Reporting David Elfin
When the Redskins used their third-round pick in April’s draft on tight end Jordan Reed, many observers figured that the kid was Fred Davis insurance.
That meant that Reed would be available in case Davis: 1) didn’t return successfully from the ruptured Achilles that ended his 2012 season in Week 7; 2) was suspended for substance abuse as was the case for the final four games of 2011; or 3) otherwise messed up as he did by oversleeping during mini-camp as a rookie in 2008 and by tossing a drink on a woman in a District bar in 2011.
But the biggest reason that drafting Reed made sense was because Davis, Washington’s starter during the past 23 games for which he had been available dating to Week 13 of 2010, was due to be a free agent after the season. The Redskins also had Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul returning at tight end, but the former is more of a blocker than a playmaker and the latter, a college receiver, had yet to show that he was more than a special-teamer in the NFL.
Not that Reed, who had starred as a junior at Florida in 2012, was fazed by the prospect of being fourth on the depth chart.
“I knew if I worked hard, I would at least give myself a chance to be out there and that’s what I did,” he said.
Reed has advanced the plan with his outstanding play as a rookie capped by his nine catches for 134 yards including a gorgeous, both-feet-down in bounds touchdown in the right corner of the end zone in yesterday’s 45-41 survival of Chicago that kept hope alive for the defending NFC East champions for another week. All but one of his catches produced points or a first down and the touchdown was one of the two that didn’t go for at least 10 yards.
Reed produced more – four catches for 69 yards — in the first quarter against the Bears than Davis – three for 25 – has all season. The veteran was benched in Week 2 at Green Bay after missing assignments, was sidelined in Week 3 against Detroit after turning an ankle during practice two days earlier, didn’t catch the lone ball thrown his way in Week 4 at Oakland, wasn’t targeted in Week 6 at Dallas after the bye, and was deactivated yesterday in order to keep newly signed special teamer Trenton Robinson in uniform.
While Davis can now count the days until he becomes an ex-Redskin, Reed is already breaking records. His 134 yards yesterday shattered the franchise mark for a rookie tight end that had been held by the late Jerry Smith for 48 years. Only two fellow members of the Class of 2013 have more catches than the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Reed and only four have more receiving yards. None of those players are tight ends.
“It doesn’t surprise me because it’s what the coaches [saw] in the draft meetings,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year. “He’s wired to separate [from defenders]. He’s got good hands. He has a wide catch radius, so he can catch just about anything you throw at him.”
Indeed. Reed caught all nine passes Griffin threw his way yesterday, raising his season total to 26 catches out of the 30 times he has been targeted, an absurd .867 success rate.
Reed and Griffin started building their chemistry while working on the side of practices this spring when each was sidelined with an injury.
“We just got a feel for each other out there,” Reed said. “He has to have confidence in me that I’m going to catch the ball and get open on my routes. Once he has that and I keep getting open, he’s going to keep throwing me the ball.”
Griffin seconded both notions and praised Reed for working hard and knowing his assignments, two traits for which Davis hasn’t been famous.
Reed has accumulated his impressive statistics in just five games since he missed Week 4 at Oakland with a thigh bruise. At his current pace, the outstanding high school quarterback would catch 78 passes for 894 yards and six touchdowns. The yardage would break the Redskins’ tight record held by Smith and the recently retired Chris Cooley. The catches would fall just six shy of the mark Cooley set in 2008.
To put Reed’s fast start in another perspective, Smith, Cooley and Davis combined for only 59 catches and 318 yards and eight touchdowns as rookies.
“After the first couple games, I realized it wasn’t that hard out there, that I could play at this level,” Reed said after yesterday’s game.
That would be the understatement of the afternoon.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.