After a few weeks of practice, it appears the San Francisco 49ers have found their second tight end to feature alongside George Kittle. If you saw the team tweet out a video involving Reed, he was probably beating some defender on a route—which was the story for all of August. Reed didn’t fully participate in team drills every day, but there was a clear difference between him and the other tight ends not named Kittle when he did.
Let’s discuss why Reed will have more than 30 receptions this season and why he’ll fall short of that mark.
Why Reed won’t have more than 30 receptions: Too many mouths to feed
Not only are you betting on Reed’s health, but you’re also betting that Reed essentially takes over as the fourth receiver on the team, at worst. Last year, Kendrick Bourne had the fourth-most receptions on the team at 30 in 2019. The 49ers swapped out Emmanuel Sanders for Brandon Aiyuk, but also will have Jerick McKinnon and Trent Taylor back from injury. So, Aiyuk, McKinnon, Taylor, Bourne, Deebo Samuel, and that George Kittle guy.
Which one of those players would Reed have to jump to reach 30 receptions? Kyle Shanahan would have to rely on 12 personnel a lot more than he has in the past. If Reed averages two receptions a game, he’s over 30 catches. That’s not a big ask. The issue is with how the 49ers offense runs. I could see a game where Reed has six catches. That’s easy to imagine, especially with the space that Shanahan creates in his passing game. But to say Reed will put together multiple games like that? I’m not ready to go there—not yet.
Reed needs to stay healthy. It’ll always come back to that with him. You’re betting against history with Reed, and I feel like any production he gives the 49ers in 2020 is a bonus. I have a hard time believing Reed takes enough targets away from guys like Taylor and Bourne to reach 30 receptions. That’s all without mentioning the real wildcard: Dante Pettis.
Why reed will have more than 30 receptions: Talent and experience
Last year the 49ers traded for Sanders as they lacked a veteran who could win in the passing game. Kittle needed help, and the young wideouts needed direction. Sanders came through in a big way both on and off the field for the receivers last season. This year, the 49ers will rely on youth on the perimeter. If you need to make a play on third down after the defense is doubling Kittle, will you trust Aiyuk versus a No. 2 cornerback or Reed on the opposing defenses worst coverage player?
Two receptions per game don’t seem like much at all. Reed’s six-year career had seasons of 45, 50, 87, 66, 27, and 54 catches. Reed was also the top threat in those offenses, so you’re comparing apples to oranges. I’m curious to see whether Reed remains on a “pitch count” in season. If not, then he shouldn’t have an issue exceeding 30 catches. Why? Jimmy Garoppolo does a lot of his work over the middle. I mentioned the different matchups and how Reed will presumably have the most favorable matchup when the 49ers spread teams out. If it’s 2nd & 5 or 3rd & 4, you’re going to look at Reed for an easy pitch and catch and take that every time.
If the 49ers get a full season from Reed, he’ll be closer to the team’s No. 2 receiver than the team’s No. 5 option.