Count me as one of the many experts that were dead wrong about rookie safety Eric Reid, who the San Francisco 49ers traded up for in the first round of April’s draft. Outside of the fact that San Francisco yielded a third-round pick to move up a dozen or so spots with the Dallas Cowboys to select Reid when he would have likely been available at 31, there were major concerns about his ability to be a day-one starter and make an impact in coverage.
The following is from my scouting report on Reid a couple weeks before the draft…
Extremely stiff hips in coverage. He will get turned around on a consistent basis and isn’t able to make fluid breaks on the receiver. This caused coverage to break down a great deal against elite competition in the SEC. In reality, Reid needs to fix these issues if he is going to be a day-one starter. Reminds me a lot of Mark Barron, who is strictly a strong safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tasked with replacing a Pro Bowler in Dashon Goldson, who signed a lucrative contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it seemed that Reid would end up being a liability in the back end of San Francisco’s secondary. Add into account the struggles of strong safety Donte Whitner in coverage, and we had all the indicators of regression in the defensive backfield this season.
NFL draft guru Eric Stoner had the following to say about Reid prior to the draft in April…
-Undisciplined eyes, gets manipulated by quarterbacks.
– Leggy out of breaks and tall in his backpedal.
– Doesn’t make plays on the ball.
While correct in his overall view on Reid, it seems that the young safety has improved a great deal in all of these categories, something that a majority of scouts simply cannot and will not take into account when looking at tape prior to the draft. In any event, it has become increasingly apparent that Reid has proved a ton of his skeptics wrong during the early part of his rookie season, myself included.
Statistically speaking, Reid has been better than the consensus No. 1 overall safety in the 2013 NFL draft, Kenny Vaccaro of the New Orleans Saints. According to Pro Football Focus, Reid is the 21st-best overall safety through five weeks. Interestingly, Reid has graded out better against the pass than the run through the first five games.
Outside of basic statistics, which can be misleading, Reid is doing a whole lot more on the field than what is normally expected from a rookie defensive back. Looking at game film, he’s turned out to be a leader and a signal caller for one of the most surprising secondaries in the entire National Football League.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock, who replaced an injured Nnamdi Asomugha in the starting lineup against the Houston Texans last week, took home NFC Defensive Players of the Week honors after intercepting two Matt Schaub passes. The photo (taken from NFL.com’s Rewind feature) shows Brock jumping an Andre Johnson route on a play that he’d eventually return for a touchdowns. On the surface, it appears that Brock did everything on his own here. He read the route and Schaub’s eyes, which eventually led to a early-game changing interception return for a touchdown.
Not to take anything away from Brock here, but Reid deserves an assist.
Here, you can see that Reid is motioning to the right side of the defense. His goal is to point out what’s happening as it relates to Houston’s offensive formation here. What you don’t see in this screenshot is that Reid is motioning directly at Brock, who in turn is looking for help in diagnosing Johnson’s plans on the upcoming play.
The following screenshot gives you a better idea…
It’s pretty obvious what is happening here. Reid is indicating for Brock to jump the route. The young cornerback did just that and picked Schaub off for an early-game touchdown. What’s even more interesting about this play is that Reid ended up being in position to stop Johnson for a short gain should Brock miss on the interception attempt.
You simply don’t see this type of intelligence and leadership on the field from a defensive back that had four previous regular-season NFL starts under his belt. And it isn’t just an exception to the rule, Reid has acted like a quarterback in San Francisco’s secondary when on the field. In doing so, he has started to remind me a great deal of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. While not even coming closer to comparing a rookie to someone like Reed, it’s becoming apparent that Reid has that leadership ability in the back end of the defense.
In fact, there can be an argument made that Reid has actually been an upgrade over high-priced free-agent departure Dashon Goldson. This can be evidenced by the fact that Donte Whitner, who struggled terribly in coverage last season, is Pro Football Focus’ third-ranked safety thus far this season. While Goldson and Whitner played well together, they left a lot to be desired as a tandem in coverage. Simply put, this hasn’t been the case with Reid and Whitner through the first five games of the season.
While it remains to be seen which player has had more of an impact on the other, I will go on record indicating that they have meshed extremely well as a tandem in a ridiculously short period of time.
This is evidenced by the way San Francisco’s pass defense has played thus far this season.
It ranked second in the NFL against the pass at just 189 passing yards per game. In addition, opposing quarterbacks have posted a mind-numbing 67.6 rating against the 49ers through five games. That ranks second in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs. You take out of account Aaron Rodgers’ 333-yard performance against San Francisco in Week 1, its yielding just 153 passing yards per game this season. That’s utterly ridiculous by NFL standards today.
All of this leads my to believe that Reid has actually played at a Pro Bowl level thus far this season. Where we could see some rookie struggles moving forward, his play through five games indicates that those will be an exception to the rule throughout the remainder of the season. It’s also important to take into account that San Francisco has taken on four playoffs teams from a season ago in its first five outings this year.
With games against the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers coming up, Reid will have an opportunity to hone his craft against less-than-stellar pass offenses. We can fully expect him to take advantage.
As of now, he’s been one of the most impressive rookies in the league. This crow tastes pretty darn good.
Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Tuesday and Thursday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a contributor at Yahoo!