When the 49ers let All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson test the free agent market (and subsequently sign a five year, $41.25 million dollar deal) it gave them a legitimate ‘need' heading into the 2013 NFL Draft. Fans and pundits everywhere suspected the 49ers would address the need at free safety with one of their first few selections.
In the hours leading up to the first round, rumors swirled the 49ers were looking to aggressively move up. Those same fans and pundits figured a move up meant the 49ers were looking to address another position...depth along the defensive line, perhaps; or even a dynamic playmaker. Instead, the 49ers moved up 13 spots (in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys - the Cowboys also received the 74th overall pick) and selected former LSU safety Eric Reid. The move may have been a slight reach. But with picks to spare the 49ers confidently made a move to get their guy.
At 6-1, 213lbs, Reid has a solid frame and above average speed and flexibility (although he can get a bit stiff in one-on-one coverage - more on that later). Reid posted a 4.53 forty at the NFL combine in February where he was also a top performer in the vertical leap (40.5 inches) and the broad jump (134 inches). Reid is a physical free safety with above average ball skills. He'll be an asset in run defense and could develop into a ball-hawking safety with some time.
Reid enrolled in LSU as a four star safety (both Rivals and ESPN) and immediately earned playing time. As a freshman, Reid started two games while also contributing on special teams. He tallied 32 total tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defended. As a sophomore, Reid was a full time starter and led the Tigers with 76 tackles. He also grabbed two more interceptions, two forced fumbles, and five passes defended. As a senior, Reid accounted for 91 tackles, again grabbed two interceptions, and defended nine passes.
Over the course of his career at LSU Reid received numerous accolades including SEC Academic Honor Roll (2011 & 2012), All-SEC (second team in 2011, first team in 2012), and All-American honors (2011, second team Rivals; 2012 first and second team honors by various publications). Needless to say, Reid has had an impressive career thus far and he'll be expected to produce early as he attempts to fill the shoes of an All-Pro.
Reid actually reminds me a little of Goldson. Reid has better ball skills at this point in his career than Goldson, but Goldson is a better tackler.
Let's take a look at some of Reid's strengths:
- Superb read and react skills: Watching Reid on tape you can tell he has a great football IQ. He diagnoses plays wells and reacts immediately to the ball.
- Aggressive and physical play: While Reid isn't the most technically sound tackler, he is a powerful hitter. He'll need to wrap up better in the middle of the field but excels in cut tackles in open space (like Goldson). Reid loves to make plays in the box and covers a ton of ground in a short period of time to meet ball carriers.
- Ball skills: Because Reid is a ‘read/react' defender he's been able to develop a knack for making plays on the ball. He is extremely competitive on jump balls and will not be out worked on the 50/50 balls. (See the 2011 Alabama game.)
Areas where Reid will need to improve:
- Aggressive and physical play: Yes, I've listed it as a strength and a weakness. That's because Reid can get a little too aggressive and over run plays or be easily looked off by the quarterback. Reid likes to peak into the backfield and read the eyes of the QB, experienced QBs will hold him to one side of the field with their eyes long enough to let a receiver on the opposite side work through his route. Reid's physical play will mimic Goldson's so he'll make a lot of big hits and likely write a lot of checks to the league office.
- Tackling technique: I'm nitpicking a bit here; but Reid tends to be more of a hitter instead of tackler. Refining his technique should alleviate some missed tackles.
- One-on-one cover skills: Again, nitpicking. Reid won't be asked to cover a ton of slot guys. But if he is, he has had some issues with small, quicker receivers. Teams like Seattle may try to expose this by getting him in one-on-one situations against Percy Harvin.
Check out some game tape from Reid's game versus South Carolina last year.
Overall, moving up to in the first to grab Reid was smart. Really smart. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh recognized the impact Reid could have on this defense and didn't shy away from pulling the trigger to ensure they got him.
Reid's style of play is aggressive. There will be times you curse him and there will be times you praise him. This may sound crazy to some of you, but it isn't a far cry to think Reid could present the 49ers with an upgrade at the free safety position. That's not to take anything away from "The Hawk"; I loved Goldson but recognized his liability in coverage.
Reid has better cover skills and is only marginally inferior to Goldson in defending the run...maybe. Truth is, Reid is a heck of a lot further along at his age than Goldson was when he arrived in 2007.
To sum it all up, the 49ers made a smart business decision when they moved up in the first round to get Reid. He's physical, smart, and has better ball skills than Dashon Goldson. Oh yeah, and he didn't cost $41.25 million dollars. Upgrade? I think so.
For more on Reid and his comparables to Goldson check out the work by Steve Busichio Is New 49ers Rookie Eric Reid "Dashon Goldson 2.0"?