Each week this offseason, we’ll be focusing on one position and how the Panthers may choose to address their needs; whether they’re in the market for an upgrade at starter or just a reliable backup, every player on the 53-man roster is going to be important in 2018.
This is Safety Week.
Possibly the biggest remaining need for the Panthers is free safety; s things stand, the Panthers would likely be forced to chose between starting Colin Jones, converting Ladarius Gunter from corner or rolling the dice on Mike Adams still having the speed to play the free spot and starting new signee Da’Norris Searcy at the strong safety; none of these are particularly encouraging options. Because of that, the Panthers will almost certainly, note the almost, draft a free safety in the first few rounds of the draft to compete for a starting role, and one name that has been floated repeatedly at both the 24th and 55th pick is Justin Reid from Stanford. So what would the Panthers be getting should they select Justin Reid?
Man Coverage Potential
Justin Reid ran a ludicrously quick 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and that speed shows up on tape; Reid is one of the only safety prospects in recent years who have a legitimate ability to cover quicker receivers down the field. Stanford often used Reid in the slot against receivers, and showed the ability on tape to run with them down the field (For reference, Reid wears #8):
This speed offers significant matchup potential at the NFL level and should, in combination with good lateral agility, allow him to be a highly effective man coverage safety at the NFL level. On tape, Reid shows the lateral agility and quickness to follow his man through the route. As can be seen on the next play, he can sometimes get flat-footed at the head of routes:
Despite this, he shows good transitions out of his breaks and follows his man well on more complex routes:
He also shows a nice understanding of where his help is. On the following play, he knows he has help inside, and so is able to wait outside on the corner route and is in excellent position to take that route away:
Somewhere Reid will likely need to improve somewhat is in press coverage, as he failed to be as effective here as his size would suggest. On the following play, he allows the receiver to release with relative ease and so puts himself on the back foot down the field:
He also can struggle with preventing release at the head of underneath routes while in press coverage, on the next play the receiver goes up the field against press in order to separate on the drag route, and Reid simply needs to be tighter here. The pick by his own teammate doesn’t help, but the receiver has already got a step by that point:
Despite these issues, Reid is one of the better man coverage safeties in recent years, and should offer an interesting matchup through his ability to cover almost any receiving option.
With his speed, intelligence and ball skills, Reid should be an excellent zone defender and there are flashes of what he could be all over his tape. He shows natural hands; his five interceptions last season were not by accident:
What’s more, his quickness and understanding of coverage allow him to be effective as an underneath zone defender:
A frustrating part of his game, therefore, is the frequency with which he is not that effective in the deep middle. For all his speed and apparent coverage understanding, he seems a little slow to react on passes when asked to play that area of the field:
Further to this, he can often be overly intent on trying to read the quarterback and fails to account for the man who is actually in his zone. While he doesn’t pay for it on this next play:
He does on this one:
While Reid does make a quick recovery to stop a longer play, and the play-action does give the receiver an advantage, this apparent overeagerness did cost him at times. What’s more, for a player who is quite aggressive in terms of reading the quarterback, he is worryingly ineffective at times on underneath routes. While his inconsistent aggressiveness is possibly positive in terms of it not been a consistent flaw, it is hard to see a player get beat for trying the be too aggressive and then a few plays later allow separation due to hesitancy, as he does on this play:
This was one of the issues with his man coverage on tape as well, for somebody who flashes the ability to be a lock-down man defender, far too often he seems content to play slower than he can. As shown earlier, he has all the athletic skills to cover tight ends and receivers tightly both down the field and on outside throws, but on plays like the following he allows receptions, or drops, with uninspiring ease:
The issue is not about what Reid has the potential to be, or even what he is at times, but rather with the consistency with which he performs at that level. What doesn’t help his case is the number of communication errors which he is involved with. It’s impossible to point fingers on plays like this just from tape, but for somebody who spoke so eloquently about knowing where his help is at the Combine, it is frustrating to see so many of these issues.
The other concern in terms of his mental game is the apparent speed with which he is able to react. The handover on the next play isn’t ideal, but Reid takes a little too long to react to the man running across his face. He has the make up speed to limit the potential damage here, but NFL players will be faster and he won’t be able to get away with these mistakes in the same way.
The issue with Reid as a zone cover safety is identifying the nature of his errors. If they are simple mental lapses, they are happening with worrying frequency given the complexity of college offenses and defenses. There is the possibility that his intellectual understanding of coverages doesn’t translate to the field, or that his mind doesn’t work as quickly on the field as it needs to in order to allow his understanding of coverage to be as impactful as it should be; neither of which are particularly good options. The final option, and the one that any team that takes him early in the first round will likely be counting on, is that he is a hugely smart player who is overthinking the game and is torn between trying to lock guys down and force negative plays. In an NFL defense this should be less of an issue, as here he will be given very clear instructions as to what the team is looking for him to do; whatever the issue is, any team that is looking at him as a top 60 prospect should want to interview him extensively on order to gauge why he makes the mistakes he does given his mental and physical talent.