Home / Sports / The Redskins’ offense has one true playmaker: Jordan Reed. They need to use him.

The Redskins’ offense has one true playmaker: Jordan Reed. They need to use him.

The pass wasn’t that far behind him, and maybe he could have secured it with two hands and come down just fine, all blasé and businesslike. But for Jordan Reed, why? Stick out that massive right mitt, and reel in the ball from Alex Smith not with efficiency, but with flair.

“It’s almost like catching a tennis ball for him,” running back Chris Thompson said. “Things like that really get guys hyped up. And I think for him, he can do that whenever he feels like it. Sometimes he just decides, ‘All right. I’m going to do it this play,’ and it really gets guys going. It’s amazing.”

Think of everything that’s in Thompson’s assessment of Reed, the Washington Redskins’ sixth-year tight end. In an offense characterized by vanilla, Reed is the chocolate sauce and the sprinkles. Whenever he wants the cherry, he tops it off, too. No other Redskin offensive player can say those things. When considering Reed’s one-handed, first-quarter grab in last Sunday’s narrow victory over Carolina, wide receiver Brian Quick is honest: “Man, I couldn’t do that.”

Which is the point. It says here that Reed is Washington’s most important offensive player, because he can do things the rest of his teammates can’t. They are dull. He is dynamic. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Reed isn’t a behemoth — like, say, New England’s Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) or Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (6-5, 260). But a combination of athletic gifts — think snaring footballs as if they’re tennis balls — and subtly precise preparation puts Reed in position to do things other Washington players, all by themselves, simply can’t: change games.

“He’s a difference-making player for them,” Dallas Coach Jason Garrett said.

“I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think I’ve seen a type like him,” Quick said.

“Our whole passing game runs through him,” Thompson said.

Exciting stuff, right? Now, the painful part: This is only true because Reed is playing.

“I love being out there,” he said following the Carolina game.

Sunday’s home date with the Cowboys will be Washington’s sixth game — and Reed’s sixth appearance — of 2018. Not since his rookie year of 2013 has he played in the first six games of the season. His career has been defined by two qualities: plays such as the eye-popper against the Panthers, and injuries. Reed played a total of six games in 2017. Just twice in his career has he played as many as six consecutive games without sitting out with an injury.

“When he’s healthy,” Thompson said, “I think he’s the best tight end in the league. Nobody can guard him.”

Except nobody needs to guard him in the training room. So put Reed to the side of the conversation about the league’s best tight end, because Kelce has missed one game in five seasons, and even the oft-injured Gronkowski has missed two or fewer games in four of the past five seasons. It might not seem fair, but durability and reliability are part of the evaluation. To this point, Reed has neither.

But what if he did? What if the injuries are over, flukes from the past? Washington would have the only offensive player on its roster who doesn’t require a play to be executed to perfection to have it be productive.

Running back Adrian Peterson, the 33-year-old salvaged from the junkyard, has been a savior for Washington’s offense, but he still ranks just 13th in the league in rushing yards per game. No Washington wideout ranks in the top 80 in the NFL in receiving yards per game. Thompson’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield, but it’s not like opposing defenses game-plan around him.

They notice Reed.

“You see how productive and dangerous he can be,” Garrett said. “It’s all over the tape.”

So, coaches, keep putting it on the tape. Reed became an afterthought in Washington’s most recent loss, a Monday night blowout in New Orleans during which Smith looked his way just twice. Note to Gruden and his staff: That can’t happen. If Reed’s on the field, he has to be used. Don’t just look at Reed’s one-handed grabs as proof. Look at statistical evidence.

Pro Football Focus uses a metric, yards per route run, to rank pass-catchers’ efficiency. It answers the simple question: When a player is on the field and goes out to potentially catch a pass, how many yards does his team gain on average? Wideouts typically will lead this category, because if, say, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown reels in a 50-yard bomb, he can run nine more routes without gaining a yard and still have a respectable yards per route run of 2.0.

Reed’s rankings among tight ends in yards per route run, when he has played at least 11 games: fourth in 2016 (1.97), first in 2015 (2.45) and third in 2014 (1.89), according to Pro Football Focus. But look more closely at what’s possible here. In 2015, when Reed played a career-high 14 games and caught a career-high 87 passes, including 11 touchdowns, he ranked third among all pass catchers in yards per route run. He trailed only Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Brown and ranked just ahead of the Giants’ Odell Beckham and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, some of the best wideouts in the game.

Is it a coincidence that’s the year then-quarterback Kirk Cousins led the league in completion percentage? More than that: Is it a coincidence that’s the year Gruden’s team won the NFC East (albeit at a flimsy 9-7)? The two games Reed missed were two Washington losses.

“Man, I don’t care if I’m targeted two times and have one catch,” Reed said. “As long as we win.”

Except Washington won’t win, not consistently anyway, without involving Reed constantly. Since 2015, Gruden’s team has 17 wins when Reed catches at least four passes, just three when he doesn’t.

“When he’s on the field,” Thompson said, “he opens up everything.”

He also has opened up Thompson’s mind about how to go about his job. Reed and Thompson came from the same 2013 draft class from rival college programs, Reed from Florida and Thompson from Florida State. Thompson occasionally would find himself running a route Reed ran regularly – a “choice” route in which the receiver can break inside or outside depending on how a defender played him.

“If he’s playing man-to-man,” Thompson said, “somehow Jordan finds a way to beat inside every single time.”

Thompson wondered why. Reed’s size? His feet, which are even quicker than Thompson’s? He had to look deeper.

“I used to stare at the defender’s eyes the whole time,” Thompson said. “But when I was looking at film, I noticed Jordan is really focused on the chest. Every time, he’s just looking here,” Thompson pointed to my solar plexis, “not really looking at him. One little head fake and — boom — he’s inside.”

Put all of that together, and Smith, the new quarterback, has what should be, unquestionably, his favorite target. The one-handed grab from Sunday? “That gets banked, absolutely,” Smith said. His point: when Smith knows No. 86 is the target, he knows he can fire a ball quickly and with confidence that it’s going to be caught, and it could be caught regardless of where it’s delivered.

“When you have a guy like that that’s proven he can make those kind of plays, have that kind of trust,” Smith said, “you turn those balls loose more often than not.”

Jordan Reed will play in his sixth straight game Sunday. Who knows how many more games he’ll be out there? The message to Washington: Turn him loose more often than not.

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