The New York Jets head into the 2014 offseason with a few glaring needs. Although the offensive skill positions should be prioritized both in free agency and the draft, General Manager John Idzik can not neglect to address the hole at free safety. Hasean Clinton-Dix is the consensus top-rated safety in the 2014 class, but many mock drafts have him gone before the Jets' 1st round selection. Either way, the Jets would probably be better served adding a gamebreaker to the offense before focusing on their defensive needs. This is where Stanford University free safety Ed Reynolds will come into play.
Ed Reynolds has the prototypical size for a free safety. At 6'2'' and 206 lbs, he is physical enough to be a consistent contributor in the running game, while maintaining the fluidity and agility to cover tight ends and fortify the back-end of the defense. CBS projects him to run a 4.54 40-yard dash, but regardless of what he does at the Combine, Reynolds has shown that he has playmaking speed––he returned 3 INT for TD in 2012, amassing 301 return yards in the process to lead all NCAA players in the country.
In many ways, Reynolds looks like an NFL free safety. He is a centerfielder, reading the quarterback's eyes and displaying great range to make plays form sideline to sideline. He is also a big hitter––maybe not as ferocious as Calvin Pryor, but nevertheless a force––and makes receivers pay over the middle. He displays great instincts to find the ball, and great fluidity to make plays on it. As mentioned before, he knows what to do with the football once he gets it, as he returned 3 interceptions for TD and could have had one more (he was ruled down at the 1 yard line). He can stay with even the best tight ends in the slot––helping to hold Washington's Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to 6 catches and 68 yards over 2 games in 2012 and 2013––and provides good protection over the top. He is a smart kid (perhaps a testament to his Stanford education), and really understands his role in the defense as well as the roles of his teammates in the secondary. His angles of pursuit in pass-protection are usually solid, and he is rarely caught out of position. He is physical in run support (although inconsistently), and is a reliable tackler in most situations. Something that cannot be overstated is his experience against top talent, as Stanford played some of the top schools in the country during Edwards' years there. Although this isn't really a "positive", Reynolds comes from a strong football background; his father (who goes by the same name) played linebacker for the Giants and Patriots in the 1980's and was a league office executive after his retirement.
Ed Reynolds has shown a slight tendency to be over-aggressive, sometimes going for the big hit in lieu of the smart tackle. This has been exploited by shifty runners, including UCLA product and current Green Bay Packer Johnathan Franklin, who ran for 194 yards and 2 TD against Standford in 2012. While such performances can often be pegged on Stanford's front-7, the game-tape reveals that Reynolds struggled to contain Franklin and let him go for extra yardage on numerous occasions. Going for the big hit has also led to a few penalties, including a game against Arizona State in which Reynolds was ejected for this questionable quarterback hurry.
Truth told, I don't mind my safeties being a little overaggressive. That is a valuable trait that can be nurtured into a weapon with the right coaching. I am more concerned by his inconsistent open-field tackling. While he was often very solid in this aspect, there were a few instances on film that stood out as red flags, particularly against UCLA in 2012. He has the tools to be an all-around safety (rather than just a centerfielder), but he will need to improve his consistency to achieve his potential. Reynolds also comes with some injury concerns, as an ACL/MCL tear caused him to miss the 2011 season (although he has obviously bounced back well in 2012 and 2013).
How Does he Fit?
Ed Reynolds would slide in perfectly in the Jets secondary, and would theoretically compliment Antonio Allen quite nicely. His range and acumen in pass protection would allow the Jets to gamble more on defense, including sending more blitzers on passing downs. Most draft sites project Reynolds to be a 2nd round pick. Assuming the Jets choose a receiver or tight end with their first selection, Reynolds could and should be in play with the 49th pick.
With almost identical measurements, I see a lot of Harrison Smith in Ed Reynolds. The Minnesota Vikings safety has emerged as an above-average safety in his first two seasons, recording a combined 161 tackles and 5 interceptions. A University of Notre Dame product, Smith has also scored 2 defensive touchdowns thus far in his young career.
Tale of the Tape: