If DJ Reed doesn’t seem upset at being ignored, it’s because he’s used to it.
Outside of Kansas State, Reed slipped into the fifth round of the 2018 draft. His early years with the 49ers under Robert Saleh, now head coach of the jets “messed up” with Reed, Saleh said, ramming the cornerback into a nickel wedge. After two quiet seasons, Reed suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was waived ahead of the 2020 season. The Seahawks claimed him and, after Reed returned to health, sent him on the outside, leading to two solid seasons.
After signing a modest, three-year, $33 million pact with the Jets, Reed has looked like a star — though much of the attention is on the other side, where standout rookie Sauce Gardner resides.
No, Reed said, he doesn’t feel like he’s made a leap to the top flight this season. He’s made a leap in the offseason — from Seattle to New York — and on the bigger market and on a quality Jets team, one of football’s best cornerbacks is slowly starting to get his due.
“When I went out with Quinnen Williams at [Knicks] game, people say your name, which I’m not used to,” Reed said Friday after Jets practice, referring to a late October game at the Garden. “I’m only 5-9 – I look like a normal guy. So for people to notice that, it’s like, OK. People definitely notice me outside of football, which is pretty cool.
The chunks of recognition are deserved for a player who has been overshadowed much of his career and much of this season.
When Reed signed with the Jets in March, he raised his eyebrows as he compared himself to the best corners in the game. The stats backed it up, as Pro Football Focus ranked him the eighth-best cornerback in the NFL last season.
This season, Gardner has received most of the praise, but the Jets’ excellent pass defense has extended beyond their top corner. Gardner did not follow Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson last week and will not follow Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs this week.
By keeping Gardner on the right side and Reed on the left, no matter where the opposing team’s top receiver lines up, there’s less chance of being mislined or getting lost in coverage, Saleh said. . And the Jets are confident enough in their No. 2 corner when facing No. 1 receivers.
In last month’s win over the Bills, Reed was paired with Diggs for most of the second half and didn’t allow a catch. Last week, he covered Jefferson — “arguably the best wide receiver right now,” Reed said — and limited the superstar except for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Reed received the most attention he has this season after the game saying he was “in [Jefferson’s] St.”
Silencing Diggs again would draw a bit more attention for the 26-year-old, who is the 20th-best footballer in allowing 5.3 yards per target.
“I really want to be the best at my job,” said Reed, who is making a strong case for his first Pro Bowl nod in his fifth season. “To do that, you have to face the best guys in the league. And I feel like this year, man, the receivers we’ve played have been phenomenal. … I love these challenges and going against these guys.
The Jets defense has held opposing quarterbacks at 77.5 odds, which only delays the Philadelphia defense. The unit has not yet allowed an opposing flagger to throw 300 yards.
Much of the credit went to a defensive line that creates constant blitz-free pressure and a top-notch rookie cornerback who already has a nickname and a reputation.
Gardner “deserves all the praise he gets,” Saleh said. But on the other side of the field, there’s a low-key free-agent flight, who said his next step would be to start turning deflections into interceptions.
If that happens, Reed would have a harder time walking around Knicks games.
“He’s been so sticky in coverage that there’s nowhere to throw when you see his side of the pitch,” Saleh said. “He’s been fantastic.”