The Patriots aren’t in need of a safety who can immediately play for them, but Justin Reid from Stanford could be a defensive back prospect that Bill Belichick simply can’t pass up if available. Reid’s listed position is safety, but he does a lot more than play the deep part of the field in coverage. His versatility extends to being able to play in the box, cover slot receivers and tight ends in man, and in a pinch even play a boundary corner role. Reid completely blew up the combine, putting in one of the best workout numbers I’ve seen from any defensive back prospect.
In the first round, the Patriots will pick a prospect that they believe can contribute on all four downs on either side of the ball. In Reid’s case, he very much can do that with his plus athleticism and speed projecting well in the kicking game as well as in the secondary. Belichick has connections with the Stanford program and head coach David Shaw, picking up Cameron Fleming and Jordan Richards in recent drafts. Fleming turned into a decent backup with starter upside before leaving New England to go play for the Dallas Cowboys as their potentially starting right tackle. Richards hasn’t amounted to anything in New England outside of the kicking game, but that shouldn’t discourage the Patriots from going into the Stanford program for another safety prospect.
Reid is one of the few prospects I like that doesn’t seem to have too many major flaws in his game. I do think at times he can be over-aggressive in pursuit, which leads to extra yards and plays for the opposition, but the mistakes are very rare.
Rookie Year Projection
Reid should immediately push for playing time right off the bat. His versatility and high football IQ makes him a great fit for 5 and 6 defensive back packages as both a slot defender and a coverage specialist against TEs and RBs. The Patriots like running sub packages with up to 4 safeties on the field. I could see Reid getting time at the Moneybacker role in the Patriots’ dime packages in obvious passing situations early before working his way into a possible regular rotation. In addition, I expect him to also play all four core units on Special Teams and the Field Goal Block units. Belichick isn’t going to draft a prospect in the first round that won’t contribute on special teams.
Long Term Projection
With Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung turning 31 this year, the Patriots certainly could look to get younger at the position. McCourty has a cap hit of $13.435M next season with a potential savings of $9.5M if cut next year, making him a potential cap casualty next Spring. The Patriots’ attempts to find a young safety have backfired with Tavon Wilson and Richards not panning out. Reid’s flexibility in the secondary is similar to McCourty’s where he can play both a traditional safety role as well as be a coverage specialists against slots, tight ends, and backs. By Year 2, I would expect him to play starter level snaps (~75%) as the Patriots begin to move on from McCourty and Richards after the 2018 season. The 2019-2020 seasons would feature a 3-safety tandem of Reid, Chung, and Harmon playing significant snaps on defense.
Player Comp: Devin McCourty
Like the former Patriots corner turned safety, Reid has the versatility to play safety and corner type roles in the defense. The ability to be able to cover tight ends and slot receivers in addition to being able to step down into the box potentially gives the Patriots another great safety trio to succeed the McCourty, Chung, Harmon combination that helped win Super Bowls XLIX and LI.
Draft Projection: 23
I don’t see Reid making it down to the 31st pick. A player with very few flaws in his game in addition to being a high football IQ player and captain for a very good Stanford team makes Reid one of the more attractive options in the draft. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the only safety I rank ahead of Reid on my board at the position. I would not be surprised if third time’s the charm with Belichick attempting to pick up a safety early in the draft.
Note: The #2 player on my list was Ohio State edge rusher Sam Hubbard. I have him as a fringe first prospect as a guy who can play the elephant position of both a edge rusher and on-ball linebacker.
Rest of the Top 10
#3: Alabama LB Rashaan Evans. Played under Nick Saban at Alabama and was a captain his senior year, so the familiarity with scheme and leadership skills are welcomed at a linebacker position that’s thin.
#4: Miami Slot Receiver Braxton Berrios. Will have to earn a job as the team’s slot receiver, but route running skills plus ability to return punts makes him an intriguing addition on Day 3.
#5: LSU RB Derrius Guice. Guice plays more physical than his stature suggests and has upside as a potential 3-down back in the future, although not in New England with James White and Rex Burkhead signed for 3 more years.
#6: Pittsburgh OT Brian O’Neill. O’Neill has the most upside at the position in the draft, but also the lowest floor. Very athletic blocker but needs to add weight and improve weight to be a starting blindside blocker.
#7: Georgia RB Sony Michel. Michel has a well-rounded skill set that complements the two backs the Patriots already have. Best when running north-south, but not exceptional at creating extra yards after contact.
#8: Georgia EDGE/LB Lorenzo Carter. Carter may be the best on-ball linebacker in the draft with the speed and burst to play on the edge as a stand-up rusher while fast and athletic enough to play at the second level of the defense.
#9: SMU Slot Receiver Trey Quinn. Quinn was a highly recruited receiver that left LSU to go play for SMU and put up ridiculous numbers there. Competition level and lack of special teams fit could cause Quinn to go undrafted.
#10: UCF CB Mike Hughes. Hughes is still developing as a corner and has excellent punt return skills. Physical and competitive nature on every snap despite being a bit shorter than average is very reminiscent of Malcolm Butler, although he could stand to improve his tackling and downfield coverage.
Missed the Cut
- Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch: Injury history is concerning, but Vander Esch has very intriguing athletic numbers. Vander Esch was only was healthy for one season, which makes his projection very difficult.
- Boston College EDGE Harold Landry: I’d guess Landry has roughly a 50% chance of being available at 23, although the Patriots prefer larger edge rushers so he may be playing more on his feet than with his hand in the dirt on early downs. In New England he’d be an on-ball linebacker, similar to Rob Ninkovich.
- Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta: Biggest concern is arm strength with Lauletta although he has excellent pocket awareness and a strong feel for the game itself. Plus he has Navy and Lacrosse connections, so Belichick could be interested in him on that alone.
- Louisville CB Jaire Alexander: Alexander may have put himself out of the Patriots’ draft range with a monster combine. Alexander is a bit shorter than average, but he also tested well in speed and agility numbers.
- Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson: When healthy, Nelson could immediately push for playing time as a slot corner. Injuries in 2017 could be the one reason the Patriots look at him with their 3rd round pick.