Jayden Reed is hoping to hear his name called early this weekend. Which landing spots would be best for the Michigan State football star?
The first round of the NFL draft begins on Thursday, but we likely won’t see any Michigan State football players taken until at least Friday when round two begins.
Jayden Reed will almost assuredly be the first Spartan taken in the draft. The standout wide receiver made a substantial impact for MSU during his three seasons, catching 18 touchdown passes while amassing over 2,000 yards. But how does his game translate to the NFL?
The biggest knock on Reed is going to be his size and athleticism. At 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, Reed is on the smaller side. For receivers at that size to stick in the NFL, they usually complement that size with elite speed, elusiveness, or route running ability. Reed’s 4.45 40-yard dash is solid, but not tremendous. His 33.5-inch vertical ranked near the bottom of all receivers at the NFL Combine. He has a slight build with a below-average wingspan. NFL.com ranked him 33rd among all wide receivers in athleticism in the 2023 draft class.
What Reed does have going for him is that at MSU, he played much bigger and stronger than that profile suggests. He continuously came down with contested catches – especially in the red zone. He developed outstanding chemistry with Payton Thorne and became lethal on back-shoulder catches. Jayden was also able to add versatility to his game by being a key contributor on special teams. He returned two punts for touchdowns at MSU while flipping the field on several other occasions. In the NFL, with limited roster spots available, any kind of versatility can be the difference between a spot on a roster and a spot on the couch.
Outside of 30-45 guys in each class that are just special talents, so much of a given player’s success in the NFL depends on the landing spot. Does that team know how to get the most out of that player? Does that player relate well to the coaches and executives within the facility? Will the player even have an opportunity to prove himself based on the current depth chart? We’re all rooting for Jayden Reed to have a long NFL career. We know he can do it wherever he lands.
But here are three spots that I think give him the best chance to succeed.
1. New York Giants
Full disclosure, I expect the Giants to address their receiver needs in round one of the NFL draft. They could also explore trading for a veteran. But if the board falls a certain way and they decide to wait for better value later on, this would be a great spot for Reed.
The need based on their current roster is obvious. The Giants’ receiver room currently consists of Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, Paris Campbell, Jamison Crowder, and Sterling Shepard. Slayton was the team’s leading receiver in 2022 with 724 yards across 16 games. Hodgins came on late in the season and is probably their most promising receiver as things currently stand. But the rest of that group is filled with low-upside veterans.
Youth is needed.
If Jayden Reed lands in New York, he should be able to compete for starting reps in three-receiver sets almost immediately. Campbell and Shepard are not what they used to be physically due to serious injuries. Crowder will be 30 by the time the season starts after catching just six passes with Buffalo in 2022. Even if the Giants take another receiver, they could be looking for more depth later on. In that scenario, I still think this is a good spot for Reed based on the depth chart and the head coach.
Brian Daboll is arguably the hottest offensive coach in football right now after turning around the career of quarterback Daniel Jones. He has been praised for adapting his game planning and strategy around the strengths of his personnel and the weakness of his opponents. He’s a coach that can be trusted to use Reed in a way that accentuates his strengths.
The Giants check the boxes when it comes to opportunity and coaching. There is potential for Reed to see a lot of snaps from day one if he’s selected by New York.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
In recent history, nobody has been able to uncover hidden gems at the receiver position in the later rounds of the NFL draft like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Antonio Brown, Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, George Pickens, and many more have risen to stardom in the Steel City after being selected on day two or three. Reed has the potential to be the next name on that list.
The opportunity isn’t as robust as it is with the Giants because the Steelers’ wide receiver group is much healthier. Johnson and Pickens are the unquestioned starters in 2023. Veterans Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller will likely see snaps in three and four-receiver sets as well. But the Steelers have rarely used the draft as a way of filling immediate holes. They took Pickens last year when many assumed they were set at the position with Johnson and Chase Claypool. They took Smith-Schuster in 2017 when they already had Brown and Martavis Bryant. So even though the room may appear crowded at the moment, the Steelers have shown that they’re not afraid to add a player at a position of strength.
From a football fit, I think this spot would be great for Reed as well. Pickens is a different type of receiver than Reed, working mostly deep and outside the numbers. Johnson does most of his damage in the short to intermediate game but was a complete non-factor in the red zone last season catching zero touchdowns. Reed offers a nice blend between those two styles. He can work short and, in the slot, while also winning contested catches downfield and in the end zone. The Steelers may even see him as a potential replacement for Johnson after his contract is up in 2024.
Pittsburgh hasn’t had a reliable running game to lean on in years, and it’s hard to see their offensive line improving drastically in one off-season. This should create plenty of opportunities for their receivers to make an impact. The ideal scenario for Reed is to slowly work his way into the offense and lean on the development within the organization that has led to so much success for other receivers.
The departure of punt returner Steven Sims leaves the door open for Reed to find a way onto the field immediately via special teams. This fit isn’t ideal right now, but the Steelers are a strong organization that develops receivers better than any other team in the NFL. When they draft one, they usually see something other teams don’t.
3. Baltimore Ravens
We’ll stay in the AFC North for our last team to go in-depth on.
For all of the positive things that can be said about the Steelers and wide receiver development, it’s hard to argue that the opposite isn’t true with the Ravens. Baltimore has had a very difficult time developing wide receivers in the Lamar Jackson era. Their current top options are Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman. Both are coming off serious knee injuries in 2022. Journeyman Nelson Agholor will be in the mix as well. James Proche and Devin Duvernay have proven to be nothing more than depth pieces in their time with the Ravens. Any way you slice it – opportunity waits for an incoming receiver in Baltimore.
The Beckham signing could mean that the Ravens will look to add depth at the position later in the draft. If that is the case, they’ll likely give Reed a strong look.
Unlike most teams, the Ravens’ recent draft history at the position suggests they aren’t afraid of smaller receivers. Hollywood Brown, Proche, and Duvernay are all similar to or smaller than Reed.
It’s a low-volume passing offense, and Lamar’s true No. 1 receiver is tight end Mark Andrews. But it’s no secret that the Ravens will need to upgrade the position – especially if they want to keep Jackson happy. Reed’s versatility as a receiver and run-after-the-catch ability should be intriguing for a Ravens offense that needs playmakers. His ability as a returner should be that much more appealing to a special teams savant like John Harbaugh.
The Ravens are a unique situation for any receiver given the offense, but I think it would be an ideal spot for Jayden Reed. The opportunity to play for a winning organization and a winning coach as a player that plays bigger than his size and measurables feels like a tremendous fit.
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