The Broncos have had a great offseason in 2020. They made some big moves in free agency, added star talent via trades and crushed the 2020 NFL Draft. Their roster has been upgraded by a wide margin just based on the elite-level talent that has been added this calendar year.
In this new series, “Under Pressure,” I’ll look at some of the players who are most under pressure after the moves in free agency and the draft. The talent added to this roster is going to push some players – maybe even some fan favorites – off the roster.
Today, I’ll examine the situation surrounding Broncos outside linebacker Malik Reed. Let’s see why he’s under pressure in 2020.
The Broncos have a long history of finding quality talent from the ranks of the college free agents left over after the NFL draft. For years, the team has been able to find players like Chris Harris Jr., Shaquil Barrett, C.J. Anderson, Phillip Lindsay, etc. as they’re putting final touches on the roster once the draft is done.
In 2019, the player most felt would go from undrafted to making the 53-man roster as a rookie was Malik Reed out of Nevada. Reed reminded me so much of when the team was able to add Barrett out of Colorado State in 2014 because of his raw ability to get after the passer.
During his last two seasons at Nevada, Reed had 16.0 sacks even though he played rush end as a junior and linebacker as a senior. More quick than fast, Reed was able to take advantage of college tackles who were not ready to get set before Reed dipped around them.
He wasn’t a bad-body prospect like Barrett when he came out of college, but Reed did have question marks around his game. He’s undersized at 235 pounds and was considered a ‘tweener in the scouting community. His short arms prevent him from disengaging from blockers who can engulf him if Reed doesn’t beat them off the snap.
Even with his physical limitations, I was excited to see Reed during offseason practices. Reed did show off that first-step quickness on a daily basis and looked like he could make the final roster (which he did) from the first day of training camp.
As a rookie in 2019, Reed didn’t make much of an impact as a part-time player or as a near full-time player. To begin the year, Reed was a backup to Bradley Chubb. During the first three games of the year, he only played 12 snaps. Chubb was injured in Week 4 and Reed ended up getting 1.0 sack while playing 24 snaps in that game.
During the next five games, Reed played an average of 60 snaps per game but recorded zero sacks. In the three weeks after that run, Reed played 41, 38 and 42 snaps. He didn’t even make any solo tackles in that three-game stretch and had zero sacks. In the last month of the season, Reed barely saw the field, playing just zero, nine, eight and 12 snaps, respectively, but he did have 1.0 sack in the Week 16 game.
For his entire rookie season, Reed ended up playing 475 snaps. On the field, the rookie recorded 16 tackles, 11 assists, 2.0 sacks and one fumble recovered.
Reed should not be comfortable on this roster even though the team didn’t go out of their way to add more pass-rushers to the mix. He is still likely to be the primary backup to Chubb in 2020 and needs to build on the experience he gained as a rookie.
However, the pressure on Reed is mainly from himself. The other players who could put pressure on Reed in training camp are guys like Justin Hollins, Jerry Attaochu, Justin Strnad, Tre’ Crawford, Derek Tuszka and Malik Carney.
Players like Hollins and Strnad are going to get chances at both inside and outside linebacker. While I like Hollins more as an edge guy, I like Strnad more as a coverage inside linebacker. We’ll see how that shakes out. Crawford is listed as just a “linebacker,” so the 2019 UDFA (Falcons) out of UAB may get a chance at both. He has some freakish athleticism (42-inch vertical) and recorded 8.0 sacks in his final year of college.
Attaochu is a seasoned veteran who looked really good last year when Reed was struggling to make plays. He’s the team’s best pass-rusher behind Chubb and Von Miller in my opinion.
Tuszka is a hard-working player who can get after the passer. He won almost 25 percent of his pass-rushing snaps last year at North Dakota State and Tuszka was graded overall at a whopping 90.0 by Pro Football Focus for the 2019 season. Carney was picked up by the Lions in 2019 as a UDFA after his college career as a pass-rushing defensive end at North Carolina.
What He Needs to Do
Reed must get after the quarterback. He’s never going to be known as a player who stuffs the run or sets the edge to turn the play inside of him. Reed also lacks the length and speed to cover tight ends or running backs in the open field.
Pro Football Focus did not grade Reed kindly for his play in 2019. Overall, Reed had a grade of 69.0. In 189 run-defense snaps, Reed posted a 69.7 grade. Remarkably, in 234 pass-rush snaps, Reed only mustered a grade of 60.1.
In order to make the team and secure his position throughout the season, Reed must play better when rushing the passer. Reed is on this team for one thing mostly – put pressure on the quarterback. If he’s not doing that well, grading poorly along the way, the Broncos might be forced to look elsewhere for help – either through free agency or before the trade deadline.
Malik Reed still has some intrigue around his future, but it’s looking like he won’t come anywhere close to the production that Barrett saw with the Broncos – and certainly with the Buccaneers (19.5 sacks) last year.
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