Name: Justin Reid
40 Time: 4.4s
Games Watched: vs Washington State, vs UCLA, vs Oregon State (all 2017)
Younger brother of Pro Bowl and maybe-currently-blackballed safety Eric Reid. Broke into starting lineup during 2016 season and started during 2017. Stood out in 2017 with 54 solo tackles, 40 assisted, 6.5 for a loss, 5 interceptions, 1 sack. Appeared in Bowl games all three years.
Sometimes when drafting prospects we get caught up in someone’s athletic potential and neglect to look for players who can do football things well. Reid is one such player. Reid demonstrates a fantastic understanding of pass plays and in coverage. He often manoeuvres himself into just the right spot to dissuade a throw. He shows an innate knack to be in just the right spot in zone coverage. He’s also effective in man – he has the speed and lateral agility to cover out of the slot. He also positions himself well, staying tight enough to stop completions but not so tight that he can get juked.
That positional ability extends to the running game. When placed at strong safety, Reid has an understanding of how running backs move. While he’ll hesitate upon a play starting to not give himself up, he has the closing speed and vision to get in a running back’s way. In the same way he dissuades throws, he made holes appear closed. All this leads to more tackles-for-loss caused by him than executed.
And he’s got the eagerness to blow up a run or short pass play you want to see in safeties. While he’s not hard-hitting (more of which anon), he has great timing. A few times you’ll see a player hit at the point of catch, or Reid appearing as if by magic to kill a running back’s momentum. These sort of instincts and discipline are hard to learn. Technique can follow but Reid is most of the way there.
The main thing that will hold Reid back at strong safety is that he’s not a super hard-hitter. There were a couple of occasions in the Oregon State game he went in too upright and got knocked back. NFL backs are going to be bigger tackle-breakers, so I want to see him use his strength more efficiently. Kind of alongside that, I got a bit worried how easily he was stiff-armed in the UCLA game. I think there’s a dose of technique here – if Reid can lower his centre-of-gravity, that’ll help. But it does mean he is always at risk of getting bowled over by a more powerful back.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, as good as Reid is in close coverage, he doesn’t have the same vision as a deep center-fielder. Dropping him a long way back to play pure free safety robs him of his instincts. He has the speed and athleticism to get across to be that double coverage guy, sure. But he doesn’t always see the play quickly enough from back there.
Players like Reid are catnip to me. He’s a talented technician who doesn’t leap off the page but quietly changes the course of a game. I do think that his weaknesses do hurt his draft value – a lot of traditional coaches don’t want a strong safety who needs tackle coaching, or a free safety who’s not a full on center-fielder. But his skills and versatility are pretty universal. He can cover short and intermediate routes. He can get himself in the right position to stop the run. He reminds me of Bears safety Adrian Amos. Amos gets high PFF grades because he doesn’t make mistakes, and gets derided by Bears fans because he never seems to jump off the screen. Sometimes, that player can be a vital cog.
Projection: Early 2nd round