The reason the Washington Redskins continue to stick with tight end Jordan Reed through all the injuries is rather simple. And it comes back to what coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL owners meetings in March.
"Jordan's a special guy," Gruden said. "Not many tight ends can do what he can as far as running option routes across the middle and breaking people down and lining up on the outside and beating people deep. He's a special talent."
He just needs to be healthy.
After last season, the Redskins aren't quite sure when that will be. Reed played only six games last season as a fractured toe led to him compensating and then he suffered other issues with his leg and hip.
Gruden said Reed had a "procedure done on his toes ... hopefully we'll see a 100-percent healthy Jordan by training camp."
In five seasons, thanks to various injuries, Reed has played more than 12 games only once. Few work harder than Reed in the offseason; some of the injuries stem from bad luck (concussions).
The Redskins don't need to rush Reed back before camp, wanting to make sure injuries aren't an issue when camp begins in late July. Even though he hasn't played with Smith, Reed already knows the offense well and is an easy target for quarterbacks.
And Gruden won't enter the season limiting how many games he thinks Reed ultimately plays. The same is true of left tackle Trent Williams, who also won't participate in the spring workouts after having knee surgery. Williams fights through injuries as much as any player, but even he's had to miss a combined 12 games the past three seasons.
"I'm going to expect them to play 16 games, 20 games if need be," Gruden said. "If they happen to get an injury we have to adjust and get guys ready."
No quarterback attempted more passes to the tight end than Smith did in 2017 (165), according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led the NFL with 1,285 yards passing to this position. Of that, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce accounted for 121 of those targets and 1,038 of those yards.
And in the past five years, only three quarterbacks attempted more passes to tight ends: Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Each of those passers threw at least 50 touchdown passes to tight ends during this time compared to 32 for Smith.
But it's a position Smith clearly likes targeting and he'll have a familiar one to throw to in addition to Reed -- Vernon Davis. They played together
for seven seasons in San Francisco, connecting on 229 passes and 30 touchdowns. Smith owned a 115.2 passer rating when targeting Davis. Though Reed will have a big role, it's Davis who might benefit from some of the downfield throws, just as he did last season.
Some of the routes the Chiefs used Kelce on happen to be ones Davis gets separation on because of his speed, such as deep crossers. Kelce caught eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards (out of 17 attempts). The Redskins' tight ends should have more than that simply because of the matchup issues their tight ends create. When Reed and Davis played last season, the Redskins could use two tight-end sets and create mismatches against a defense's base front, often leaving one of them in a favorable situation against a linebacker or safety.
But on the downfield throws, it's been more Davis than Reed. In the past three seasons combined, Reed was targeted 15 times on throws of 20 or more yards, with six receptions. In two years with Washington, Davis was targeted a combined 23 times on such throws with 10 catches.
Still, the passing game revolves around Reed when healthy. Smith would throw contested passes to Kelce, knowing he'd come down with the ball. Reed has a similar knack and should benefit from such passes as well.
Gruden said, "He makes us better without a doubt."