Jordan Reed occupies a huge chunk of fantasy real estate. Most of that, of course, is due to his general dynamism – he’s a certified stud. A threat both in open space and the red zone, he’s averaged 5.9 receptions, 63.0 yards, and 0.65 touchdowns per game since 2015. That extrapolates to a wild 94-1,008-10 line over 16 games, which puts him toward the front of the pack in terms of tight ends with overall-TE1 upside – if he can stay healthy.
That if is enormous, though, and it occupies the rest of his huge fantasy implications: Reed has missed 18 of 64 games over his 4-year career. Most troublingly, his injury history stems mostly from nagging, long-term concerns. In fact, he's already in limbo as training camp kicks off, with specialists studying a toe injury and no return timetable set. Fantasy drafters who prioritize him highly are in extreme boom-or-bust territory. For that reason, Reed owners need to tread carefully when managing his risk – and have contingency plans on the brain.
To that end, here’s what you’ll need to know in the chance (probability?) that Reed goes down before or during the 2017 season:
Chris Thompson, RB – In a vacuum, Thompson is an uninspiring specialist RB4/5 without much upside in terms of role. But he swells to a legitimate flex play when Reed sits – aside from Davis, Thompson has been the prime beneficiary there. Over the last 2 years, his snap rate has jumped from to 37% to 52%, and his target share has nearly doubled, from 7.4% to 13.9%. As a result, he’s produced a flex-usable 9.7 PPR points without Reed at full strength. It’s easy to see why: Reed is primarily an underneath target, so checkdown weapon Thompson makes sense in his stead. It’s easy to see him losing some of his ambiguity and becoming a more stable weekly threat for 4-5 catches if/when Reed goes down. The boost isn’t really enough to make him a particularly strong “buy,” but he’d be worth scooping up cheaply – or even floating a lowball, end-of-roster offer for.
Terrelle Pryor, WR – DeSean Jackson’s X spot saw a more pronounced boost than Pierre Garcon’s Z, and X is where Pryor will spend virtually all of his 2017 snaps. Granted, 2017 will come with a new coordinator, but Pryor looks like a safe bet for a sizeable boost without Reed. At the very least, he’s the most sensible physical replacement for Reed’s (and Jackson’s) usage. He’s big and a deep threat – in fact, (air yards). And Josh Doctson will be working in at Z, so Pryor looks relatively unbothered for snaps.
Jamison Crowder, WR – It’s worth noting that, last season, Crowder’s usage didn’t go up at all when Reed sat. Over those 7 games that Reed missed or was limited, Crowder’s target share actually fell by a little under 2%. That could have been mere bad luck, and I’m relatively confident in Crowder’s overall volume this year – my 76-catch projection may even be a little light. But it’s important to note that Cousins’ progressions didn’t swing Crowder’s way one solitary bit in Reed’s absence. Things may change with a new coordinator in place, but we have no reason to just assume it, so Crowder shouldn’t become some must-get darling if Reed goes down. Don’t break your ankles sprinting to your phone, and don’t keep yourself up late formulating trade proposals.
Kirk Cousins, QB – Without Reed, Cousins tends to keep posting respectable numbers, though the drop-off is a bit noticeable. Last year his per-game averages fell from 316.1 yards and 1.75 touchdowns to 299.5 yards and 1.38 touchdowns. That’s not a huge dip at first glance, but equal to the difference between last year’s QB6 and QB10. Cousins isn’t doomed without Reed, but he hasn’t looked like a rock-solid QB1, either; that’s awfully disappointing touchdown output for such strong volume. He could also get a noticeable rushing boost with Reed sidelined, though, as he did last year. Reed is nothing short of a red zone dominator, so when he sits, Washington has to twist its short-yardage offense to its personnel. It’s worth nothing that all five of Cousins’ seven red zone rushes – and all four of his touchdowns – came over the half-season that Reed missed.
Vernon Davis, TE – Welcome to Obvious Street. Davis would step into the starting lineup, so of course he’d be a buy, but Reed’s woeful history suggests Davis is actually worth a last-round draft pick. He would step into a role that’s fairly meaty, and one in which he produced last year, his first in Washington. Over the 8 games that Reed either missed or played fewer than 40 snaps, Davis drew 13.1% of Kirk Cousins’ targets and registered 26 catches for 328 yards and a touchdown. That worked out to 8.1 PPR points per game, even with a surprising lack of touchdowns for Davis. He’d almost certainly boost that toward the mean and produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 PPR points a game. That’s a far cry from Reed’s dynamism, but it’s good for at least week-to-week top-15 status and a fine streaming option. By my projections, 13.1% of Cousins’ 2017 throws would work out to 77 targets – more than I’m projecting Hunter Henry or Martellus Bennett to draw. That’s nothing to sneeze at from a Round 20 pick.
Reed himself – When it rains, it pours, and that’s especially true with respect to Reed. His injuries tend to be long, nagging issues that threaten to resurface and leave him almost constantly in Sunday limbo. He’s suffered five public concussions dating back to his time at Florida – a huge red flag when considering that one more could be season- or even career-ending. He’s also lost numerous preseason and regular-season games to hamstring pulls and strains, thigh bruises, and ankle sprains. At best, he’s a questionable-list fixture, bringing gobs of mid-week uncertainty and Sunday ambiguity. He’s deep-fried gold when he starts and finishes a game, but if he struggles early with injuries, he may not be worth the risk. If Reed suffers a concussion or tweaks his lower-body, owners would be wise to at least gauge leaguewide interest. It could be a sign that the 2017 party is over.