Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed was very impressive as a rookie in 2013, finishing as the team's second-leading receiver. However, the dynamic "move-style" playmaker should be even better in new head coach Jay Gruden's offense.
Gruden's play-calling will give Reed more opportunities to attack defenses vertically. That will suit Reed's long frame, athletic range and wide receiver-type speed.
Designing ways to release tight ends vertically is something Gruden did well as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler has detailed how both Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert posed a deep threat last season:
Eifert and Gresham were targeted on passes of 20 yards or more a combined 13 times (Eifert 7, Gresham 6). Five of them were complete for 174 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, that’s some pretty good production out of 13 pass attempts. It would be surprising if Gruden did not utilize Reed on more deep patterns in 2014.
Let's take a look at how Gruden freed his tight ends vertically and how that might apply to Reed and the Washington passing game this season.
The first example features Eifert on a third-quarter scoring play against the Detroit Lions in Week 7. The play began with the Bengals in "22" personnel, two tight ends and one running back, against Detroit's base 4-3 front.
Eifert was positioned in an in-line alignment next to the left tackle. He would run an in-and-out pattern against cornerback Rashean Mathis.
Gruden isolated Mathis with the threat of the lone wide receiver, A.J. Green, shown in the black circle. Because of Green's propensity for burning defenses deep, the free safety had to stay deep and align closer to his side of the field. That's shown by the yellow circle.
Gruden was confident he would get double coverage against Green. He knew that would leave Eifert matched up on a cornerback in off-coverage, an obvious mismatch in terms of size and strength.
Once the ball was snapped that's exactly how the play worked out. The deep safety stayed lurking over the top of Green's route, leaving Mathis with no help.
You can see how Eifert initially ran inside behind the linebacker level, leaving the intermediate defender trailing. You can also see how the tight end then started to break to the outside.
Mathis' position was something of a no-man's land. His body shape was awkward and offered no leverage for outside breaks by his receiver. That proved to be his undoing as the play progressed.
With Mathis leaning too far inside, Eifert made a sharp cut toward the sideline and then turned his route vertical. Notice how Mathis still had no help because the free safety had to respect Green's ability to go deep.
The 6'1", 195-pound Mathis is no tiny tot at cornerback. But with the ball in the air, he was no match for the 6'6", 250-pound Eifert. The play resulted in a 32-yard touchdown.
Now consider this play with some of Gruden's new personnel. For Green, simply substitute DeSean Jackson. He's one of the most feared deep threats in the NFL and is sure to see a lot of safety help rolling his way.
At 6'2" and 237 pounds, Reed is not as big as Eifert, but he has greater speed and can certainly get vertical. Watching this play it's easy to be reminded of Reed's biggest gain from last season, a 38-yard catch against the Chicago Bears in Week 7.
On this play, the Redskins sent out "21" personnel, two running backs and one tight end. But the two wide receivers both aligned together on one side.
The idea was to isolate Reed, positioned in-line next to the right tackle (blue circle), on safety Major Wright. The two receivers would help draw deep safety Chris Conte away from Reed's side of the field.
The concept was simple enough. But the real beauty of the play was how Reed ran his route. Let's quickly scroll through some of his progressions.
Reed first took a long lateral step with his back foot. The move forced Wright to respect the possibility of an out-breaking route.
But with his back foot planted, Reed turned his route inside and raced up the seam. Because Wright had been leaning a step toward the outside, as well as Reed's dynamic acceleration, the safety was immediately left trailing his receiver.
At this point, Reed flattened out his route and simply attacked deep in a linear fashion. Notice also how free safety Conte was being drawn to the wide receiver side, where Pierre Garcon was working deep.
With Wright virtually out of the play, Reed suddenly shifted toward the sideline.
Once he turned his pattern out, Reed circled back up to snag the ball for a huge gain.
Wright was almost 10 yards behind him at this point. Meanwhile, Conte was late getting across because he had lingered on Garcon's vertical release.
This is a fine example of Reed's immense potential as a deep threat. His routes feature moves on top of moves and are run with a mixture of smooth precision and sharp intelligence.
The threat of a big-play wideout as explosive as Jackson will just create more space for Reed. Gruden already has a litany of ways to make the combination feature in the nightmares of defensive coordinators.
Another great example comes from Cincinnati's home rout of the Cleveland Browns from Week 11. The play began with the Bengals in a spread look against Cleveland's 2-4-5 nickel front.
Gresham was flexed in the slot (blue circle) on the same side of the field as Green. Again, the idea was to give the deep safety a nasty decision to make.
At the snap, both Gresham and Green ran vertical releases to the inside. Free safety T.J. Ward immediately turned that way and began deciding which pass-catcher he would help cover.
Further along the route, Green began to turn inside, while Gresham crisscrossed behind him, overlapping his way to the corner of the end zone.
By the time the coverage released Green, it was too late. The ball was already on its way to Gresham. He made the catch to complete a 25-yard touchdown to start the second quarter.
Now imagine the same design with Reed in the slot and Jackson outside of him. It's pick-your-poison for a defense, and neither option is a good one.
But Gruden can also reach into his bag of tricks to find ways of spreading coverage out to isolate Reed inside. Returning to Cincy's Week 7 win over the Lions provides an excellent illustration.
The Bengals spread out the defense with five possible receivers. They showed a trips look, three receivers, on one side.
Among them, tight end Gresham aligned in the slot (red circle). Outside him, Green was the furthest receiver (black circle).
The plan was to shift coverage out of the middle by using Green and the threat of the deep ball to again draw safety help (yellow circle). That would leave Gresham isolated against middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch (white circle). That's a matchup win for the offense.
Once the ball was snapped, the inside safety immediately bolted toward Green's route. That left Gresham with a straight run at Tulloch with nothing but open space behind him. Gresham could have broken either side and still would've been wide open.
He faked as though he was going to run a slant across the linebacker's face, but he was really preparing to break vertically.
Once he made his second move, Gresham's straight-line speed took him past Tulloch in an instant.
From there, his leaping ability helped Gresham haul in a simple 30-yard gain.
What's easy to love about this play is how it again took advantage of the threat posed by a speedy wide receiver. Since adding Jackson and Andre Roberts, along with keeping Aldrick Robinson in town, Gruden's Washington offense now has that threat in abundance.
Just as important, the unit now has a play-caller willing to maximize that vertical potential. In last season's offense, one heavy on slants and middle screens, this play would likely have stopped with the tight end running a shallow cross in front of the middle 'backer.
Yet Gruden seems more willing to expand routes to get behind coverage. That's great news for a player like Reed, who can run routes as smoothly as Gresham and is quicker stretching the field than Eifert.
Take away the photos and the doodling here, and all that's really being said is Reed needs to work deep more often. But it's not simply a case of shouting out a concept and magically having it work.
Gruden has the system and personnel to make it work. Earlier this offseason, he referred to Reed as “a force in the passing game who affords RG3 a mismatch against linebackers and safeties steaming down the seam...," per USA Today Sports writer Jim Corbett.
Provided Gruden features Reed amid the desire to get Jackson, Garcon and Roberts their catches, expect the tight end to post monster numbers in this offense.