver Washington has by a wide margin.

Reed is on pace for 66 catches and 680 yards. If he can find the end zone a bit more, those are decent numbers for a tight end in 2018. The only issue is that there's no guarantee that will happen. Smith isn't feeding Reed like he fed Travis Kelce last season. The duo has not been able to develop a solid connection. Reed's catch percentage is a career-worst 62.3%, roughly 12% worse than his previous career low.

It's hard to draw up much hope from what we've seen this year, but Reed is theoretically Washington's WR1 and has a plus matchup against Tampa Bay this week. The Buccaneers have given up a touchdown to a tight end in five of their last six games. They've let a tight end surpass 70 receiving yards in five of their last seven games. This is a golden opportunity for Reed to have a return-to-form performance.

Reed is absolutely worth holding due to his talent, the lack of competent pass-catchers around him, and the fact that the tight end waiver wire is a wasteland. I'm giving Reed one last chance against Tampa Bay this week. He can't afford to bust in this game. If he does, you could genuinely talk yourself into dropping a healthy Jordan Reed for Jeff Heuerman. Can you imagine hearing that statement in August?

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