31 NFL teams will regret letting Justin Reid fall to the third round. Despite his pedigree (Eric Reids younger brother), great combine showing, and tape at Stanford, Reid tumbled to the defensive back needy Texans, who raced to the podium to nab an instant starter as their first pick. Instantly, this selection was viewed as a steal. That assumption became all too true when he was thrust into the starting role due to injuries in the Texans cornerback group (forced incumbent safety Kareem Jackson to play cornerback).
In 10 career games, Reid has solidified himself as the current and future starting free safety for the Houston Texans. His play has not disappointed as he has become a massive part of why the Texans are currently on a seven-game win streak. His stats; 52 total tackles (tied for 16th among defensive backs), 7 pass break-ups (tied for 6th in the NFL), 3 interceptions (tied for 3rd in the NFL), one fumble recovery, and one 101 yards pick six. According to Pro Football Focus, Reid also happens to be the surest tackler in the NFL.
Reids tape at Stanford certainly never disappointed. In 2017, Reid was all over the field for the Cardinal, playing 396 snaps in the nickel, 218 as a free safety, and 112 as a box safety. That versatility led to Reid finishing the year with 94 tackles, five interceptions, and six pass break-ups. Romeo Crennel and the Texans have similarly used that versatility — Reid has played 50 percent of his total snaps at free safety, 16.24 percent in the box, and 7.62 as a nickel corner (Pro Football Focus).
In 2017, the Texans gave up a league-leading 53 20+ yard plays, in 2018 the Texans are on pace to allow 43.2 20+ yard place, good for fourth best in the NFL. This improvement can be credited to Justin Reid’s emergence at the free safety.
Reid’s 6’1″, 207 frame to go along with a 4.4 40-yard-dash, 128″ broad jump, and 36.5″ vertical jump have helped him become a ball hawk at free safety. His instincts, football intelligence, and energetic playstyle also help.
Below, the Texans are in a cover 3 defense (outside cornerbacks, free safety defend middle thirds of the field, while the strong safety and linebackers cover underneath and the middle of the field). For a quarterback, the key to beating this defense is an out route opposite to where the free safety is. In this case, Justin Reid is the roaming free safety, which means he must decide if he will cover that out route or the post route on the opposite side of the field.
Reid executes this to perfection, as he stays his ground, rather than shifting forward to defend the post headed towards his direction.
*NOTE the NFL did mention that this play should have been a pass interference, despite that this play is shown to see how well Reid reads the quarterbacks eyes.
By staying between the hashes, Reid has an immediate advantage. If Colt McCoy decides to attack the middle of the field, he’s there, if he chooses the out route, Reid can make the play on the ball. Reid is following McCoy’s eyes, while not giving away where he thinks that McCoy will go with the ball, when McCoy decides that he wants to take the out route, Reid is there. Josh Doctson (No. 18) does an excellent job of getting inside leverage to make a catch, but, Reid comes flying in to make a play on the receiver — ending the play in a crucial incompletion (as mentioned before, there should have been a PI on this play). Despite the play being a pass interference, it was an excellent play by Reid that showcases his understanding of a one high safety defense, and long distance speed to drastically affect a deep passing game.
Reids best play of the Redskins vs. Texans game didn’t come on Colt McCoy. His best play was a 101-yard pick six on Alex Smith to give the Texans a ten point lead. This was a shaky pass by Smith, but that pass can’t discredit Reid. He plays his zone well, sticking with Vernon Davis throughout the curl route.
Once Reid sees that the pass is off, he immediately makes a play on the ball, catching it then turning on the jets for a huge play. The ability to not only stick with the tight end but to also track the ball mid-play has shown how Justin Reid is emerging as a ball-hawking safety.
Again, Reid reels in an impressive interception. The pass might have been poor throw by Brock Osweiler, but Reid found himself in position to make the interception. The Texans run a cover 6 look, employing Mathieu, Reid, and Kareem Jackson to play thirds of the field. Reid doesn’t allow for the receiver to gain inside leverage as he tracks Osweiler’s eyes while simultaneously staying with the receiver by trotting backward. This allows Reid to once again make a play on the ball for another game-changing interception.
When the ball is in the air, things tend to slow down for Justin Reid. Cowboys fans saw this when Reid made a diving interception on a dropped ball. The instincts to keep his eyes on the ball (despite being 10+ yards in front of him) show that Reid isn’t just getting interceptions from poor passes or great coverage, rather he’s simply making plays on the ball.
To keep a job as a starting safety in the NFL, you must be proficient in covering tight ends. Covering Rob Gronkowski in their first ever NFL game is a great way of showing how well a safety can do so versus a tight end. When facing Gronkowski, Reid was targeted once for an incompletion. Facing tight ends (including Gronkowski, Ebron, Reed, and V. Davis), Reid has allowed four receptions on eight targets for 29 total yards and a touchdown. Meaning that quarterback rarely target their tight ends when Reid is covering them.
Watch how Reid is able to force an incompletion versus Rob Gronkowski in off-man coverage. Knowing Gronkowski’s ability to release from defensive backs, Reid doesn’t let him do what he does best. He sags off of Gronkowski, which lures Tom Brady to throw to his check-down. Reid reveals his short range burst by leaping into the pass and getting his hand up for an incompletion.
For all of Justin Reid’s great coverage skills, his best asset is his ability to tackle in open space. He doesn’t go for the flashy high body hits. Instead, he launches like a missile to attack the lower body, in turn, completing strong and efficient tackles.
The big-hitting tackles might make Sportscenter, but they don’t win games. Justin Reid’s tackling wins games, as he is able to stop a play immediately.
Even against the shiftiest of players, Reid can make open-space tackles with the best of them. He does so below against DeDe Westbrook in off-man coverage.
Not only is Reid is explosive when tackling, but he also tends takes the right angles when attacking ball carriers in open space. Reid uses those same traits while defending the run and the pass.
Watch how Reid tackles Phillip Lindsay here. He remains patient defending this run, rather than immediately go towards the ball. Reid stays in his lane, then attacks when Lindsay makes the cut inside. When Reid goes for the tackle, he leads in with his shoulder and makes a square tackle on the lower body to end the play.
For all his strengths, Reid does have some things to fix. He tends to sag off the ball to make a play often, which can lead to big plays if he is unable to make the tackle or make a play on the ball. Luckily for Reid, this has not been the case, as he often makes up for that soft coverage with swift tackling mechanics and pure ball instincts. His rather tight hips could make him a liability against quicker slot receivers, which has translated to decreased time in the slot.
Although Reid has had some lapses of poor coverage (see Jordan Reed’s touchdown in the redzone), the good outweighs the bad in his game. His ascension should be fun to watch, as he is just 21 years old. The rest of the NFL should take notice because Justin Reid has the potential to be a generational talent at free safety.