The San Francisco 49ers rolled out a host of rookies and second year players in prominent roles against the Denver Broncos, and they paid dividends. Numerous players stepped up, but rookie defensive back D.J. Reed has a chance at a rookie of the week honor. He is one of five “Pepsi Rookie of the Week” nominees, which you can vote on here.
The Pepsi award is a strictly fan-voted award. It gives the NFL a chance to slap a sponsor on something, but the recognition is still worthwhile. And Reed is very much deserving of it for the work he did in place of nickel back K’Waun Williams.
Williams is dealing with a knee injury and was questionable heading into the weekend. He was declared inactive, and Reed started in his place. If Williams had played, Reed likely would have started at free safety. Instead, Reed was the nickel back and Antone Exum started at free safety.
Reed finished the game with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. The sack came on a blitz off the end in which he was untouched. Of his 12 tackles, seven resulted in a stop — a stop being a play that Pro Football Focus measures as a “loss” for the offense. He gave up six receptions, according to PFF, but they accounted for a total of 15 yards.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan thought he saw Reed playing faster than he might otherwise because the nickel role is closer to his college role. He has some safety experience, but the bulk of his college work was more in the slot.
“It’s what he has more experience at and there’s less to do there. You’re lined up over the same guy the entire game and there’s not a lot of different stuff that you do. So, it’s an easier spot and definitely less pressure on him, especially as a rookie. He has more experience at it. D.J. wants to run, play free and hit and he does that very well. It showed up yesterday.”
Williams was not added to the injury report until Thursday after aggravating his knee on Wednesday. Shanahan said the injury happened the week before and was feeling good heading into the week. But then it started to bother him and swelling did not come down by Sunday. Shanahan said he hopes Williams will be good this week. Wednesday’s practice will give us a little more insight.
Shanahan would not commit to moving Reed full-time into the slot role over a healthy Williams.
“I wouldn’t say regardless. K’Waun’s played at a very high level this year and done a good job. I wouldn’t say just one game of D.J. Reed that he fully played better than him. But, D.J. did have a very good game. I was very excited to see him do some of the stuff he did as the nickel. I think K’Waun has done a hell of a job for us in these two years. So, if K’Waun is healthy, I expect K’Waun to be out there. But if he’s not, D.J. can hopefully do better than he did last week and it would be great to go in with some real good competition with those two next year.”
I suspect the 49ers will be cautious in getting Williams back on the field. Regardless, 2019 will bring quite the competition in the secondary. Richard Sherman seems like the only player guaranteed a starting job. Ahkello Witherspoon will likely be competing with Tarvarius Moore, Greg Mabin, and potentially draft picks or free agent additions to start opposite Sherman. Jaquiski Tartt could find himself in the tough competition with Marcell Harris for the strong safety role. Reed will be competing with Williams, but also could be competing with Adrian Colbert and Antone Exum for the free safety role.
It’s going to be a busy offseason of competition for most of the secondary roles.