John Reid profiles as a solid slot cornerback

There’s nothing that has been more appealing to Bill O’Brien the general manager than the idea that he knows better. He tends to hyperfocus on people he already knows, and in that vein you see the motivations behind selecting John Reid, who O’Brien recruited at Penn State:

Reid signed with Penn State as the 173rd-ranked player on ESPN’s 300 prospect list in 2015. He had offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Michigan State, among others.

“We’re real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we’ve got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn’t play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You’ve got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He’s already asking for the playbook.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin, 2015: https://www.espn.com/blog/ncfrecruiting/on-the-trail/insider/post/_/id/66155/recruiting-qa-penn-states-james-franklin

The biggest knock on him is something that will only become a bigger deal as he moves to the NFL: His size. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds coming out of high school, Reid was dinged for run support and strength. His body is essentially unchanged after five years at Penn State, and he has below-average length.

To be good enough to overcome that body to be labeled a top 300 prospect comes with a lot of pros, as you’d expect: Reid’s speed, recovery ability, and foot quickness were all praised by the recruiting scouts.

Reid had a knee injury end his 2017 season before it started, and he was redshirted.

Athletic Ability

Reid tested out fairly well at the NFL Combine. The 40-yard-dash time is a bit of a tweener time, but sub-4.5 is generally considered a separation point between NFL speed and not on the outside, and Reid narrowly hit it.

The rest of Reid’s athletic profile is very good — he was the sixth-rated cornerback in the class by SPARQ score, which is an overall assessment of an athlete’s athleticism. So, unlike Houston’s top two picks, Reid is not a pure production in college bet. He has above-average NFL athleticism to bring to the table.

Statistical Profile

Obviously one big bugaboo about this is that we don’t have the actual snap counts, but Reid played in at least 10 games in every season at Penn State. He started two games as a freshman, then 14 as a sophomore. He piled up 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven picks, and 26 passes defensed over his college career.

In Reid’s junior season at Penn State, the Nittany Lions finished with the 11th-ranked defensive S&P+ per Bill Connelly’s college numbers. It was by far the bright spot of a team that struggled to create passing offense. Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders ran for over 2200 yards between them, but McSorley completed just 53% of his passes.

Reid was second on the Nittany Lions in both interceptions and PBUs in 2018, behind (Detroit) Lions 2019 fifth-rounder Amani Oruwariye. Penn State played mostly to limit the deep pass, holding opponents to the fifth-lowest passing explosiveness and the second-lowest passing explosiveness on passing downs. Only 4.3% of opposing passes against the Nittany Lions in 2018 went for more than 20 yards.

In 2019, the Nittany Lions were a more balanced team, losing two games to top-15 opponents by a combined 15 points. Reid tied for the team lead in PBUs and interceptions with Tariq Castro-Fields. The pass defense as a whole regressed a little bit from 2018, allowing 5.9% of passes to go for 20 or more yards and watching their marginal efficiency numbers decline to top-50 rather than top-10. It should be noted that Reid said that the team as a whole moved to more Cover-3 in 2019:

If you believe in the PFF ratings, Reid was better in 2018 than he was in 2019. Their draft guide also noted that Reid “has given up nearly 12 yards per target, a 114.2 passer rating, and six touchdowns on 44 total targets” that were 10 yards or more down the field.

It’s also worth pointing out that Reid was a punt returner in parts of his early college career and could be in line to do some of that in 2020. Penn State had receiver K.J. Hamler, a second-round Broncos pick, handling most of those for Reid’s later years.

My interpretation of what John Reid put on tape: I can absolutely understand why they want to limit him to slot cornerback

Asked about his role in this defense, Bill O’Brien immediately turned to special teams and star. (Star being common terminology for slot cornerback.)

I watched about five games of Reid’s work. I was quite impressed by his coverage ability and it did immediately stand out to me how much work he did in zone in the games in 2019. Obviously, the first thing any Texans cornerback is made to look at is his ability to play zone and drive on something, and that popped out on Reid’s interception against Buffalo:

In watching the two games that Penn State lost this year, I thought Reid handled himself pretty well. One touchdown Minnesota scored on them came on a rotation that looked like it initially started as Reid’s man, but it was such a blown coverage/miscommunication that I wasn’t sure who to fault there. He’d played really well for most of the Ohio State game, including this breakup on seventh-rounder K.J. Hill:

But then he was the main coverage man on this back-breaking touchdown that took it back to a two-score game. Looked like he peeked in at Justin Fields at just the wrong moment, quickly realized his mistake. Reid even almost recovered to the spot and contested the ball, but it was a heart-breaker:

Other than that, in the games I watched, I didn’t see a lot of the big plays Reid allowed that PFF was talking up. Obviously, it’s a five-game sample size, not the whole thing. Take it with a grain of salt. But I thought he played deep balls fairly well.

Reid’s interception in zone coverage against Iowa in 2018 was the second time this offseason I’ve seen a Texans FA target read a play well enough to come off his man and attack the ball:

One sneaky aspect of Reid’s play that surprised me was how good he was as a blitzer. His disguise was very good, and I’ve seen this sort of thing in multiple games out of the slot:

I do think Lance Zierlein’s description of Reid as someone who doesn’t “feature the physical profile of a capable run-support defender” rang true to me. I saw Reid play solid support run defense as far as being gap-sound, but you don’t see a lot of clean hits on his run tackles and some of them wound up with him falling backwards or otherwise giving up extra yardage. Penn State would often hide him far off to the side of the defense when they left him on the field on run downs, and sometimes he would not appear on the field at all in easy run situations. (Obviously we don’t question Penn State coaches, I don’t know if the games I watched involved Reid nursing an injury or something.)

Where does Reid fit on this team if he doesn’t develop at all?

He’s a slot cornerback/dime defender in the middle of the field, with plus-underneath coverage ability. I do think he could be exploited by pure speed over the top and I do think he could get posted up by bigger tight ends if he doesn’t develop further. There’s a certain level of NFL power and speed that, with respect to how Reid played in college, we’re just not going to know how well he adapts to it until we see it.

My major addition to this is that I think we will know within the first 5 or 10 days of camp, whenever they have it, if Reid is going to stick or not. I think he’s the kind of player who makes an impact right away if he makes one at all. When a player is lacking physical tools — I think those are the kinds of players who, when they don’t have it, that comes out in practice and is kind of hard to ignore.

Is it the pick I would have made?

Honestly, I loved the Reid pick because I like his football character a lot. I like guys who don’t dumb it down. In his first interview with reporters from Houston he told us exactly what he was thinking about specific coverages, players he wanted to emulate, and how much of a film junkie he was. I have a soft spot for players like that. Combine that with athleticism and I think he has a chance to be a good slot cornerback.

Given how crowded the cornerback position was, I could be convinced that it wasn’t the best pure opportunity-cost pick the Texans could have made. I would have preferred a running back be added in this draft at some point and this pick could have been aimed at an Eno Benjamin or Quintez Ceephus was a better use of attacking a need.

But I’ve got no real issues with the Reid pick. He’s as excited as I was over anyone in this draft class. It’s a fourth-round pick, so obviously, you have to temper expectations a bit. But what I watched of him, his athletic profile, and his statistics all give me a lot of hope that he can become a productive NFL starter.

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