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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Tight end

Training camp opens in about four weeks and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming couple of weeks, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Tight ends

Additions: None
Departures: Niles Paul (UFA to Jacksonville)

Starter:  Jordan Reed
Other roster locks: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle
On the bubble: None

How the tight ends compare

To the rest of the NFL: Reed is one of the best tight ends in the NFL if . . . You have heard it plenty. Reed's speed and athleticism are unique gifts that few can match. Having Reed available is doubly important because Davis is generally more effective working as a second tight end with Reed also on the field than he does as the lone TE. If Reed is on the field and at full speed for 12 or 14 games the Redskins have one of the better tight end situations in the league. If not, they are well below average.

To the 2017 Redskins: They will miss Niles Paul more for his ability to line up at fullback and play special teams than for his contributions as a receiver (13 receptions for 94 yards). Still, the unit could be vastly improved from last year if Reed plays at least three-quarters of the games (sorry to keep repeating myself) and if Vernon Davis can keep on outrunning Father Time for another season.

 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: Sprinkle played in 11 games last year as a rookie and he caught just two passes, one for a touchdown against the Saints. He has nowhere to go but up in terms of production. While he will be counted on mostly as a blocker, a skill he needs to improve, he also needs to be more of a receiving threat. If Sprinkle gets better clearing room for runners and can match Paul’s production and maybe add a few more touchdowns from the red zone, he will be a solid asset.

Most to prove: We’re back to Reed. This year is very important to him personally. In 2019 he will be in the third year of the five-year contract extension he signed in 2016. The guaranteed money will have been paid and the Redskins would save over $6.1 million in cap money if they move on from him. If he suffers through another season like he had in 2017 they might not have any choice but to let him go. Such a move would cost Reed nearly $25 million in uncollected salary.

Rookie watch: The Redskins didn’t draft a tight end and there probably isn’t room for a fourth TE on the 53-man roster. Still, a spot on the practice squad could be important, a potential call-up if Reed struggles to stay on the field. Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Garrett Hudson out of Richmond. Every time you looked up during OTAs he was making a nice catch.

Bottom line: Alex Smith has demonstrated that tight ends can thrive while he is behind center. Travis Kelce and a younger Vernon Davis demonstrated that in Kansas City and San Francisco, respectively. Reed could be a candidate for All-Pro honors at the end of the year or he could be a candidate for the waiver wire. With a stronger defense, the Redskins might be able to get by if Reed misses a lot of time but things would be a whole lot easier if Reed is a factor.  

Quote-unquote

Jay Gruden on Reed’s condition:

He’s been working hard with the trainers now . . . His attendance has been excellent. His rehab schedule is on track to being ready, and I like where he’s at. His upper body strength is great. I think he’s on track to be there for training camp. We’ll wait and see.

2018 position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler.