Let’s play a fun game called find Justin Reid.
Here, you can find Reid lined up as a true linebacker, occupying his gap, reading the back’s path, and getting involved in the tackle.
Here, he’s way outside of the box. Reid flexes all the way out to play outside corner over speed threat Mecole Hardman. The ball doesn’t come his way, but that’s the alignment.
You can find him again as the outside corner, this time on the other side of the field. He’s defending Demarcus Robinson, another wide receiver. He plays the route tight, gives up a step of separation, but is able to play through the catch point and force a pass break-up.
That was a good play; this one wasn’t. Reid is tasked with covering Travis Kelce man to man here, and Kelce turns him around quickly. A linebacker should be in the middle of the field to help Reid here (watch both chase the running back), so it’s not as bad as it looks. The sack helps, too.
And here, on the subsequent 3rd-and-long, Reid sits as a robber in the middle of the field, capping the first vertical route and then sinking into the throwing window of the dig, forcing the check-down and descending down to limit yards after catch.
All of these plays are against the Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s not just a single game. It’s not just the season’s opening game. These are all from the first drive of the season for Houston.
Reid was all over the place for a terrible Houston Texans secondary last year, and appropriately so. He’s undoubtedly the best player in the Houston defensive backfield, and with J.J. Watt and Bernardrick McKinney traded away, he’s arguably the best defensive player for the Texans period.
The book on Reid coming out of Stanford was just that: he’s a delightful move piece who, while perhaps lacking cardinal traits, can plug leaky gaps all across your defense. Reid’s best trait is probably his play recognition and quick trigger. He’s quick to see routes develop when playing from depth, and he trusts his eyes, flying to the ball and able to break up passes with his physicality. Reid was a third-round pick in part because of concerns that his physical playstyle would lend itself to injury, and he played with a shoulder injury for much of the 2019 season. Fortunately, his hitting and stable tackling seemed to return to form in 2020.
Reid is a talented player who should be featured by his defense, but the Texans haven’t made good decisions in a while and their defensive scheme falls in line with their greater missteps. With Lovie Smith returning to the NFL and expected to run his Tampa 2 base, Reid will be fairly hidden. The Tampa 2 defense doesn’t ask much from its deep safeties, and while Reid will still make impact plays in his area, I’d much rather have him play man coverage as a slot corner or triggering downhill as a quarters safety than just zoning him off and asking him to take away nines and deep posts. He’ll be good at that! But he’s also a better player than that.
Reid panned out as well as we expected coming out of Stanford but remains obscured in a Texans defense that doesn’t allow for much visibility. That isn’t changing anytime soon—but Reid’s home might. Reid is approaching free agency, and while the Texans will likely push to re-sign him, Reid would be wise to get up out of there. If Reid plays another healthy season and makes it to the market, he’ll be a darling of hot 2022 NFL free agent lists as a bargain buy underappreciated by national viewers. In a world increasingly accepting quarters defense, Reid feels like an ascending player to watch over the next couple of seasons.
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