Sometimes you find a talented player who looks like a good fit for your team. Then you find out that kid is a really good kid, the kind you want to root for. Then you find out he is humble with a superior drive to become the best he cam be. Then you find out he has a story with great hope, a devoted family, friends, great sadness and an inner desire to play not only for himself but people here and remembered.
Let me introduce you to Jayden Reed at 6’0” 90 lbs receiver from Michigan State.
Jayden was born on the South Side of Chicago and grew up on the West Side. His father signed him up for football when he was a pee wee. Jayden didn’t know much about the game so he just had fun. He had some natural ability. It showed in his first game when he scored 6 TDs. With Jayden’s mom being as supportive as his dad, he had the right environment to excel.
His family attended every game all the way to Pop Warner league. There Jayden bonded with some teammates and became strong friends. Jayden was a star as a sophomore in high school. His friends (one grade behind) were with him too. One night his father drove Jayden over to his friend’s house to attend a birthday party. He spent the night. That boy;s father woke him up early the next morning then drove him to a hospital where Jayden family was. His father had passed away from heart disease brought on by kidney failure that night. His father was hoping for a kidney transplant, but it never came.
Jayden was 15. He didn’t want to go to school. He didn’t want to play football. His mother got him back on his feet and told his dad was still watching and wanted to see him play. His time away from the game affected his recruiting. No Power 5 conference offered him a scholarship. He went to Western Michigan and played as a freshman. He started camp as a 4th string wide receiver and was promoted to WR1 before the first game. He had almost 800 yards receiving that year with 56 receptions and 8 TDs his only year in Kalamazoo.
Jayden excelled at Western Michigan but still entered the transfer portal to see what would be offered. To his fortune he was offered a scholarship to Michigan State, the same school his Pop Warner league friends were attending. His best friend Payton Thorne later became the starting QB. This was the first play of the game against Youngstown State.
This flea flicker was the first of 2 TDs on the day, he had 181 yards receiving in total. This gadget play is not indicative of Jayden’s skill set. He is an athletic, hard working kid who is very coachable. He has very good with strong hands, and although he is just 6’0” he does exceptionally well with contested catches. He has quick feet but doesn’t explode out of breaks here like he is capable. It will be a teaching point in the NFL. What’s nice is that one phrase that Jayden likes to say is, “It’s time to work.”
Here is one of those contested catches against Northwestern. He just basically goes over the top of the defender that is in front of him and takes the ball away.
This is kind of a theme with Jayden’s QB no matter who they were. He didn’t have to be wide open for him to throw him the ball. Jayden would either make the adjustment or just fight his way to the reception.
These were skills learned over time. Jayden was a star at Western Michigan as a freshman, but when he transferred he had to sit out for the year. He worked out on his techniques alone since he wasn’t eligible to play. When he was eligible to start playing at Michigan State he was learning a new system with new teammates and had to fight the Covid restrictions. Sometimes the team didn’t know if they were playing that week for sure until the kickoff. His QB at the start of the year was Rocky Lombardi who struggled mightily who completed only 53.5% of his passes with 8 TDs and 9 INTs.
Jaylen was the possession receiver in the 2020 season. He led the team in receptions with 33 despite him being the new kid on the block. It didn’t help matters that the ground game was near nonexistent gaining only 2.7 yards a play on average. Michigan State played only 7 games in 2020 (winning just 2).
The 2021 season saw some changes as Jaylen was now used more as a true deep threat in the screen, jet sweep and return game. This allowed Jaylen to showcase his true skill set not only as a downfield threat but also an open field running threat. Here is a play that is not all that well blocked but Jayden shows his ability to break tackles and vision to get what he can.
This is not a big play, but it is a chain mover. There is penetration to the outside right away which forces the play back inside after the broken tackle. In all 4 players had missed their opportunity to tackle Jayden before he is finally taken down after an 11 yard gain. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson saw the potential in Jayden because of his vision along with his natural ability to make tacklers miss. Jayden isn’t overly elusive. He just has a way of using nuanced moves to get defenders to hesitate. He then is able to speed by them with a solid burst of speed.
Here is another play against Miami that shows a couple of the strengths of Jayden. This is a little slip screen that is very poorly blocked by the offense. If you watch the only player who makes a positive block is #75 yet he is only there to stop backside pressure. He is not clearing the way for Jayden to make his way downfield.
The first thing to notice is that as the ball is snapped Jayden heads upfield then doubles back to set up the slip screen. This move attacks the defender making him stop to read the play. It also allows the offensive linemen to get out in front to make their blocks. What is nice to see is that Jayden works back towards the QB to take the pass.This doesn’t allow a defender to slide inside to make an interception, but it also gives Jayden more room to operate away from the sideline.
Jayden is hit right away by a defender just after he catches the pass. Although Jayden is not a big burly receiver, he has great contact balance along with a very strong lower half. This makes him much more difficult to tackle. Again he is not all that elusive, but he has small moves that make defenders miss. Here he forces 3 missed tackle with a combination of guile and lower body strength. In the end even though few defenders were blocked Jayden gains 13 yards with his open field abilities.
Jayden is not a speedster like a Tyrek Hill, but he has enough speed to be a deep threat in the NFL. Speed is always an overrated aspects of a receiver’s potential. It’s a relic of football that ways played 20 or 30 years ago. Back then few defenders had great speed. If they did, college teams would use them on offense. So a CB with great speed was an anomaly, a great weapon to have. Later teams started taking players with poor hands but great speed and made defensive backs out of them.
Now all WRs and DBs have great speed so the key is if a WR can get open. Jayden Reed can get open because he is tough to press due to of his strong lower half. Ye is not a big kid so there is less to grab a hold of. Once Jayden separates it is difficult for defenders to get close enough to tug or grab him.
Here Jayden is facing off coverage with safety help in the middle of the field. The defender has his hips open (ready to run) as soon as the ball is snapped because he doesn’t want Jayden to run by him. What Jayden does to combat that is run a route that crosses his face to the opposite side of the field. The safety is sucked up by the play action fake so he is late to gain depth.
Once Jayden crosses the face of the corner then runs over the top of the safety he has both men beat. All is needed is an accurate pass which comes from his boyhood friend right on the hands.
Here is a similar play with the defense using a bracket coverage, a corner outside and a safety inside. The defense could play a shell defense which would keep their safeties back protecting against the run while at the same time guarding against the pass. In this situation the plan didn’t work.
The offense runs a selection of short in cutting routes to disguise their intentions, but the defense is aware of that tactic as you see 3 defenders following Jayden in his route. In 2021 Jayden was again the reception leader on the team, but this year he added over 5 more yards per catch from 2020. As a result Jayden had over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 TDs in 2021 to lead the team by a wide margin.
On this next play the defense has 8 men in the box to stop the run while the offense is bunched inside with one receiver on the boundary to either side. The defense is going to play tilted slightly to the left side of the offense because they are on the left hash. A throw to the right is more difficult. It takes more arm strength plus more time for the ball to be in the air. This does not deter Michigan State.
At the snap Jayden is able to lose his man completely by pushing his defender vertically, then jabbing to the inside (where he thinks he is headed) then spinning back outside to the sideline wide open. The defender comes over to push Jayden out of bounds, but this is where Jayden just instinctively just puts a move on the defender to get him into the end zone untouched.
I doubt that Jayden has ever practiced this move, a slow down, head fake inside, get the defender to stop his feet then just blow by him into the end zone. This is (in my opinion) some innate ability that Jayden has which (as he matures as a receiver) will just add to the toolbag.
I mentioned vision and speed in the open field earlier. Where it really comes into play is as a punt returner. I really believe that a punt return is the way to help a team on special teams play. With 80% of kickoffs being sailed deep through the end zone the punt return remains fairly unchanged and an opportunity for a team with a plan.
This play is pretty simple as the Spartans are down by a touchdown with 4 minutes to play and in need of a big play. Fortunately the punter kicks the ball away from where his coverage team is expecting the kick to go.
This is fairly simple as Jayden navigates his way around the few defenders to that side of the field. He does show some excellent acceleration as he sees the path desires. He needs only to break a single tackle and he is off to the end zone. That is not to say that Jaylen lacks talent as a punt returner. Here he is able to navigate an entire team on his way to the end zone without the offense ever being on the field.
This is true vision on a 90 yard punt return as he starts right then back left only to return to the right then all the way over to the far sideline. This is an amazing feel for the coverage as he traverses 90 yards of field from one sideline to the other. Jayden only had 25 punt returns in his college career but returned 3 of them for TDs.
Finally Jayden was given the ultimate respect as his team was down late in the Peach Bowl, and they looked to him to provide the winning score. Teams and players trust certain players to make plays even when they are covered. This situation is no different.
This was the score that put Michigan State up for good in the Peach Bowl game. For the 11-2 Spartans, a team that won a mere 2 games in 2020, Jayden Reed accounted for 25% of the receptions and 31% of the receiving yards on the entire team. That was in the rough and tumble Big Ten where the players are usually stout and the weather conditions can make offensive football a challenge.
Things that don’t show up on a stats sheet about Jayden Reed
Jayden was given the prestigious #1 jersey at Michigan State. That is a high honor only given to players who perform on the field and show the toughness of a true Michigan State player.
Jayden is a super high character player who was very well liked by teammates and coaches alike. This is not just some coach speak he was genuinely well-liked. When you hear him speak you will now why. To give you an idea about the type of character Jayden has, he once did an interview while answering a question about his team he said, “pardon my language but this team really worked its ass off this week.”
Jayden is a humble, well mannered, person of faith who comes from a strong family background. Even though he lost his best friend, his mentor, his dad at age 15 Jayden still believes that, “I’m just blessed, not lucky just blessed.” Every time he takes the field he thinks of his dad. He feels he is watching him so he will try his best at all times.
On what Jayden wants to do in life:
“I just want to bring joy to everybody ‘cause I know some people are down sometimes including myself. I just hope that everyone realizes that there are good people out there.”
Jayden Reed is the type of player you look for to build a team with. He is not going to be a starm, but he will be a great addition to a team, the right attitude with a great skill set as a #2/3 receiver and returner. He will be a quality person who you will be proud is on your team plus has real skill to make plays.
As I look right now (This is subject to change.) I think Reed can be taken late day two or early day three. I think he will outperform his draft status.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?