There’s little question among the draft community that Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James are the top two safeties in the Class of 2018. However, there’s at least one more back-ender who has worked his way into Round 1 consideration of late.
Stanford’s Justin Reid is a 6’1″, 204-pound defensive back with 4.4 speed who piled up 99 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions and a sack for the Cardinal last year. As a matter of fact, Sam Madison of KNTU Radio thinks that Reid’s every bit the prospect Fitzpatrick or James is.
“Fitzpatrick and James are far more highly coveted prospects right now,” he said, “but after studying Reid, I can’t figure out why. Reid is a top-tier athlete, he does everything you want a safety to do, and there are no pitfalls in his profile. He has all the tools to become as good, if not better than his brother — a former Pro Bowler — in the NFL.”
That brother Madison referred to is Eric Reid, who Justin was compared favorably to by ta least one NFL general manager. “There aren’t too many issues in his game,” the GM told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. If he tests well he could sneak into the back half of the first is my guess. He’s better in coverage than his brother.”
Zierlein also talked up both Reid’s ceiling and floor as a pro. “Reid is what teams are looking for at the safety position in 2018,” he wrote. “He’s a plus size/speed prospect who has the athletic ability to help with man coverage and the instincts and ball skills for ball-hawking duties on the back end. Reid can get himself into some trouble when he’s overly aggressive, but his positive plays far outweigh the negative. He has the talent to become an early starter and a good one. Reid’s instincts and play traits should make him a safe selection with Pro Bowl potential down the road.”
As Patrick Johnson reported for Last Word on Pro Football, Reid combines top-flight athleticism with a cerebral approach to playing defense. “Reid demonstrated a toughness and willingness to play in the box,” Johnson said, “accumulating 170 tackles throughout his three years at Stanford. He plays fluidly at 6’1”, 204 pounds with tremendous ball skills and an NFL-level reaction time. Reid is able to line up across the field and react quickly to motion and formation shifts, as well as challenge receivers on catches. Coaches and players alike have praised Reid for his high football IQ and natural leadership.”
To be fair, as Eric Edholm wrote for Pro Football Weekly, Reid doesn’t appear to quite have the versatility that James and Fitzpatrick possess. “[Reid] moved really well [at the scouting combine]. He’s not a ballhawk — didn’t judge the ball well,” one NFL DBs coach said. “Great straight-line speed. Smart. Will be a box guy — not a five-tool guy that can play in the box, cover [No. 2 receivers] and get takeaways. But he’s a first-rounder. It’s [Minkah Fitzpatrick], [Derwin] James, then Reid.”
However, after that performance at February’s NFL Scouting Combine Reid is making his way into the first round of an increasing number of mocks as the draft draws near. For instance, Jordan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer theorized Reid wouldn’t make it past the Carolina Panthers at No. 24.
“I have written quite a bit about Reid, the versatile safety out of Stanford,” Rodrigue said. “He fills the top need on the roster after free agency and is both physically and mentally capable of being a Day-1 starter opposite Mike Adams. He checks the boxes for general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera: Immediate leadership, youth and speed. It almost makes too much sense.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper is on board with the idea of Reid landing in Charlotte. “Reid is another fast riser after the combine, and he stands out on the Stanford tape,” Kiper said. “He can play in the box or as a deep safety, taking over for Kurt Coleman in the Panthers’ secondary. I think he’s going to play on day one in the NFL and be a key rookie standout wherever he ends up.”
Josh Norris of Rotoworld, on the other hand, thinks Reid will fall a bit farther to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 28. “Reid is receiving plenty of interest from mid- to late-first round teams,” Norris said. “He’s super athletic, a trend for multiple first and second round picks for the Steelers in recent years.”
From an IDP standpoint, a situation like landing in Pittsburgh would be a worst-case scenario. The Steelers have established starters at the back end in Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis, so while picking Reid might be great for Pittsburgh’s future Reid’s fantasy value in the present would take a massive hit.
However, it’s more likely that Reid’s going to land somewhere late in Round 1 or early on Day 2 where he will be expected to contribute right away. If that’s the case, IDP drafters would be well-advised to take notice.
Yes, Reid’s not the defensive Swiss Army Knife that James or Fitzpatrick is, but fantasy-wise that could be a blessing. More time in the box and less time covering receivers out of the slot is going to mean more tackle opportunities near the line of scrimmage. And more tackle opportunities equate to higher fantasy value.
It’s entirely possible that Reid will out-point either Fitzpatrick or James as a rookie. It’s not inconceivable that he could outscore both. And the reality is Reid’s slightly lower profile is going to mean a lower asking price in most IDP formats.
So, when you sit down at your IDP draft this summer be sure to talk up Fitzpatrick and James—gush about their athleticism and ability to play all over the secondary.
And do so wile all the while preparing to avail yourself of Reid’s similar fantasy upside—upside that may be available on the cheap relative to this year’s dynamic duo of Top-10 picks at the safety position.