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Eric Reid: Rookie of the Year?

Eric Reid has made headlines through 6 weeks thanks to superb coverage in a San Francisco secondary that needs it. What do the stats bear out for Reid thus far? And what can we expect moving forward?

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Reid, the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 pick of this year's draft is having a stellar start to his season, and the praise is coming in from everywhere to signal as much.

Reid managed to make it on Pro Football Focus' Race for Rookie of the Year through 6 games with a +4.9 grade and a stamp of approval from the site after taking over for Dashon Goldson, who is now of course with Tampa Bay.

Brian Burke's Advanced NFL Stats has Reid ranked 12th among safeties in both WPA (Win Probability Added) and EPA (Expected Points Added).

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh spoke specifically to the success of Reid in a recent press conference:

"Well, he's blessed with a lot of ability. He's very sharp. Learns very well. Doesn't repeat mistakes. He's not an err repeater. Once he does something he gets coached on you don't see that same mistake again.

Reid managed his best two performances of the year in his last two games, according to PFF, so Harbaugh may be right about the quick-learner San Francisco picked up for themselves out of LSU.

Early in the year, Reid was having trouble with tackles, missing 5 in the first 3 games; but he seems to have improved on that, only missing 3 in the last 3 outings.

The 8 total misses on the year put Reid in a tie for 2nd among safeties with the most missed tackles. 2 of those misses came in the run game, where Reid has not had the closing success of his partner-in-crime, Donte Whitner.

Whitner edges out Reid in tackles, assists, and stops in the run game; and has no misses (in the run game). He also plays a slightly higher percentage of his snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage than Reid, meaning our rookie safety might not be challenging "Hitner" to his naming rights any time soon.

The majority of Reid's missed tackles (totaling 6) come in the passing game, where he leads all safeties and is 2nd-worst in Pro Football Focus' Tackling Efficiency stat, which measures the number of attempted tackles per miss (Whitner, if you were wondering, has only 2 missed tackles in the passing game).

This reflects itself in Reid's YAC (yards after catch) given up. While the former LSU star has only allowed 11 receptions, and is among the top 15 safeties in yards given up per snap spent in coverage, 69 of his 86 yards allowed have come in the form of YAC.

Missed tackles will due that to you, but there is a lot of potential to fix those mistakes fast if Harbaugh's view of Reid is correct (and who are we to doubt him?)

He's very sharp. Learns very well. Doesn't repeat mistakes. - Head Coach Jim Harbaugh

Most of Reid's success, then, has come where the 49ers primarily need him. Not in the run game to support an already-stout front-7, but in coverage.

First and foremost, he has developed an eye for the ball, picking up on the "ball hawking" where Dashon Goldson left it, forcing 3 interceptions so far this season -- good for a first place tie among all NFL safeties -- and recovering that pivotal Larry Fitzgerald fumble this past Sunday against Arizona.

Harbaugh commented again in another recent press conference:

"... the amount of times [S] Donte Whitner, [former 49ers S] Dashon Goldson were involved in turnovers, stripping, causing, recovering, intercepting the football, and I think it's very encouraging that Eric Reid is getting in on that, recovering, causing or intercepting. Something that's been very good for our defense."

Turnovers are always huge in giving the offense another shot at the ball, oftentimes with a shortened field. Given the early struggles of the San Francisco attack this season, the consistency of the defense has helped keep the team on the heels of Seattle atop of the NFC West.

Believe it or not, Reid helps top off a secondary unit that has made it into the top 10 over at Football Outsiders. FO has the 49ers' pass defense ranked 6th, despite our pass rush not being all that it could be. Indeed, San Francisco's pressure is ranked 21st with only 14 sacks and a 6.6% adjusted sack rate, also according to FO.

Advanced NFL Stats, too, has the pass defense ranked 6th in Pass EPA and 5th in Success Rate -- that last stat notching San Francisco ahead of the current NFC West leaders.

Not bad.

Last year, an inefficient pass rush exposed an over-reliant secondary. That may not be a problem for the 49ers in 2013. Though Corey Lemonier filled in for Aldon Smith admirably on Sunday, I can say it makes me feel a lot better at night knowing our secondary unit can hold its own in case our front-7 experiences further injury troubles.

Moving forward, as Harbaugh likes to remind us and the team, "If you aren't getting better, you're getting worse." Eric Reid, by the Head Coach's own admission, appears to have just that mindset:

"I think the other thing that's really important for him to continue to do is, a lot of times it can be easy to say, ‘I'm a starting player. I'm a first-round pick. I'm starting day one for the 49ers,' and you start to feel pretty darn good about yourself. And, I think he's done a real good job of continuing to know that he's got to work hard, improve and just keep coming. That's what I hope for."

For many of us, the first impression of Reid on draft day was an excited one -- and not just because of his potential as a player, but because of his blatant humility.

The 49ers traded with Dallas to grab the 18th pick, jumping ahead to get "their guy", Eric Reid. Reid came to the podium with his young daughter and, in my eyes, exuded "good kid" vibes. I was looking forward to him succeeding, less because he was now a Niner, and more because I felt he had a good head on his shoulders.

All this from seeing the guy for about a minute, I know -- but I also know I'm not the only one among you who got such vibes.

The commentators quickly noted, "he's not a consistent tackler." That much followed him to the NFL, though he's already working on it.

What interested me was seeing the stat: "6 career interceptions."

The first-round safety out of LSU already has half that amount in just 6 games as an NFL starter. Here's to seeing him top that in the next 10, and roll with the right amount of confidence and humility into his first post-season.

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