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Potential, production and potential release: Making sense of the Jordan Reed era in Washington

Potential, production and potential release: Making sense of the Jordan Reed era in Washington

The last time the Redskins played good football with a dynamic offense, Jordan Reed dominated. 

In December 2015 Reed posted absurd numbers: 30 catches for 411 yards and five touchdowns. In one month. The Redskins closed that season on a four-game win streak to capture the NFC East title, and Washington has not made the postseason since that run. 

That year showed the greatness of Jordan Reed, and it looked like that was just scratching the surface. Arguably the best part of Reed's 2015 season was that he remained largely healthy, playing in 14 games and starting nine. 

Unfortunately, Reed has never had another 14-game season, and hasn't come close to his 2015 totals of 87 catches, 11 TDs and nearly 1,000 yards receiving. 

For all the promise and potential, and the one season of elite production, Reed hasn't been able to stay on the field. Injuries have likely robbed him of a possibly legendary career. He has good size, great athleticism and at times was the best route-running tight end in the NFL. He also dealt with multiple head injuries, feet and toe problems not to mention separated shoulders and hurt ankles. 

It's all too obvious the Redskins will move on from Reed this season after he was forced to miss all of 2019. He sustained a concussion last August in the preseason, his seventh documented concussion since his college days at the University of Florida. Redskins head coach Ron Rivera told reporters in Charlotte that Reed has still not been cleared from the NFL Concussion Protocol. 

Washington can save $8.5 million against the salary cap if they release Reed, who is in the final year of a five-year, $46 million contract extension he signed in 2015. Releasing Reed won't be as simple as the moves to drop Josh Norman and Paul Richardson last week, however, because of Reed's injury status. 

Regardless how it happens, even with an injury settlement, it's going to happen. And Redskins fans will be left wondering what if Reed could have stayed healthy. 

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Jordan Reed to miss Redskins’ Week 1 matchup with concussion

Jordan Reed to miss Redskins’ Week 1 matchup with concussion

The Redskins will open the season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday without starting tight end Jordan Reed, according to NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal brought Reed down with a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked his lid to the turf during the teams’ third preseason game. Neal was fined $28,075 for the play, which landed Reed in concussion protocol.

Reed missed a week of practice, but the Redskins were optimistic that he’d be ready to play by the start of the regular season after he returned in a limited capacity this week. However, it appears he’ll need at least another week to get the team doctors’ approval.

J.P. Holtz was promoted from the practice squad to slot alongside Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle on the team’s depth chart at tight end. Wide receiver Robert Davis was released in a corresponding move.

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The one stat that tells the story of Jordan Reed's disappointing 2018 season

The one stat that tells the story of Jordan Reed's disappointing 2018 season

There are plenty of numbers that, on their own, would make you think that Jordan Reed had a strong 2018 season.

For example, Reed suited up for 13 of 16 Redskins' games this season, tying a career-high for his most action as a pro. That is a terrific sign for a guy who's been labeled as injury-prone the bulk of his career.

The tight end hauled in 54 catches in those appearances, meanwhile. That put him at a solid average of more than four per contest, was good enough to lead all 'Skins pass catchers by 10 grabs and tied him for No. 10 in the league at his position. 

And finally, he posted 10.3 yards-per-catch, which is right in line with what he's done throughout his six years in Washington.

So, after looking at all of that, why does it still feel like No. 86 came up well short of expectations for the Burgundy and Gold?

Well, there's another number that explains why.

Before 2018, Reed's worst catch percentage was 74.2-percent, which came in 2016. Overall, 76.2-percent of his targets ended up as receptions from 2013-2017. 

In 2018, however, he caught just 64.3-percent of throws that went his way, by far his worst ever output.

Certainly, it's a stat that lends credence to the thought that Alex Smith and Reed just couldn't find a rhythm between each other before Smith went down with his broken leg. In fact, Reed's catch rate equaled or topped 75-percent just twice in his 10 games when paired with Smith (Weeks 1 and 2, weirdly enough).

By comparison, he made it to that mark in each of the two matchups after Smith's injury before he himself suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14.

Now, there are essentially two ways to process all of this information.

The first, and significantly more positive, way is to point to Reed's lack of work at training camp and lack of connection with Smith and conclude that the entire campaign was one, big aberration. He should be a full-go in upcoming offseason work and training camp, which should help him return to his usual catch percentage.

"Guys who miss those opportunities to get better and stronger sometimes struggle throughout the course of the year, but having that will be beneficial to him," Gruden said of Reed in December when the Redskins placed him on I.R.

The other, and far darker, way is to believe that the constant lower-body issues that have plagued the 28-year-old are starting to catch up to him and beginning to sap him of his innate ability to get open. Could this be who Reed will become as he gets older and should the franchise move on before he gets worse?

Gruden, for one, doesn't believe so.

"He is a difference maker on offense," the head coach explained at his wrap-up presser following Week 17. "Tight ends that can win in zone and man coverage are hard to find... He is a dynamic player, a great athlete, works extremely hard, a great kid, never late and he's a big part of the success of this football team moving forward in my opinion."

When he's fully right, Reed really is a difference maker like Gruden said, and the Redskins don't boast many of those on their roster. Therefore, hoping that 2018 was an anomaly and keeping him around for 2019 is probably the way to go.

With that being said, it's fair to be concerned about the steep drop in such a key statistical area for a receiver. As Gruden detailed, tight ends that get open against all types of coverage are very difficult to acquire, but does Reed still qualify as one of those players?

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