How the 49ers Can Best Utilize Jordan Reed
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Championship-caliber teams face a number of challenges to stay on top. Typically, those teams already have a talent heavy roster, but keeping that roster intact is complicated by the salary cap. So, great teams are forced to find roster bargains as a way to manipulate the salary cap to ensure sustained success. Those bargains are often found as late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents; look no further than D.J. Jones, Kendrick Bourne, or Emmanuel Moseley as examples.
Another route a team can take is to find “low risk/high reward” veterans on the free agent market, some of whom may be looking for a last shot at a ring while others are looking for a second chance following injury issues earlier in their careers. The 49ers took a shot on one such player last year, cornerback Jason Verrett. This year the team pursued a player on the offensive side of the ball with a similar history in tight end Jordan Reed.
Reed brings a specific skill set to the 49ers’ locker room, one that can compliment All-Pro tight end George Kittle, and allow Kyle Shanahan to open up the playbook even more. Throughout his career, Reed has been what the 49ers have missed: a pure move tight end. Kittle has shown he can fill that role, but his willingness and effectiveness as a blocker pays more dividends at the line of scrimmage. This isn’t to say Reed is a poor blocker. He’s more than adequate, but he’s just not on Kittle’s level, which may be an unfair standard.
Where Reed has a chance to change the offense is in either 12 or 22 personnel. The 12 personnel group dictates that the offense has one running back and two tight ends on the field, whereas 22 personnel has two running backs and two tight ends. Both personnel groupings lean towards the running game, bringing a second inline blocker onto the field can put a defensive coordinator in a precarious position, especially when that second blocker is as adept a route runner as Reed.
If the defense elects to leave their nickelback on the field the 49ers will have a run-first advantage. During the 2019 season San Francisco averaged 153 rushing yards per game, so making a personnel decision that gives the 49ers the advantage on the ground wouldn’t be the best idea. If Shanahan elects to pass, the offense should find a linebacker matched up with a running back, again tilting the advantage to the 49ers.
On the flip side, if the extra defensive back is pulled in place of a third linebacker, then the running game matchup isn’t necessarily dead, but the extra defender in the box does complicate things. At the top of his drop, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would find one of his tight ends matched up against a linebacker in coverage. While we already know what Kittle can do in the passing game, Reed can be equally dangerous as a receiver. Reed is a former Pro Bowl tight end who had 87 catches, 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. The advantage again would go to the 49ers offense.
Shanahan is a master at putting his offensive players in advantageous positions and Reed provides a skill set that could open areas around the field for Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and the running game. It’s fair to be hesitant about Reed, since he missed all of 2019 after suffering his seventh concussion, and another one will likely end his career. But if Reed is able to put his injury history behind him, he’s another weapon in the toolbox of the best playcaller in football, and is the type of shrewd signing that can help a team return to the Super Bowl.
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