From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, we’ll be profiling Michigan State WR Jayden Reed.
#1 Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State (R-Sr.) — 5011, 190 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Tape is littered with contested catches and back shoulders
— Shows great get-off and burst off the line
— Has a nice foot fire and speed releases
— Plays all over the formation: Lined up at X, Z, Slot, and Running Back
— Understands when and where to sit down in open zones and effectively finds space during a scramble drill
— Makes the first guy miss more often than not
— Strong lower body is able to run through arm tackles and is hard to bring down
— Excels at double moves
— Has a nice wiggle at the top of his routes
— Willing and able blocker
— Return ability on special teams – 3 career punt return TDs
— Quicker than he is fast, does not have the speed to take consistently top off a defense
— Struggles to vertically stack, hence all of the contested catches
— Doesn’t extend hands away from his frame very often
— Catch radius is questionable with shorter arms
— Significant drop off in production from 2021 to 2022
— Charged with OWI in 2020
— Is 22 years old, turns 23 in April 2023
— 203 catches, 2866 receiving yards, 14.1 yards per catch, 26 receiving touchdowns in his 43 career games
— Averaged 20.0 yards as a kick returner and 15.3 yards as a punt returner with 3 punt return TDs in his career
— 2021 First-Team All-American (AFCA, All-Purpose Player)
— 2021 Peach Bowl Offensive MVP
— 2023 Senior Bowl Invite
— Originally started his career at Western Michigan before transferring to Michigan State after a Freshman All-American year in 2018
— Was the first Michigan State player to be allowed to wear the #1 since Charles Rogers in 2002
— Graduated with his bachelor’s degree in communication in December 2021
— Nickname is “Bird”
— Lost father to kidney failure at age 15
— Nominated for the United States Achievement Academy Math Award in high school
While this draft’s WR class doesn’t have the traditional top-heavy superstars, it’s still viewed as a very deep class with some gems that will be available through the middle rounds. Guys like Michigan State’s Jayden Reed support that theory. After starting as a true freshman and becoming a Freshman All-American at Western Michigan, Reed decided he was ready for bigger and better things. He found that at Michigan State where he reunited with his high school quarterback and long-time friend, Payton Thorne.
After Reed sat out in 2019 due to the old NCAA transfer rules, he impressed enough in 2020 that Michigan State allowed him to wear the distinguished #1 on his jersey in 2021. Formerly dawned by Spartan legends like Charles Rogers, Andre Rison, and Muhsin Muhammad, the jersey number was out of rotation since 2002. Reed lived up the number well putting up over 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns receiving over his final two years in East Lansing.
Turning on the tape, Reed impressed me most with his ability to go up and make contested catches over defensive backs on the outside. He stands at only 5’11” and 190 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his size. Check out my compilation below of Reed playing above the rim.
His chemistry with Michigan State QB Payton Thorne was fun to watch as the two of them constantly connected on back-shoulder throws like the one below. Reed understands leverage well and it was rare that these two were on different pages. In this particular catch, Reed gets to show off his body control by doing a full 360 to pluck this ball out of the air.
Reed made a ton of big plays, but a big reason why most of them are contested catches and back shoulders is that he doesn’t possess elite speed and lacks the ability to consistently vertically stack.
He has great takeoff and burst, but his long speed is missing that next gear. However, Reed was still able to make big plays because he has a full toolbox otherwise. Michigan State played to his strength and utilized his burst with double moves. Reed showed great tempo to his route running and found himself wide open on numerous occasions because of it.
He also drew a few holding and pass interference penalties downfield due to flailing defensive backs trying to keep up with him.
I wouldn’t classify Reed as an elite route runner just yet, but he certainly has the skills and nuance to improve to that level. He’s a smooth mover and understands how to attack defensive backs’ leverage downfield with late stems. Here’s an example against Indiana where he stems inside just before breaking out. Those types of separation skills will translate to the NFL.
Another thing that will translate to the NFL is Reed’s versatility. He played all over the field at Michigan State, taking snaps at X, Z, slot, and RB.
The reason for that is he understands the game well and the small details that are needed. It’s surprising how many college players don’t understand how to effectively get open during the scramble drill. This wasn’t a problem for Reed, constantly making sure he was finding green in these situations and, more importantly, in the QB’s line of sight.
The other detail you don’t see many college-level receivers take pride in blocking. I’ve always preached that blocking is more so about effort than anything and Reed is all about it.
These types of blocks, while they didn’t matter in their respective plays, are the ones that help spring explosive plays and create more yards after the catch. It’s a lot about coaches instilling that behavior into the culture, but if you can get a player that already has that fire to block burning, that’s more than half the battle.
The last thing we’ll touch on is Reed’s return ability. In his career, he averaged over 15 yards per punt return with three being returned for touchdowns. He’s truly special in the open field and his short-area quickness and burst make him extremely tough to bring down. As I previously touched on, he doesn’t have elite speed. However, you rarely, if ever, see him being caught from behind.
Jaylen Reed was a really fun watch from beginning to end. He’s a complete football player, who’s able to play all over the field, block, and play special teams. Some may be concerned with his decrease in production from 2021 to 2022, but I truly think it was in direct correlation to the year-over-year regression of his quarterback. He may not be able to contribute right away on an NFL offense, but I ultimately think he’ll find an immediate role as a returner and slowly find his way into a role for an offense.
Wherever Reed has gone, he hasn’t had to wait long to get on the field, and with his all-around game, it’s easy to see why. According to Michigan State Head Coach, Mel Tucker, Reed seems like a salt-of-the-earth type of human, “He is a tremendous player. First and foremost, he is a great person. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. He’s fun to coach…He’s very competitive. He’s hyper-competitive and he practices extremely hard. That’s why he’s always getting better. He’s a great leader for us. He leads by example but he’s also a confront-and-demand guy. A guy like that, what’s he do for your offense? High-level production.”
When it comes to the Steelers, it would be hard not to want a guy like Reed to fill out this WR room in the middle rounds. That seems to be the sweet spot for Pittsburgh to find gems and Reed’s versatility could greatly supplement this roster. I think he offers more as a WR and blocker than guys like Steven Sims and Gunner Olszewski and could more than hold his own as a returner. If he’s sitting there for Pittsburgh’s third or fourth-round pick, I’d pull the trigger.
Projection: Early Day 3
Depot Draft Grade: 7.6 – Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: Wisconsin (2022), Michigan (2021), Indiana (2021), Pitt (2021), Purdue (2021)