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What the 49ers can expect from Jordan Reed

A deep dive into the latest free agent signing for the Niners. We take a look what Reed will bring to the offense.

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Redskins

The San Francisco 49ers signed tight end Jordan Reed to a one-year contract Monday afternoon. When he was healthy, Reed’s peers thought highly of him. In 2015, Reed was ranked No. 77 on the NFL Top 100. That year, Reed finished with 1,072 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. The next season, Reed was named to his first Pro Bowl and was named No. 65 on the NFL Top 100 list. Reed’s 2017 was cut short thanks to an ongoing hamstring injury.

Reed played over 500 snaps during 2018, so I went back to watch that version of the former Washington tight end to see what the 49ers will be getting. Reed finished the season with 54 catches for 558 yards and two touchdowns, though a toe injury in Week 14 forced him to miss the remainder of the season. He never suited up in 2019 after suffering his seventh career concussion in the third preseason game.

Who is Jordan Reed

Reed is no longer the explosive athlete that wowed in Washington a handful of years ago. The 2018 version of Reed was not the same player that the 2016 version of Reed was, and that’s okay. The biggest difference is Reed no longer has the burst to run away from linebackers and safeties. That doesn’t mean Reed is no longer athletic. All that means is Reed no longer runs like a wide receiver.

Reed can help the 49ers in two of their biggest areas of need: in the red area and on third down. San Francisco finished 20th in red-zone scoring last season. The only other team that was worse that made the playoffs were the Patriots. When you look at the talent on the roster, that’s unacceptable. The 49ers were so good on first down that they made life easy on third down last season. As the game went on, the offense was worse on third down, specifically in close situations. Their third-down DVOA dropped from 8.4% to 4.1% in late and close situations. Where Reed excels is on third and short/medium, where he uses his quickness to get open underneath.

Reed is impressive as a receiver. He has no issue adjusting to throws outside of his body and isn’t afraid to go over the middle and take a hit. His strengths bode well for what the 49ers want to do on offense. I’d say Reed’s biggest drawbacks are working through contact, and his lack of burst to create separation on vertical routes. The good news is Kyle Shanahan can scheme you open, and Reed doesn’t have to be a deep threat for San Francisco.

Is Reed an upgrade from what’s on the roster?

This is from Football Outsiders’ Almanac. They broke down each personnel usage and how the 49ers fared. The first number indicates how many backs are in the game, while the second number tells us how many tight ends are in the game. For example, “11” personnel means one back and one tight end, so three receivers are on the field, while “22” means there are two backs and two tight ends, therefore one receiver on the field.

The offense was at their worst—and it wasn’t even close—when they ran 12 personnel. Every time I mention the name Ross Dwelley, it seems like I’m bashing him. I’m not. There is a reason he played a total of 18 snaps in the playoffs. Dwelley doesn’t bring much value to the table, and his -21.1% DVOA supports that.

The front office is continuing to raise the talent level on the roster. That’s how I view bringing in Reed. In 2019, Dwelley averaged 2.6 yards after the catch. Compare that to Reed’s 2018 season—who was a step or two slower than he was the previous two seasons—where he averaged 4.5 yards after the catch.

I’d expect to see an uptick in 22 and 13 personnel this season if Reed is healthy. Those are the personnel groupings where Shanahan likes to draw up “shot” plays against a base defense.

What to expect from Reed

I watched Reed’s targets from 2018 and tried to see the blocker he was. Reed can hold his own as a blocker, but you’re not going to confuse him with George Kittle anytime soon. Reed gives plenty of effort but has bad habits like leaving his feet and ducking his head that leaves Reed susceptible to counter moves.

The 49ers did not sign Reed to block.

There are ten clips below in the thread, but I won’t post each one. As a receiver, Reed is still very much a threat, even after all of his injuries. This first route Reed is in the slot against Tre Boston. Reed is running an “over” route to the bottom of the screen. Watch how he turns Boston around with a simple head fake:

Reed consistently set defenders up with head fakes, dead legs, and tempo. Reed is still quick enough to create separation in condensed spaces, which perfectly suits the 49ers.

I wish Shanahan and the offense would attack defenses more along the sideline on back-shoulder fades. Brandon Aiyuk has the size to do it, as does Jalen Hurd. I mentioned how comfortable Reed is catching the ball outside frame. He did so in the end zone against Arizona, and here is another example against the Saints:

I mentioned Reed’s lack of downfield speed, compared to what he was a handful of years ago. Washington tried to get Reed open down the field, whether it was up the seam or near the sideline. Reed couldn’t run away from defenders. From what I saw, the bigger issue was that Reed was being rerouted in the middle of the play once a defender got his hands on him. This is the most extreme example, but it was still concerning:

Shanahan will blow a gasket if Reed quits like that on a route this season.

San Francisco is all about timing, and play-action routes like the one below are why Reed will be a big asset if he’s healthy:

Like we’ve discussed with Trent Williams, a year off of football could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Reed. The hope is the further he gets away from injury, the healthier Reed can stay.