Can Jordan Reed Become an Elite Tight End?

Jordan Reed has enormous 2014 potential, and could compete with top tight ends. That is, if he can stay healthy.

Trading Places is one of my favorite movies. Between the many quotable lines, vintage performances by Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, and the Duke brothers' plot to corner the frozen concentrated orange juice market with a leaked crop report from Clarence Beeks, the movie hits on all levels and passes the test of time.

Sometimes fantasy football drafts can resemble Trading Places, with owners thinking that they have some inside knowledge about a breakout player, knowing something about them that you might not and giving them an "advantage" over you in the draft. Heading into most 2014 fantasy drafts, Jordan Reed is one player that you'd love to have a sealed envelope telling you exactly which player you were going to get - the one who showed glimpses of being the next breakout tight end, or the one who will be on your fantasy injured reserve squad?

When you watch 2013 highlights of Reed, your jaw drops. You see him go up and grab a corner end zone fade for a touchdown, make catches down the seam, and even rush for an 18-yard gain on an end-around. On tape, Reed shows the type of athleticism in the passing game that makes football analysts wonder whether or not we'll have to debate his franchise tag classification as a tight end or wide receiver in a few years, like we're doing right now for Jimmy Graham.

However, the downside risk is that Reed has had four concussions in his college and pro career already, including one that, along with a dismal mail-it-in season with Washington, ended his season and caused six missed games. He's also missed a game with a quad contusion, had preseason injuries in 2013, and injuries dating back to college.

So the question, using our Reception Net Expected Points metrics, is this: Does Reed's on-field performance compared to other top 2013 tight ends make him worth the potential injury risk?

PlayerRec.TargetsRec. NEPTarget NEPRec. NEP/Target
Graham86142119.71 (1st)56.74 (1st)0.84 (5th)
Gonzalez8212087.89 (2nd)53.91 (3rd)0.73 (9th)
Cameron8011880.46 (3rd)31.29 (12th)0.68 (13th)
J. Thomas659078.15 (4th)56.16 (2nd)0.87 (3rd)
Witten7311177.36 (5th)44.46 (5th)0.70 (11th)
V. Davis528476.5 (6th)47.62 (4th)0.91 (2nd)
Clay6910266.54 (7th)32.08 (10th)0.65 (15th)
Olsen7311165.89 (8th)36.88 (8th)0.59 (20th)
Gates7711463.58 (9th)31.65 (11th)0.56 (22nd)
Gronkowski396657.45 (10th)26.01 (15th)0.87 (3rd)
Wright547656.88 (11th)39.53 (7th)0.75 (7th)
Reed455955.85 (12th)40.27 (6th)0.95 (1st)

Based on the table above, Reed stacked up very well with the top 12 tight ends in the league, with a 12th-ranked Reception NEP of 55.85. That's pretty impressive considering he only played nine games, and Reception NEP measures the number of points added on all catches, making it a cumulative statistic. But more importantly, Reed ranked first in Reception NEP per target, showing off his incredible efficiency despite the lack of games played

What would Reed's numbers look like if he played 16 games, you ask? The answer is "darn good". Based on the table below, Reed would be a top five tight end, without question:

PlayerRec.TargetsRec NEPTarget NEPRec. NEP/Target
Reed (16 Games)8010599.29 (2nd)71.59 (1st)0.95 (1st)

Most fantasy owners would gladly take Reed's 16 game extrapolation and run with it. Being the stat geek I am, I wanted to see where Reed's 2013 extrapolated Reception NEP fit in historically. Here's how it compares to tight ends since the year 2000:

PlayerYearRec. NEP
1Rob Gronkowski2011131.91
2Jimmy Graham2013119.71
3Antonio Gates2009115.06
4Tony Gonzalez2004111.35
5Jimmy Graham2011108.87
6Antonio Gates2004107.67
7Antonio Gates2005105.51
8Tony Gonzalez2008105.48
9Tony Gonzalez2009100.96
10Dallas Clark2009100.74
11Jordan Reed (16 Games)201399.29
12Tony Gonzalez200099.27
13Antonio Gates200798.57
14Tony Gonzalez201297.32
15Antonio Gates200692.96

While the history table will leave some longing for the heyday of Antonio Gates, it shows that Reed's 2013 season, if healthy, could have been historic. It also highlights his potential top-five tight end upside for 2014 fantasy drafts, which, with a healthy RGIII, could make Reed the best breakout candidate and value in the draft among fantasy tight ends. Count me in this camp.

Reed's detractors will point to his injury history, his pedestrian 40-yard dash time of 4.72, Jay Gruden's use of tight ends in Cincinnati, and the addition of another outside wide receiver in Desean Jackson taking away opportunities.

It's up to you as the fantasy owner to determine which crop report you believe in with regards to Reed. Hopefully if you go with the one in which Reed's juice is worth the squeeze, you won't be clutching your chest midway through the season like Randolph Duke at the end of Trading Places.