Following the Detroit Lions’ decision to make Justin Coleman the highest paid slot corner in the league, Seattle has an opening at the third CB spot. Many supposed Akeem King would be the next man up. Yet King’s best successes in 2018 were taking on tight ends in the slot; his size and play-style projects far better outside or in a DeShawn Shead role. Instead, it’s Kalan Reed that looks like the next Seattle Seahawks nickel cornerback.
Seattle and John Schneider have enjoyed massive success finding starting caliber nickel talent at cheap prices. There was 2010 fourth-round pick Walter Thurmond, who was once a key member of the Legion of Boom. Fifth-round selection Jeremy Lane followed—Lane, before injuries, was one of the most dominant nickels in the league. Marcus Burley was acquired for a sixth and did a solid job. Heck, even Coleman himself arrived from the Patriots for a meagre seventh-rounder.
Scanning through the Seahawks’ roster, it was the virtually invisible Reed whose body-type immediately stood out. Reed, signed to the practice squad in October 2018 and recently tendered as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, is listed at 5ft 11, 199lbs. The work of Field Gulls’ Alistair Corp highlights that Seattle sticks to a minimum of 5ft 10, 185lbs and over at the position. In addition to matching these thresholds, Reed aced his testing at his pro-day. He ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash with a 1.57 10-yard-split and leapt 41.5 inches vertically.
Proud of all of our guys at Pro Day today. Here's one of many great performances. Kalan Reed with a 41.5 vertical pic.twitter.com/ijpWOhYrER— CoachWoodfin (@KUStrength) March 24, 2016
Reed’s athletic talent contributed towards a productive college career at Southern Mississippi. In his final season; he was awarded first-team All-Conference USA honors; had 56 tackles; and recorded four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, along with a school-record 19 pass break-ups. Pro Football Focus charted that, in his last season, “Reed allowed only 48.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught.” He finished with 18 career interceptions.
Reed’s tape impressed too, showcasing all the traits you want from a slot corner. There were ball skills, quickness, lateral mobility, great feet, speed, ball skills, aggression and competitiveness.
Mr Irrelevant is most definitely not irrelevant. This was one of the best plays of year on 4th + goal from K Reed pic.twitter.com/KjRoEJPpuo— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 30, 2016
Kalan Reed is a hell of a player. If he gets given a shot he can be far more than Mr Irrelevant: pic.twitter.com/gD3dAlSoBt— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 30, 2016
PFF rated him highly:
Mr. Irrelevant will be far from irrelevant for @Titans.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 30, 2016
Kalan Reed is the No. 54 overall prospect on PFF's board. https://t.co/2rzTHw8Hhm
As did Dane Brugler:
CB Kalan Reed will not be irrelevant in the NFL. #Promise— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 30, 2016
Yet, in its befuddling manner, the NFL Draft process saw Reed taken late. As late as possible in fact. He received the ‘honor’ of being 2016’s Mr Irrelevant. “He’s a very good movement player,” Titans General Manager Jon Robinson enthused to the Tennessean. “Very good ball skills. Another productive player on the football.”
.@NFL Fixed that for you. pic.twitter.com/ClxtgcDl1P— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) April 30, 2016
Robinson has New England-thinking that makes the addition of Reed like that of Coleman. The three teams—New England, Tennessee and Seattle—clearly look for similar traits at slot. The stuff Reed showed on tape in college transitioned well to the NFL action he received in Titans-blue. It’s surprising the Titans decided to move on from Reed when they did. Let’s look at Reed’s NFL action:
Change of direction skills
Covering the slot is a fool’s errand. An unenviable task. It’s a brutal role, particularly at the NFL level. Teams love putting their #1 receivers there while looking to get favorable match-ups. A large reason for this is the space the slot produces. It’s essentially a two-way-go; a worryingly spacious island for the defender to control. Reed is blessed with silky movement skills and feet that suit working in such capacious space. COD > KOD.
I watched Reed's NFL action--most of it pre-season. Like his college film; the quickness, ball skills and competitiveness shines— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
Against the Packers in 2018 of the preseason, his change of direction skills and patience shone on this pass break up of Seahawks legend Brett Hundley pic.twitter.com/GYFqpMgZlA
The preseason before, in 2017, Reed had a similar pass deflection against the Panthers. He won't be backpedalling much for the Seahawks, but note the foot-speed and lateral fluidity to break on this. pic.twitter.com/SoeiE9FgY5— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
Same deal here. This is even tighter coverage though. pic.twitter.com/XJ6f3OYP1x— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
To protect the slot and tighten room, defenses will shield certain areas of the field with their coverage. This requires the slot corner to play with sound leverage. Reed demonstrates a deep comprehension of sound leverage in coverage. He understands where the help is on each coverage and pitches his tent in accordance. This fluently translates to Seattle’s deployment of their slot.
Reed's understanding of leverage is clear throughout his play. This is a disguised two-man under look from the Titans that gets Matt McGloin confused. Reed knows he is free as the underneath player with over the top help, and he undercuts the route beautifully with sweet location pic.twitter.com/V0cHx22FWz— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
Having demonstrated leverage comprehension on a baseball surface, Reed proved his intelligence on Tennessee's largest cabbage patch/monster truck arena.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
This was sub-package work in week 17 of the 2017 regular season. Screams Seahawks the way he is physical and walls the MOF. pic.twitter.com/bw0z2lhM2V
Transitioning but trail panic
Reed turns and runs from a press alignment just how a Seahawks corner would. The transition from press is seamless and he has nice patience to not overextend and stay in the hip pocket.
However, as coverage extends downfield, Reed occasionally has panicky moments that result in defensive pass interference. Contact must be made later; faith must be held in turning to look for the ball while using the near arm to maintain receiver location. More experience of this style of press transition, plus better connecting with the jam, should help fix this issue.
Similar issues here back in the '16 pre-season match-up in Oakland. A sense of unneeded panic in trail resulting in early contact and a defensive pass interference call (bit harsh here) Having the faith to turn and look for the in trail is surely what Reed will have worked on. pic.twitter.com/kXWIWx43aq— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
The patience and diagnosis skills Reed has from a press alignment is very Seahawk-y. He clicks and transitions very nicely. The one thing he has to learn is not to contact the receiver in trail before the catch point. Here he had time to stay in phase at the end and play the ball pic.twitter.com/N3TWJ3dGui— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) March 16, 2019
Having had a year to learn Seattle’s scheme and the step-kick press technique, Reed’s existing traits and the Seahawks’ defensive back coaching should combine for success at the nickel corner position. Nickel has been the new base in the NFL given the heavy 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receiver) nature of offenses (66% of all plays featured 11 personnel according to Warren Sharp).
To cover the slot demands great athleticism and confidence. Lane’s struggles were riddled with decline in confidence and injury. For this reason, you can make the case that there’s little point and great risk in ever paying a cornerback #3 big bucks. Seattle appears to have found the formula for identifying cheap slot talent.
Reed’s traits match the role nicely. The position is the 25-year-old’s to lose. Given Seattle’s dearth of resources, the competition is going to be light. His bid to become the top Mr Irrelevant is similarly easy; the best previous two being Ryan Succop in 2009 and former Seahawks defensive back Mike Green in 2000. Reed, entering his third year in the league, is about to become very relevant indeed.