Third-round pick Jordan Reed has wasted little time becoming a key part of the Washington Redskins offense. He seems to have supplanted veteran Fred Davis and looks ready to break out as a dynamic "move" tight end.
He is already showcasing the versatility to be moved across various formations and attack defenses from different alignments. Reed also fits the prototype of leaner tight ends traditionally favored by Mike Shanahan.
Fitting the Shanahan Mold
The Redskins head coach has never been enamoured with the classic, beefy in-line tight end. Throughout his career Shanahan has instead favored leaner tight ends who combined the principles of their position with traits more commonly associated with H-Backs and wide receivers.
As offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers from 1992-95, Shanahan took full advantage of the greater speed offered by the lighter Brent Jones.
In 1994, directing one of the great offenses in NFL history, Shanahan helped Jones enjoy his third-best season in terms of yards and his finest scoring year.
But the most famous example of a classic Shanahan-style tight end is former Denver Broncos great Shannon Sharpe. The motor-mouthed Hall of Famer terrorized defenses with his speed and agility in the Shanahan offense.
Sharpe is the player Reed most closely resembles. Both are a similar build and fall into the bracket of possessing wide receiver skills in a tight end's body.
Like Sharpe, Reed already seems capable of being effective from any pass-catching position.
Potential as a Roving Playmaker
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is finding creative ways to unleash Reed's wide receiver-like speed in the open field. In the first three games of the 2013 season, Reed has been used in a variety of alignments.
In Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Reed was positioned in a flex alignment in the slot.
He would target safety Nate Allen (29).
Reed demonstrated his excellent movement skills and athleticism by outwitting Allen with a nifty cut.
That sent Allen the wrong way and freed Reed over the middle. He made the catch and turned it into an 11-yard gain.
Any time Reed is aligned in the slot, his wide receiver frame and quickness demands coverage from a defensive back. But the 6'3", 225-pounder is agile enough to escape any safety and big enough to overpower cornerbacks.
So the Redskins offense has a matchup advantage against any covering defender when Reed is in the slot.
Reed's receiver-like skills also mean he can be moved out wide as a flanker. This tactic worked in the red zone in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers.
The Redskins sent Reed in motion and split him out as the furthest wide receiver on the three-receiver side of their formation.
To free Reed inside, wideouts Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss ran their coverage to the back of the end zone. That allowed Reed to break underneath.
He ran behind the coverage and found the open void in the middle.
Reed then made a fine catch to secure a short-range scoring reception, marking his first pro touchdown.
The modern breed of pro tight ends have the range and speed to pose a legitimate threat from a wide receiver alignment. Being able to split Reed out wide offers tremendous flexibility to Washington's pass offense.
One week later against the Detroit Lions, Shanahan used another alignment to take advantage of Reed's ability in the open field.
The play started with the first-year pro again going in motion from the left side of Washington's O-line.
He would align in the backfield in a running back or H-Back position.
The Redskins would again use wide receivers to run off intermediate coverage and create room underneath for Reed to exploit.
He would run a swing pattern out to the flat, in the manner of a screen play a running back might execute.
Reed caught the pass and used some nifty moves, including a mini hurdle, to gain seven yards.
Many of today's "move" tight ends are quick and elusive enough to be used out of the backfield on occasion. The Denver Broncos have developed similar ploys for Julius Thomas, and Reed offers Washington the same option.
It is a fiendish way to surprise defenses and unleash one of the best athletes on the team in the open field.
Hybrid tight ends who combine powerful frames with dynamic receiving and rushing skills are X-factors to offenses. Reed has already shown he can be deployed in a host of guises and still make plays to expose a defense.
As the season progresses, the more ways the Shanahans find to use him, the greater Reed's threat and production will be.
Movement Skills Creating Plays for Others
Another benefit of roving tight ends is how their hybrid skills help create plays for others. Reed is no different and has already demonstrated his ability to help other members of the offense thrive.
Using the first of two more examples from the Packers game, Reed began as a classic, in-line tight end on the right side of Washington's front five.
But he would soon motion down into the backfield.
He became a blocking back in an offset I-formation.
But Reed's responsibility would be to block the other way and intercept the pass rush of Green Bay's rush linebacker Clay Matthews.
He succeeded perfectly, slamming into Matthews and protecting quarterback Robert Griffin III's blind side. Reed's block let Griffin step up in the pocket and set his feet before firing a pass to Garcon for 18 yards.
Given how expansive the role of tight end has become in today's game, their function as blockers is often overlooked. But even the likes of Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham have vital tasks to perform, leading the way for running backs and protecting the passer.
Reed already appears able to handle that part of his position.
Mobile tight ends like Reed can also serve as invaluable decoys in the passing game because of the attention they receive from opposing coverage schemes.
Smart offensive coordinators are able to use "move" tight ends to manipulate and split coverages to free other receivers for big gains.
The Redskins did exactly that with Reed later on against the Packers. The play started with Reed going in motion from the left side to join Moss and Garcon in a bunch formation.
Once he had realigned in the slot on the right side, Reed had quickly drawn the attention of Packers safety Jerron McMillian (22).
That would prove crucial because the Redskins intended to run Garcon on a deep in-and-out pattern. Reed would be used to prevent McMillian from doubling up on Garcon on the outside.
You can see how effective the concept was. Reed's pattern to the flat immediately brought McMillian down and away from Garcon's route.
That left Washington's leading wide receiver facing single coverage. He soon hauled in a nice pass and completed a 25-yard gain.
Without Reed's route, the Packers would have bracketed Garcon with the corner over the top and McMillian underneath.
By moving Reed across the formation, the Redskins used him to dictate what coverage they would face. This created a big pass play.
As Reed's production increases and his talent becomes obvious, defenses will pay even more attention to him. That will create increased opportunities for other to make plays.
Reed can take the next step in his development with a big performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. ESPN's John Keim has already indicated the promising rookie will feature against the Redskins' fiercest rival.
Reed's start to life in Washington has been steady, if not spectacular. He has had to overtake veterans in a crowded rotation and suffered an untimely injury against the Lions.
But a closer look at his 13 receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown reveals a dynamic offensive weapon poised to break out.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass.
All statistics via NFL.com.
Reed's height and weight via Redskins.com.