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Jarran Reed’s breakout season has him among the NFL’s best DTs

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the finish:

BOTTOM LINE Reed is an elite run defender with the lower body strength to command his gap, but the instincts and timing to be productive as a tackler rather than just a space ­eater. Reed’s lack of pass rushing ability creates a potential glass­ ceiling on his draft stock; however, teams looking for a battle-­tested run ­stuffer will find an instant upgrade who should be able to come in and start immediately if needed.

That was the consensus on Jarran Reed heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Reed was seen as an elite run-stopper but in a passing league that cares not that much about run defense, the type of player that Reed was projected as is simply not a first round value. One could point to Brandon Williams of the Baltimore Ravens as an example of a great defensive tackle with 5.5 career sacks in six seasons.

Williams is valuable to the Ravens, but he’s also 17th in APY for defensive tackles and has never made a Pro Bowl. He’s beloved in Baltimore but won’t be confused with Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins on a national level, and I think that’s warranted, because it’s not like Donald and Atkins don’t also play run defense. A three-down defensive tackle with a significant pass rush game is a top-10 pick and few people saw that third down coming for Reed because it never happened in his two years at Alabama.

WEAKNESSES Ineffective pass rusher. Was subbed out for on obvious passing downs. Straight-­line pass rusher unable to turn a corner and generate heat inside the pocket. Had just two sacks and sixteen quarterback pressures during his two years with Alabama. Bull­rush is missing. Average foot quickness and lacking upfield explosion out of stance to play in a one­-gap scheme. His hand work is very average as a pass rusher.

The time for Reed to show potential as a top-10 pick would have had to happen going into his final year of college, and since that never happened, Reed slipped out of the first round. Though some thought that was a huge mistake.

WalterFootball did think he should be a top-25 pick.

Mike Mayock had Reed ranked third at his position, behind only DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Rankins.

Todd McShay noted that Reed improved in pass rush during his time at Alabama, registering eight QB hurries in his senior season.

Reed was also a standout at the Senior Bowl:

At the end of the first round, the Seattle Seahawks ended up taking Germain Ifedi, having traded down from 26 to 31 with the Denver Broncos, who wanted Paxton Lynch. In moving down, the Seahawks added a third rounder (Nick Vannett), but in the four picks between Lynch and Ifedi, an unlikely three defensive tackles went off the board: Kenny Clark, Robert Nkemdiche, and Vernon Butler.

Defensive tackle was a major need for Seattle — as it really has been since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010 — specifically one who has a pass rush aspect to his game. Did the Seahawks F up by moving down four spots and losing out on three defensive tackles, including Nkemdiche, who many considered a top-10 talent with character concerns? I saw one place list him with 26 QB pressures in his final season at Ole Miss, a much higher number than eight. Clark had 11 TFL and six sacks in his last season at UCLA. Butler was also seen to have a high ceiling as a pass rusher.

Instead, the Seahawks wound up with Ifedi, a choice that confused and upset many Seattle fans. No first round defensive tackles were coming to this defense.

As the second round transpired, Chris Jones went to the Kansas City Chiefs at pick 37. Jones has been a rather fantastic interior pass rusher in his NFL career. Then Austin Johnson went to the Tennessee Titans at pick 43. Then the final insult as Reed’s own defensive tackle teammate A’Shawn Robinson went off the board to the Detroit Lions at pick 46. Not only had eight defensive tackles gotten drafted before him, but Reed was the very last pro prospect left in the green room at the event.

Which hurts even more given that Reed’s suit game was on point.

NFL Draft - Red Carpet Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

Finally, Seattle saw their opportunity.

Having acquired an additional third rounder already, the Seahawks felt even more comfortable making a decision to move up for the defensive tackle that they actually coveted. Schneider used a fourth round pick to move up from 56 to 49 to select Reed; afterwards, Schneider admitted that they contemplated taking Reed at pick 31 instead of Ifedi.

“Jarran was so unique,’’ Schneider said. “We were waiting for him to a certain extent, but when it got that close, I mean, God helps those who can’t help themselves, right?’’

Seahawks area scout Jim Nagy called Reed the “alpha dog” of a national championship defense at Alabama.

Mike Bar wrote here at Field Gulls that Reed was the steal of the draft and that his ceiling was perhaps not Michael Brockers or Eddie Goldman, to whom he was often compared, but Kawann Short of the Carolina Panthers, a player who has annoyed and disrupted the Seahawks all too many times.

Jarran Reed is a plug-and-play starter from day one at defensive tackle. He openly talks about his versatility in being able to one-gap, two-gap and rush the passer. Having the 325 pound Ahtyba Rubin playing next to him at 3-technique doesn’t hurt. I don’t see Reed becoming Aaron Donald, as he is significantly leaner and plays a different style. But Kawann Short is not an unobtainable benchmark for Reed to reach. Short was also seriously under-drafted in the second round. Coincidence? I think not.

Short and Reed are both 6’3. Both weighed around 300 lbs at the time of the draft. Short has longer arms, Reed has bigger hands. Short is maybe a little faster. Reed maybe jumps a little higher and farther. Short was voted a captain at Purdue, so he was also seen as one of the team’s leaders.

And that’s something Carroll predicted would happen for Reed earlier this year.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier this year that new leaders would need to emerge for the Seahawks. He mentioned defensive tackle Jarran Reed as a possibility, calling the former Alabama standout “the heart and soul up front” for Seattle.

”It sends chills through my body,” Reed said when asked about Carroll’s comments during an appearance on “Danny, Dave and Moore” on KIRO-AM in Seattle earlier this month, “and it makes me realize that they do have faith in me, that they believe in me, and, of course, just being able to get along with the players and be vocal and to go out there to show it and to do it. That’s one thing that I’ve always carried with me throughout my life.

”As far as calling myself a leader, I wouldn’t do that. I’m just trying to be the best teammate and best player that I can be in the locker room and on the field for my teammates and my guys that I’m out there battling with. If he wants to give me a role, I will embrace it, take it on. Nothing’s going to change. I’m going to be myself every day, give it all I’ve got. I want everybody I’m playing with to be the same -- go out there and play with a lot of physical tenacity and a lot of grit.”

Reed has responded with a six-game start to this season that rivals and compares favorably to the third year of Short, when he recorded 11 sacks and made the Pro Bowl, helping the Panthers go 15-1 and win the NFC, including a 31-24 win over Seattle in the playoffs. On the second offensive play of the game for the Seahawks, Kawann Short pressures Russell Wilson into throwing a pick-six to Luke Kuechly. On Seattle’s sixth offensive play, Short sacks Wilson for a loss of 10.

The Seahawks went down 31-0 and even though they nearly made the comeback, the message was as clear as ever: Not only does Seattle need to stop Short, they need to find Short. A few months later, they drafted Reed.

Not a coincidence, and he kinda looks the part, doesn’t he? After just three sacks in his first two seasons, Reed is on fire.

Reed had five tackles and a QB hit in Week 1. He had two sacks in Week 3. He had a sack and two TFL in Week 4. He had six tackles in Week 5. He had five tackles and a sack in Week 6. Here are your leaders in sacks by a defensive tackle this season:

Geno Atkins, 6

DeForest Buckner, 4.5

Reed, Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, 4

How’s that for company? Since Week 3, no defensive tackle has more sacks than Reed. And this guy was only supposed to be the best run-stopper in the 2016 draft. What if instead he’s also as good of a pass rusher as Buckner, the seventh overall pick? Reed has more sacks in the last four games than he had in his first two seasons. He has matched his career-high in TFL. He’s halfway to a new career-high in QB hits with 10 games to go. Short had five sacks in his first two seasons and then 11 in year three.

Last April, Short signed an $80 million extension.

What’s next for Reed, who will be entering the final year of his deal in 2019? And who doesn’t have a fifth-year option because for better or worse, he was not a first round pick. The Seahawks considered taking him there and they didn’t. It allowed them to get a right tackle who is also enjoying a breakout season, but it may cost them a slightly cheaper fifth season — but it has also perhaps gotten them the best defensive tackle Carroll has ever had in Seattle.

Last in the green room in 2016. First to the quarterback in 2018.