You don't see many fifth-round rookie wideouts with real expectations, but Tajae Sharpe is one. Tennessee's poor history of developing wideouts has led to a rare opportunity that Sharpe can seize this season.
02 Jun 2014
by Rivers McCown
A year after ranking sixth in pass offense DVOA, the 2013 Change This Names cratered. They fell all the way down to 26th. Robert Griffin didn't look like the same quarterback, and often was throwing off his back foot. The timing of last year's offensive system was off-kilter. Santana Moss didn't age well. Neither Leonard Hankerson nor Aldrick Robinson impressed. Formerly franchise-tag-worthy tight end Fred Davis was a complete zero.
But there was one bright spot.
Third-round pick Jordan Reed proved to be quite versatile in the midst of the early-season blowouts Washington suffered. Scouts and draftniks compared his natural ability coming out of Florida to Aaron Hernandez. (On the field. On the field.)
But before Washington was able to use him to the full extent of his talents, concussion problems put Reed on the shelf. He left Week 11's game against the Eagles and didn't return for the rest of the season. He had also missed a few games early in the season due to a quadriceps injury.
This leaves us with little actual body of work to play with. Reed had only 60 targets, yet finished 10th in DYAR among tight ends. (He was ninth in DVOA, or value per play.) The considered view of his All-22 tape leaves us with a specialized player who was most effective in certain situations -- but also one with special talents that we can't ignore.
I looked at where Reed lined up before each snap, and then gave an educated guess on whether he was facing man or zone coverage. This can be hard to tell at times, and I still don't think my eye for film matches up with the best in the industry, but I did my best. I don't come into this looking to make sweeping conclusions based on the data we use. In fact, I don't come into this column looking to have a final say on anything.
The target totals listed below don't quite match the total listed on our tight end stats page. This is because we did not consider certain plays, including:
Here are my observations:
"Behind the line of scrimmage" includes passes that traveled less than one yard. "Short" indicates passes that traveled between 1-15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. "Deep" indicates passes that traveled 16 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Red numbers show a Success Rate of 50 percent or higher. Black numbers show a Success Rate between 40-49 percent, and blue numbers show a Success Rate of 39 percent or lower.
1. The bully
The key word is "mismatch."
Most of Reed's targets came in the short middle area of the field. They were usually slants or curls. The problem defenses had with Reed was that he was too big for most slot corners and too fast for most linebackers. The size-speed combination was especially helpful for Robert Griffin, who targeted most balls at Reed to the edge of his catch radius. Reed had a knack for the impressive catch.
My gut feeling is that this production is sustainable, though he might lose some regression production in more snaps. The Shanaclan used Reed in a variety of formations and he was often moving before the snap. In theory, there's no reason why concussion problems should limit his physical skill set.
The Bengals flexed Tyler Eifert or Jermaine Gresham off the line on 176 snaps last season, per the FO game charting project. We listed them as wideouts on another 76 snaps. Jay Gruden should have enough creativity to spot Reed against players he can bully. Washington didn't show much of Reed outside last season, but when they did, it was near the goal line. He's a high-ceiling goal-line target.
"Slot" plays include all plays in which a receiver was inside of another receiver, regardless of how tight to the line he was. (For tight ends, if they are lined up at the LOS, they are counted as inline.) Some plays in the charting project include two or three "slot receivers" by this definition.
2. Screens for me, screens for you
Another thing that stood out about Reed, albeit in a small sample size, was his work in the screen game. It's a pretty big statement in favor of your tight end's athleticism when you're willing to design screens for him in the first place.
But Reed did well with his four screens, gaining 10 yards after the catch on all but one of them. (On that fourth one, a blown block led to Reed getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.) He has the gift of vision, and understands how to position his body to avoid contact on most of those plays.
As I noted during my look at Pierre Garcon, Washington dealt with a stacked line of scrimmage with regularity. This made the screen game harder and, thus, made Reed's numbers impressive. The Shanaclan ran 27 screens that did not target Garcon or Reed. By success rate, six of those were successful.
Jay Gruden's offense in Cincinnati ran 66 screens last season, at a 45 percent success rate. The Shanaclan led Washington to a 38 percent success rate on 58 screens. With more snaps, Reed could be a threat to snag 10-to-12 screens next season.
Obviously we don't have the actual play calls. These charts are educated guesses and should not be considered gospel.
3. Attacking the seam
So, what to make of the discrepancy between short and deep passes for Reed? (Of the seam routes I listed him with, a few of them involved him turning his head once he realized no defender was covering him.)
Again, I head back to the Garcon analysis and note that the deep pass was absent from Washington's game plan last season. Between Griffin's leg and an offensive line that was not made for pass blocking, this was an issue the Shanaclan couldn't combat all season.
But I do think it's notable that Reed was able to layer his moves when necessary. Seven of his 60 targets involved a double move of some kind. A few successful deep targets involved him losing a defender with technical skill. I haven't seen so much successful manipulation with those traits since I looked at T.Y. Hilton.
If Reed can combine what we already know he can do on short routes with his ability to slip a few defensive backs deep, he could become one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL. He doesn't quite have the physical traits of a Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis. But Reed does have the integrated technique to produce a similar outcome.
4. No more fog
I came away from studying Reed with a strong suspicion that he'll be an impact player next season. The only blemish he had in my eyes was a tendency to flub some rather easy catches.
The question is how his head will react. Concussions that keep a player out for as long as Reed was sat down are not easy to dismiss. Sure, it was at the end of a season where Washington was going nowhere, but I must admit I am still worried about his long-term health.
For this reason, I feel like Reed's going to be one of the riskiest fantasy football picks in the league next season. He could win you a league or start two games and never play again.
Players with Reed's combination of short-area quickness and integrated technique aren't easy to find. Washington has a building block here if they can keep Reed on the field.