Free agency 2022: Chiefs’ Justin Reid brings aggression, playmaking to defense

Three years after the Kansas City Chiefs signed free agent and former Houston Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu to a three-year contract, the Chiefs signed former Texans safety Justin Reid to a three-year deal Monday night — effectively replacing Mathieu.

Kansas City’s first big signing of the 2022 offseason indicates a transitional period for the leadership of the defense — even if defensive end Frank Clark is confirmed to be on the roster. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens and Mathieu appear to both be playing elsewhere, and the Chiefs’ youth movement is being called upon to become the new core.

The 25-year-old Reid is now firmly apart of that; he will undoubtedly be one of the starting safeties for the 2022 season.

In this post, I’ll explain further about where he’ll play within the Chiefs’ defense:

The basics

Reid was originally picked towards the top of the third round in the 2018 NFL Draft, reflecting a good college career at Stanford that ended as a second-team All-American. As a prospect, he had exceptional test results in the three-cone drill, broad jump, and 40-yard dash — where he earned a 4.40-second time.

That speed at 6 feet 1 and roughly 205 pounds have resulted in becoming the starting free safety in Houston for 53 of the 57 games he played there. Reid has aligned as a free safety for 57% of his career snaps, with 26% of those being in the box and 12% from the slot as well; last season, he aligned as a free safety for 70% of his snaps.

Where Reid fits in

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Reid has the athleticism and football IQ to play any position an NFL team will ask a safety to play — whether that is as a free safety, strong safety, slot defender or box player that can be a help against the run or as a pass rusher .

He can competently play any of them, but his strengths would project him to play primarily as a free safety.

Playing downhill from a deep alignment

In 2021, the Texans had Reid as one-half of their two-high safety alignments — but most of their one-high looks featured him as the one deep player as well. His speed to the ball and quick recognition of the play allows him to still make an impact in front of him, even as a deeply-aligned defender.

Once Reid recognizes an outside run, he will fly down through the alley and willingly fill a run lane with a good angle and good tackling fundamentals. He shows the aggressiveness to put a shoulder into his tackles as much as possible, rather than be a dragging type of tackler.

From a Cover 3 look, Reid patrols the middle of the field.

Once he sees the short-post route being run by the wide receiver, he drives on the ball, takes a great angle and gets on the ball carrier too quick to be avoided. A sound tackle combined with momentum provides enough power to force the fumble.

He made a similar play against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks later:

Coverage range

While Reid looks the part coming up towards a play, he has shown the ability to cover a lot of ground as he defends intermediate and deep throws all across the back end of the defense.

On this touchdown pass that he technically allows, Reid still shows an example of the skill he brings as a deep safety — something Chiefs defenders in deep coverage situations struggled with mightily in 2021.

The Cover 2 scheme puts Reid in a bind — covering two deep, vertical routes by himself. He naturally faces the inner route first, but as soon as he sees the quarterback commit to the outer route, he smoothly flips his hips, continues gaining depth vertically and closes on the receiver to deliver a big hit. However, the ball is caught — but Reid even being in a position to make a play on it is impressive.

His long speed to cover deep patterns also translates to quickness in getting to the spot he needs to. Here, Reid reacts immediately to the in-breaking route at the sticks; even though it looked like a miscommunication caused the receiver to stop short in his route, Reid jumped the pass so well that it was likely being intercepted either way.

Reid shows his ability to play the robber role in the Cover 1 wrinkle, sneaking down into the seam area right before the snap and waiting for the throw to the tight end — jumping it perfectly and cleanly but dropping the ball during the process.

Tackling

No matter where Reid is aligned or what responsibility he is tasked with, he will be a willing and solid tackler — breaking down and putting a shoulder into the legacy of a ball carrier, even a powerful runner like Kareem Hunt with a head of steam.

The bottom line

Reid has the speed, change of direction and football IQ to play wherever the Chiefs want to play him — but that doesn’t mean he should be used to the high level of variety that Mathieu was.

Reid will give the Chiefs a capable starter at either of the two traditional starting safety positions and should be a crucial part of defending the deep passing game that has become even more important, with Russell Wilson now quarterbacking for the Denver Broncos.

He shouldn’t be boxed into a specific role, but he also needs to be utilized intelligently; he is not the same type of man-coverage defender Mathieu could be from the slot or just in general. Overall, Reid has the characteristics of a starter that will rarely give fans reason to complain about his play.

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