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49ers 90-in-90: D.J. Reed, starting kick returner?

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is defensive back D.J. Reed.

NFL: FEB 02 Super Bowl LIV - Chiefs v 49ers Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers cornerback D.J. Reed didn’t get much of an opportunity last year thanks to a strong secondary. Reed was targeted only 12 times in 2019. Reed allowed eight receptions and one touchdown. Reed blitzed twice and one of those turned into pressure. His versatility to play on the outside and at safety make Reed a valuable commodity to have on your roster.

It’s not as if Reed was bad when he played last season. He broke up two passes in those 12 targets. Ball skills were Reed’s trademark coming out of college. He also forced and recovered a fumble, while improving as a tackler as well. Reed missed 10% of his tackles in 2018 compared to 7% in 2019. Reed can make a difference this season on special teams. He didn’t get the opportunity in 2019, but in 2018 Reed averaged 30 yards a return on 11 attempts.

Basic Info

Age: 23 (turns 24 November 11)

Experience: Two accrued seasons

Height: 5’8

Weight: 188

Cap Status

Reed has two years remaining on his rookie deal. His cap number in 2020 will be $827,843. Reed would have to play himself off the roster, considering he’s only taking up 0.4% of the team’s cap percentage this season.

What to expect in 2020

It’ll be tough for Reed to overtake K’Waun Williams as the nickel cornerback, but Reed can find his way on the field in other ways. I recall Reed running in the game when Richard Sherman went down at the end of the Saints game. When Williams missed time, Reed filled in. What we can expect from Reed is he’ll likely be the kick returner. Those duties were Richie James, but it’s going to be hard for James to return kicks if he’s not on the team. The depth at wide receiver now makes James expendable as a returner, though he is highly skilled. Reed is a step down from James, but he has value on other special teams as well. One thing to keep an eye on is that if Reed does win the job and isn’t effective, do the 49ers make a change?

Odds on making the roster

If Reed isn’t on the roster come Week 1, that’s because he was outplayed by players who may play other positions, and they add more value than Reed. His contract helps, especially two more years on a rookie deal. Special teams value helps, but Reed is competent, and that’ll keep him on the field. Also, he doesn’t have question marks like a lengthy injury history as Jason Verrett, and he’s a better player than Dontae Johnson. I’d be surprised if Reed weren’t on the roster.