What does the Jordan Reed addition mean to the 49ers? Put simply, we have no idea.
There’s a not-so-distant past where Reed was a pro-bowl tight end and matchup nightmare, but he has long struggled with injuries.
“He missed all of last season with a concussion, the seventh documented since he started playing college football. Because of various injuries, he has never played a full NFL season,” reported Nick Wagoner for ESPN.
Adam Schefter tweeted that Reed is healthy, whatever that means with such a frightening history of head injuries. Because of that history, there’s at least a good possibility Reed never plays a meaningful snap for the 49ers. This offseason San Francisco invested a 6th round pick in tight end blocking specialist Charlie Woerner from Georgia. And with all-pro George Kittle in the fold, tight end is in no way a position of need
But let’s indulge the scenario that Reed is reasonably healthy and reasonably close to the player we remember. At his peak across 2015 and 2016, Reed caught 153 passes, for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was one of the premiere receiving tight ends in the entire league. In 2018, Reed played 13 games and had 54 receptions for 558 yards and two touchdowns. He missed most of 2017 and, as mentioned, all of last year.
2018 gives us the most recent, and probably a little hopeful, comparison to inform what we might see from Reed in 2020. He won’t get enough targets for 54 catches, but if he could play 13 games, and he still moves like he did in the past, Shanahan will make good use of that. Reed doesn’t have to be available for 35 snaps per game. If he can bring an interesting threat that stresses the defense on 10-15 snaps a game, that’s a win.
Adding another one-on-one mismatch to Kyle Shanahan’s existing stable of weapons would seem unfair. Already that group includes Kittle, wide receivers: Deebo Samuel, first round pick Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor (health permitting), and running backs: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon. It’s a fast, versatile, young and talented group, directed by the best offensive mind in football in Shanahan.
Reed, if healthy, would allow the Niners to run more two- and three-tight end sets and might enable Kittle to get a few extra snaps off per game. Lightening Kittle’s load is important because of his enormous role in the success of the 49ers running and passing game, and his extremely physical style of play.
Reed is an old 30 with his history of injuries, but there is the possibility his body is fresh after a full season away from football. If he can move like the player who has at times been a star receiving tight end over the last five years, perhaps the 49ers can use him sparingly and maximize his contribution over the season.
The ultimate analysis here is fairly simple. This is a low-risk investment for a possible high reward.