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With the 151st pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers picked the Virginia speedster Joe Reed. For LA, he’ll be asked to take on a similar role, despite a decreased volume in touches, as he did in Charlottesville. With the concurrent arrival of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, and his upcoming competition with veteran Tyrod Taylor to replace long time starter Philip Rivers, Reed will be looking to establish himself as a reliable target for whichever quarterback earns the starting job.
The selection of Reed by the Chargers makes a good deal of sense considering that, after their two stud wideouts in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, they lack a surefire third option at receiver. The Chargers also have struggled to find a reliant kick returner, finishing 26th in average kickoff return yards last season.
Due to the trade that netted the Chargers their second first round pick, and allowed them to select linebacker Kenneth Murray, they were left without any day two picks (2nd and 3rd rounds), meaning that, heading into day three, they’d need to address their hole at wide receiver, and potentially at returner, in the final four rounds.
With Reed, they’ve got themselves a versatile, high character player who can contribute in multiple aspects of the game. According to Tom Telesco, the Chargers’ general manager, they plan to use Reed “as a receiver, a little bit of a running back, [and as a] kick returner,” while also playing him in “punt and kick coverage,” emphasizing that they see him as somebody able to do just about “everything.”
Of course, the goal for Reed will likely be to see consistent snaps as a receiver. To do so, he’ll have to beat out a number of guys. Namely, returning Chargers receivers including Andre Patton, Jason Moore, Tyron Johnson, and Jalen Guyton, along with UVA alum Darius Jennings and 2020 220th pick KJ Hill will all be gunning for the same roster spot Reed wants.
Patton, a 2017 undrafted free agent signing by the Chargers, spent two years on the practice squad before appearing in thirteen games last season. In those thirteen contests, he totaled six receptions for 56 yards and zero touchdowns.
Moore, signed by the Chargers in 2019 after going undrafted, saw the field in ten games in 2019 and recorded a mere two receptions for 43 yards.
Tyron Johnson is another 2019 undrafted free agent, and he was part of the Chargers’ practice squad in 2019, before signing a futures contract with LA in December.
Jalen Guyton, another 2019 undrafted free agent, was originally signed to the LA practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster in November and appearing in three games. Unfortunately for Guyton, his only recorded stat is a tackle that came as a result of a Chargers’ turnover.
Jennings, who played in Charlottesville from 2011 to 2014, has bounced around the NFL for the last five years. Now a Charger, he was signed by LA less than a month ago on March 30th. In five seasons, he has been on five teams’ rosters, appeared in 28 games, and caught 27 passes for 235 yards. Along with Reed, Jennings will also likely see opportunities as a returner considering his elite quickness.
Lastly, Hill, out of Ohio State, totaled 2,332 yards and 20 touchdowns in his five years in Columbus (he redshirted his freshman year), including 636 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019. Hill is in a similar situation as Reed, but is much less versatile than the Virginia product and will need to show out in the offseason to make the roster.
Needless to say, there’s a real opportunity for Reed to become a contributor for this Chargers team that is a bit lacking in competent offensive weapons outside of Allen, Williams, Ekeler, and newly franchise tagged tight end Hunter Henry.
Of course, Reed will have to develop if he wants to establish himself in the league.
As a receiver, Reed will likely be forced to play in the slot, where he’ll be granted free releases, considering his struggles to beat press coverage. He’ll also have to develop as a route runner, as Virginia doesn’t tend to utilize that complicated of a route tree, and because his speed won’t be as much of an advantage as it was in college.
It will be interesting to see if, and how much, the Chargers actually utilize Reed’s abilities in the backfield. In college, he only took 34 carries in four years, but he has good vision as a runner, evidenced in his return proficiency. The Chargers already have Austin Ekeler as their established running back, but Reed could act as a depth piece in the backfield should he struggle to find the field as a receiver.
Reed’s special teams ability, potential in the backfield, and prowess as a gadget guy all give him a jump on others like Hill, Jennings, and the returning Chargers’ receivers. He’ll still have to prove himself in training camp (assuming there is some semblance of training camp and preseason practice), but I expect him to make the roster and be in a great position to compete for snaps in a potentially ascending offense.