D.J. Reed brings top-tier production to the New York Jets
Speaking to the New York media for the first time since becoming a Jet, 25-year-old cornerback D.J. Reed gave off a vibe of unwavering confidence.
“Oh, yeah, without a question, I feel like I’m a CB1,” Reed said. “I think it’s obvious, but when people look at my height, they say, ‘Oh, he’s a good CB2.’ But no, if you watch my tape from last year and the year before that, it’s CB1. Like, my stats compare to the All-Pros this year, to Jalen Ramsey, to A.J. Terrell to J.C. Jackson. My stats are right there with those guys. I’m going to take another step this year.”
He’s not lying.
In 2021, his fourth NFL season, Reed got his first crack at being a full-time starter, and he took advantage by providing the Seattle Seahawks with a season of top-notch production that put him in elite company.
The former San Francisco 49ers fifth-round pick capitalized on his breakout year by signing a three-year, $33 million contract with the Jets.
Let’s dig into some of the stats that Reed had in mind when he made his bold claims, in addition to looking at his complete profile as a player.
D.J. Reed’s coverage stats in 2021 were phenomenal
It was rare to see Reed get victimized in coverage this past season. Few cornerbacks were beaten less frequently.
Reed played 606 snaps in coverage across 14 games (all starts). He saw 68 targets in his direction and allowed 35 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns while snagging two interceptions.
That is a fantastic stat-line in many ways.
Most impressively, Reed provided an incredible amount of value with his ability to prevent yardage on a per-snap basis. Reed allowed 0.63 yards per cover snap. That ranked sixth-best out of 96 qualified cornerbacks. For reference, the league average for cornerbacks was 1.08.
Going off the league average for yards per cover snap among cornerbacks (1.08), Reed would be expected to allow 654.5 yards across his 606 coverage snaps. Instead, he only allowed 383 yards, a margin of +271.5.
In essence, this means he saved 271.5 yards compared to what the average cornerback would have allowed over the same amount of playing time.
Reed ranked third-best in this category at his position. The only cornerbacks to save more yards were Casey Hayward (+342.1) and A.J. Terrell (+416.7). Terrell was a second-team All-Pro this season for his efforts. Hayward is a three-time All-Pro.
There you go: All-Pro company. Reed knows his stuff.
When it comes to yards per target, Reed coughed up an average of 5.6 yards when the ball was thrown his way, which ranked 12th-best out of 96 qualifiers. Comparatively, first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey ranked 22nd (6.4) and second-team All-Pro J.C. Jackson ranked 23rd (6.5).
Altogether, Reed allowed a passer rating of 66.0 on throws into his coverage, which ranked seventh-best out of 96 qualifiers. That placed him one spot behind two-time All-Pro Tre’Davious White (61.4).
Next Gen Stats reports that Reed allowed a completion percentage 11.9 points below expectation, ranking fourth-best at the position – one spot behind White and two spots behind Terrell.
Opposing passers completed -11.9% of their attempts over expected when targeting D.J. Reed last season (4th in NFL).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 15, 2022
Reed has to prove he can maintain the quality of coverage that he provided in 2021. After all, it remains his one and only season as a full-time starter. But man, was it one heck of a season. He indisputably performed at an elite level in coverage, at least from a production standpoint.
D.J. Reed’s run defense is excellent
On top of his of his stingy coverage, Reed provides some of the best run support at his position. Reed is an eager run defender who gets involved more often than most corners and also finishes his tackles with great efficiency.
In 2021, Reed made 29 total tackles against the run (23 solo, 6 assisted), ranking as the fourth-most among cornerbacks. While doing so, he missed just one tackle, giving him a 3.3% missed tackle rate that ranked seventh-best.
This was a repeat of Reed’s success in 2020, when he made 18 tackles against the run (16 solo, 2 assisted) in less than half as many snaps (171 run-defense snaps in 2020 vs. 396 in 2021) while still missing only one tackle.
Reed’s run support will be an enormous boon for a Jets team whose cornerbacks missed a whopping 15 tackles against the run last season (4th-worst among CB units). Brandin Echols was the leading culprit with seven whiffs.
How is D.J. Reed used?
Despite standing at 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds, Reed was solely utilized as an outside cornerback for the Seahawks last season. Reed did play some free safety and slot cornerback for the 49ers from 2018-19 but it’s on the outside where he is at his best.
Just like the Jets’ defense, Seattle tethers each of its two starting cornerbacks to one side of the field for the entire game, very rarely asking them to switch sides.
Reed began 2021 as the Seahawks’ left cornerback, starting on the left side for the first three games of the year. He was mostly solid, giving up 0.74 yards per cover snap and 6.3 yards per target, but after Reed allowed two touchdowns against the Vikings in Week 3, Seattle made a change.
In Week 4, the Seahawks moved Reed to right cornerback, replacing Tre Flowers. Sidney Jones came off the bench and took Reed’s spot on the left side, sending Flowers to the doghouse (he was soon waived).
Reed remained at right cornerback for his remaining 11 games and benefited tremendously from the change. Over the rest of the year, he allowed 0.60 yards per cover snap, 5.4 yards per target, and a 56.7 passer rating.
Reed did not allow any touchdowns after moving to the right side. His total of 470 coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown was the best among cornerbacks from Weeks 4-18.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll spoke openly about Reed’s improved play on the right side.
“Sometimes guys are just right-handed. That’s the way I feel the most comfortable,” Carroll said. “For him, he would tell you that he can play on both sides, which he has, but he does feel better on the right side, and he just seems to have a better knack and a better sense for it. … D.J. wouldn’t give in to that, but there’s no question that he’s more effective there.”
New York’s starting right cornerback in 2021 was Brandin Echols. Presumably, Reed will take over that role. Bryce Hall was the Jets’ starting left cornerback.
Seattle had its cornerbacks playing with an extremely zone-heavy style. Only 15.2% of Reed’s 2021 coverage snaps were in man-to-man, per Pro Football Focus, the second-lowest rate among qualified cornerbacks.
Reed still provided good coverage in both schemes despite playing a lot more zone. Reed gave up a 74.2 passer rating in man coverage and a 64.1 passer rating in zone coverage.
D.J. Reed’s injuries and durability
Reed has been fairly durable throughout his career, only missing eight games due to injury in four years (with six of those coming over one stretch).
In 2021, Reed missed three games. One was due to a groin injury that he returned from the following week. Two were due to COVID-19.
Reed suffered a pectoral injury in the 2020 offseason that prompted the 49ers to waive him. Seattle claimed him and placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list. He missed the first six games of the year.
Reed played in all 19 of the 49ers’ regular season and playoff games during their 2019 run to the Super Bowl. In his 2018 rookie year, he missed one game with a heel injury.
D.J. Reed’s penalties
Penalties are not an issue with Reed, who was flagged seven times over 1,632 defensive snaps across his two seasons in Seattle. That’s an average of 4.3 penalties per 1,000 snaps, below the 2021 league average for cornerbacks (5.3).
Reed is even cleaner when playing right cornerback. He has four penalties over 1,229 snaps in games where he played right cornerback, just 3.3 penalties per 1,000 snaps.
New York Jets are getting a high-upside starter in D.J. Reed
D.J. Reed may not have the flashiest box-score stats (4 career interceptions) and he may be a relatively unknown one-year-wonder for now, but he showed legitimate star-caliber potential in 2021. If he continues to do what he did last year, he’ll be widely known as one of the game’s best cornerbacks in no time.