The NFL has grown into more and more of a passing league over the past two decades, and teams have been adjusting their roster-building strategies accordingly. Last week, The Ringer NFL columnist Danny Kelly put together an extensive rundown on how the slot corner has become a premium position.
Slot receivers are no longer purely a specialty position, as we see some top tier receivers regularly lining up inside. Danny pointed out some notable examples, including Larry Fitzgerald, Adam Thielen, and Keenan Allen. Great performers are spending more time there, and that means teams need to invest more in free agency and scouting dollars to find necessary defensive counters.
The San Francisco 49ers signed K’Waun Williams to a contract extension last year after he got off to a solid start. This past April, they added defensive back D.J. Reed in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Reed played cornerback at Kansas State, but his size meant he was destined for an inside corner role. The 49ers gave him work at both slot corner and free safety, and he has excelled thus far. PFF released their all defensive rookie team for the first three weeks of the preseason, and Reed was included as the slot corner.
Standout rookies on defense this preseason. pic.twitter.com/5Mhk9otLTJ— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 30, 2018
The 49ers will bench most of their starters tonight vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, but whether or not Reed plays, he would seem to have earned a role in the 49ers defense. He will not supplant K’Waun Williams at this point, but that’s not a huge deal. The 49ers will play five and six defensive backs regularly enough this season that Reed will get plenty of playing time even as the sixth DB. Add in his potential as a kick returner, and Reed could end up high on the list of 49ers most impactful rookies this year.