One of the Jets' best players on defense said that he's still trying to absorb the presence of one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
"Even when he came in the building, I'm like, 'Dang, that's really A.R., he's really a Jet,' " CB D.J. Reed said last week during the team's first OTA sessions, referring, of course, to Aaron Rodgers. "It's still kind of just surreal. It's a crazy feeling knowing that we've got a Hall of Fame quarterback that's going to be playing with us this year."
The two California natives faced each other three times before they became teammates at 1 Jets Drive: In 2019, a 49ers victory en route to playing in Super Bowl LIV; and with Seattle in 2020 and 2021, both Seahawks victories. Now, they get to see each other each and every day in practice.
"You better be ready on defense, as a cornerback going against Aaron Rodgers you have to tighten up," Reed told Eric Allen on a new edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "You have to know what you're doing. One false move and he's going to exploit you.
"He's a Cali boy, cool dude. Once he came here I texted him and said 'let's go.' He was excited, too. He's just focused. You can tell the way he works out and trains, leading by action. He asked me how the baby [Reed's daughter is almost 6 months old] is doing. I didn't tell him, but he knew I had a newborn. He's really funny, too. In the weight room he was playing hip hop and everyone was 'OK, respect.' It's funny because you wouldn't expect him to listen to that."
Or, for that matter, to see Rodgers at a Taylor Swift concert. But the four-time NFL MVP has been soaking up all the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area has to offer in his short time with his new team.
Reed is the type of hungry, come-from-nowhere type of player HC Robert Saleh talks about often. And there's no doubt that Reed fits the profile. After a stellar high school career playing football and basketball at Independence HS in Bakersfield, CA, Reed walked on at Fresno State, but left for Cerritos Junior College after a season.
"It was rough, real trenches," Reed said of his JUCO experience "Sleeping on the floor, playing games on an empty stomach. It was humbling."
He returned to Division 1 with Kansas State in 2016, where he said he "fit like a glove." Reed was then selected by San Francisco in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, where he first encountered Saleh, the 49ers' defensive coordinator. At 5-9, Reed was often seen as a slot corner. But he knew he could do more and Saleh even acknowledged overlooking Reed's true talents.
"First of all, when he was in San Francisco he was a great defensive coach, everyone had respect for him," Reed said. "I think I loved how he held everyone accountable, it didn't matter who you were. He would call you out if he saw a mistake. I really respected him in San Fran. He said he made a mistake [in his evaluation of Reed], as a man I have to give him credit. It takes a lot of humility, he doesn't have to say that. I've got a lot of love for Saleh."
After sustaining a torn pec while working in the weight room, Reed was waived by the 49ers and picked up by the Seahawks where he blossomed over two seasons. "It's a crazy universe -- I got my first NFL interception against my former team," he said. Then Reed ended up back with Saleh after signing a lucrative three-year, free-agent deal with the Jets last year. He went from West Coast to East Coast to be paired with rookie Gardner -- a long way from sleeping on the floor in Cerritos.
"That's my brother," Reed said. "I always say the sky is not the limit for him. He's so good, but still could get so much better. From an athletic standpoint he can cover everybody, any receiver. He's sticky in coverage and has the right mindset. What separates Sauce is that he's eager to learn every day. He's trying to add to his game. He's focused on this year. He did great things last year, but that's last year. He has a different mindset than anybody else."
See Aaron Rodgers, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, C.J. Mosley and the Jets on the field during the first three practices of OTAs in 2023.
Gardner's stellar rookie season took a lot of air out of the room and overshadowed Reed's impressive contribution in his first season in Green & White. But it did not go unnoticed by Saleh and others.
"I know Sauce gets all the fanfare for his draft spot and catchy nickname, and he's doing a great job, but D.J. is playing Pro Bowl football," Saleh said last season. "If you watch the tape and dissect what he's doing, he's playing at an All-Pro level and is every bit as deserving of the praise that Ahmad gets."
At the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and beyond, Reed's value on and off the field is no secret.
Cynthia Frelund, NFL Network’s Analytics Expert, recently wrote that Reed was the most underappreciated player on the Jets, but that's perhaps only from the outside.
"We shouldn't let a stellar draft class (which included eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner) overshadow the exceptional free-agent crop from a ridiculously strong 2022 offseason by general manager Joe Douglas. The Reed signing was one of the most underrated moves of all of free agency last year. NGS [Next Gen Stats] shows he was targeted on 14.3 percent of coverage snaps in 2022, the seventh-lowest rate at the position among those with 300-plus coverage snaps (respect.) Further, he allowed just 5.3 yards per target, which was the fifth-lowest of that group (earned respect.)"
Reed limited opposing receivers to 5.8 yards per target in 2022. Offenses targeted the Jets' CB2 85 times in 17 games (all starts) and he permitted only 2 touchdowns while holding his counterparts to 9.1 yards per completion. That's in a defense that emerged at No. 4 overall in the league. Not to be overlooked was his durability and availability -- he played all 1,136 snaps on defense, career bests -- while notching single-season bests with 80 tackles and 12 PDs.
The excitement around the Jets is palpable ahead of the 2023 season opener against visiting Buffalo on Monday night, Sept. 11. And for Reed, who has played and lost in the Super Bowl, it's all about winning.
"It's why we train, why we work out, and try to be the best version of ourselves," he said. "I want to be a Super Bowl champion. It's not just about getting there, I've done that. It's about lifting the Lombardi Trophy. It's about winning it, sharing it with your teammates, coaches and the fans. I definitely want to do that this year."