Who Is the NFL’s Next Jordan Reed?

Jordan Reed was an unheralded college quarterback before he broke out as an NFL tight end star. Who's next?

Honestly, this sounds like one of the worst game shows of all time: Who Wants to Be the Next Jordan Reed?

It would be right up there with Dancing With the Stars and Celebrity Fear Factor in terms of sheer dismay-inducing network drivel. Even worse, it would be so specific for NFL and fantasy football fans that its ratings would tank harder than Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

And yet, I would probably watch every minute of it.

Top-tier fantasy options at the tight end position are so valuable that whenever we can find a new contributor there, we have to jump on them. Washington’s Jordan Reed is unique, however, in that he was an unheralded college utility player (inline tight end, split end, receiver, quarterback, running back, etc.) at Florida before lighting up the National Football League. After two years of slow starts, this tight end project showed us that the future of the position could come out of nowhere, as he posted 952 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns and the second-best standard fantasy season for a tight end.

So, our challenge then is to figure out where the next potential tight end breakouts could be. Which big-bodied receiving options can come out of nowhere to save our fantasy squads? Grab yourself some popcorn and get ready to watch.


In order for this to work, we want to find tight ends currently in the NFL who 1) have a similar physical profile to the elite tight ends of the NFL, and 2) have yet to break out in the pros. This is very important for our discount hunting: if the player is already an NFL star, we cannot get a fantasy football discount on them, but if they aren’t physically proficient, we won’t want to roster them.

So my question is: what do the elite tight end talents  Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, and Jordan Reed all have in common? If you answered that, since 2010, they each have at least one season as a top-five fantasy tight end, you’d get half credit. For full marks, they also all have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 29.0 and 31.0, and very similar Agility Scores and Catch Radii. 

If we want to track down the next elite tight end in the making, we need to find players who are not just built like Reed, Gronk, and Graham (in terms BMI) but play like them too. The Agility Score, innovated by my friend  Jay Holmes from FakePigskin, takes a player’s Combine measurables and compares them to their weight. Think about this: if two players run a 4.65 40-yard dash but one weighs 270 pounds and the other weighs 240 pounds, you’d be more impressed by the first one, right? Catch Radius simply shows the maximum area a tight end could catch a pass in. The formulas can be found here.

The table below shows Reed, Gronkowski, Graham, Cameron, and Thomas in terms of these three measurables and metrics.

Player BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
Jordan Reed 30.3 116.3 103.9
Rob Gronkowski 29.8 117.9 109.0
Jimmy Graham 30.0 124.4 110.8
Jordan Cameron 30.1 131.5 106.6
Julius Thomas 29.2 118.1 106.2

If I set the BMI range for 29.0 to 31.0 (not too thin and not too heavy), the Agility Score for 114.0 or greater, and the Catch Radius for 103.0 or greater -- both just under Reed’s scores -- which tight ends at the NFL Combine since 2010 have similar profiles and the best chance of a breakout?

Blake Bell, San Francisco 49ers

Player BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
Blake Bell 29.1 122.3 104.8

My first inkling was to go to Blake Bell here, as he is also a former college quarterback at Oklahoma who now shifted to tight end in the NFL. Bell latched on with the San Francisco 49ers as a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and spent most of this year on the bench. He did perform admirably, however, catching 15 of 24 targets for 186 yards receiving, most of which came in a four-game stretch where he was the starter -- thanks to Vernon Davis being traded and Vance McDonald receiving a concussion. Bell has a surprisingly similar physical and athletic profile to Julius Thomas, and with no incumbent starting tight end on the 49ers’ roster, he could earn himself a job -- and a fantasy breakout -- in 2016.

Ben Koyack, Jacksonville Jaguars

Player BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
Ben Koyack 30.2 118.8 107.6

Interestingly, Ben Koyack doesn’t just favorably compare to one of the elite tight ends in our database; he’s his teammate. Koyack was selected in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars to add to the team’s depth behind Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis. The only downside was that he spent the entire season sitting behind Nic Jacobs and Clay Harbor as well. Currently signed on a futures deal with the Jags, Koyack provides an interesting profile that is nearly identical to his teammate and could get a chance in the near future with the lack of true talent ahead of him on the depth chart and Lewis getting older.

Jeff Heuerman, Denver Broncos

Player BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
Jeff Heuerman 30.1 118.4 105.2

Much-beloved by the draftnik community in the run-up to the 2015 NFL Draft, Jeff Heuerman never saw the game-day NFL field due to a torn left ACL in training camp. The Denver Broncos thought highly enough of him, though, to let Julius Thomas go in free agency without so much as a wince and to select Heuerman with the 92nd Overall selection in 2015. He returns to the league in 2016 with just the aging Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis, and Virgil Green ahead of him on the depth chart. There’s a very real chance for him to win meaningful playing time.

Arthur Lynch, Free Agent

Player BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
Arthur Lynch 30.6 114.9 103.5

Arthur Lynch is perhaps the most like the titular tight end of this article, with very similar scores across the board. He was an all-conference tight end at Georgia in the SEC (similar to Reed, who was second-team all-SEC at Florida) and isn’t the most incredibly fast player in a straight line (he ran a 4.82 40-yard dash; Reed ran a 4.72). Whereas Reed stuck with Washington, though, Lynch has bounced from the Miami Dolphins -- who selected him in the fifth round of 2014’s Draft -- to the New York Jets to the Broncos. He has not as of yet seen any NFL action on the field, but at just 25, there is still for him to land in a wide-open situation and make a training camp impression.

A Few Others…

Player Draft Class Team BMI Agility Score Catch Radius
James Hanna 2012 DAL 30.7 130.3 106.9
Michael Egnew 2012 FA 29.9 119.31 106.3
Jake Murphy 2014 FA 30.3 115.5 103.6

That’s all these players -- and we -- are hoping for: one little chance that a team takes on them, and these incredible athletes could find themselves winning in a big way. And that is our final answer.