The Jets' D.J. Reed is a rarity in the NFL, a 5-9 cornerback who can line up outside the numbers and excel. Reed, 25, who signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Jets in March, is a dogged competitor who will be counted on as a critical culture piece for a young team looking to reverse its fortunes.
With Robert Saleh his defensive coordinator his first two pro seasons in San Francisco, Reed, a fifth-round pick out of Kansas State, primarily lined up in the slot. But he was waived in 2020 with a non-football injury designation after he sustained a torn pectoral muscle during an offseason workout and was claimed by the Seahawks, and a position move would follow.
"When I was a D coordinator at San Francisco, we looked at D.J. as a nickel safety and we tried to pin him there and say he can't play outside, he's too small," Saleh said during a spring appearance on "The Official Jets Podcast." "Because of Covid and roster restrictions and he had an injury, we had to cut him and hoped we'd be able to stash him for the year."
But the Seahawks claimed Reed and he returned to the lineup in November with 6 tackles and an INT against Saleh and the Niners. He would play 24 games in two seasons with Seattle and became a fixture on the outside, starting 22 contests and totaling 140 tackles, 17 PDs and 4 INTs.
"To Seattle's credit, they claimed him, they stashed him and waited until he got healthy," Saleh said. "And over the next year and a half, he absolutely dominated outside. He proved Seattle right, he proved me wrong, and I'm not afraid to admit that. I'm so proud of him, it's a testament to who he is and the type of mindset he has. If you say he can't do something, he will prove you wrong. So be very careful on the challenges you make to him because he will prove you wrong."
Reed took a long road to the Jets, spending a redshirt season at Fresno State before enrolling at Cerritos College (Norwalk, CA) and then finally earning a scholarship at Kansas State. He has remained on the move in the NFL -- the Jets are his third NFL team since the 2018 NFL Draft.
"It's been pretty fun," he said this spring. "The first couple of weeks, like the first two weeks, was a lot, just getting moved in and trying to find a home and just trying to get used to everything. But once I got all that knocked out, everything has been love here. The way we work, we're working really hard in OTAs. Even before OTAs started, guys were working hard in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. We have a lot of guys who are really good football players. I think it's going to be very fun to see how everything plays out."
Reed is a pain to play against because he is relentless with sticky coverage on every play and he's quickly becoming a glue guy inside his locker room.
See some of the best images of the 2022 Jets in uniform at the team's annual multimedia day held at 1 Jets Drive.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Reed: "He's overcome a lot to be where he's at today and he will only get better. I don't think this league has seen what he can become. So, super excited about him. He's a guy that drives that room. A lot of times corners are, just by nature because they're out on these islands, sometimes they're not the most inclusive teammates, if that makes sense, and they can be a little bit of a loner because of the life they live on that island. He's not that way at all. He's a guy that's constantly challenging the group, constantly bringing guys along, brings energy, brings passion and he will make everyone better. Not just the corners — he's going to make our entire team better in that way."
Reed is impressed with the talent the Jets have assembled on the roster. After playing a couple of seasons with one of the game's top QBs in Russell Wilson, Reed sees elite qualities in the Jets' Zach Wilson.
"His arm strength is phenomenal," Reed said. "He can throw out routes from the other side of the hash, which for a lot of quarterbacks it's a hard to throw to make. But he makes it look really easy. Just as far as the throws he can make, he's really talented. His arm strength and his accuracy is really elite."
Reed, who will line up across from rookie CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner come September, believes the Jets scored big with their recent draft haul.
"We got real dudes. I think it's that simple," he said. "Sauce is a real guy, he's prototypical but he can play. He can cover, he's a real corner. I think he's going to be really good, elite type of player. Same as [WR Garrett] Wilson, just guarding him, one of those receives who feels slippery like Justin Jefferson."
With his new deal and financial security, Reed is not going to slip into content mode anytime soon. Overlook him at your own risk.
"For me, I'm going to focus on my press technique at the line of scrimmage," he said. "Just being patient and getting my work in and getting my hands on receivers.. That at then the transition to get better at the top of routes, just breaking and having my eyes drive on the receiver instead of looking for the ball. Those are my two corrections to get better on this year."