You hear about these underdog stories in sports all the time. Whether it’s Danny Woodhead, who has excelled in the league despite an outlying stature. Or Kurt Warner, who went from bagging groceries to Super Bowl MVP. You could even call the greatest quarterback of all time an underdog. Infamously known for his goofy looking Combine photo, Tom Brady instantly went from backup to hero in New England, and the rest is history. In the case of D.J. Reed, he was straight up overlooked.

Despite an impressive transcript, the athletic accolades and strong character, Reed was forced into the JUCO route with no major offers out of high school. From there, Reed headed about two hours south from his hometown of Bakersfield, CA to play at Cerritos College. After just one year at a junior college, Reed was headed to the FBS, and to a Power 5 school no less.

It was a rare case for Reed. Typically players who go the JUCO route are sucked in for two years, that’s just the way it works. For Reed, it took just one year to win the Kansas State coaching staff over. The Wildcats were in need of an impact player to replace Morgan Burns who had just graduated, and they were sold on Reed to be the guy.

It didn’t take long for Reed to make a name for himself in Manhattan. In his first game as a Wildcat, he picked off his first pass in a win against Florida Atlantic. He would go on to rank 2nd in the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups en route to being named 2016 Big 12 Defensive Rookie of the Year, along with All-Big 12 honors; making him the latest first year Wildcat defensive back to be receive First Team honors since Nigel Malone in 2011.

As 2017 played out, Reed emerged as the most important player on that Kansas State defense and reeled in more accolades. He became the third Wildcat in the past four years to receive All American honors as a return specialist, joining the likes of the aforementioned Burns and current Seattle Seahawk, Tyler Lockett.

Along with his talents as a cornerback, Reed also possesses exceptional return ability. This past season he averaged 34.2 yards per kickoff return which was second in the nation and fourth in Big 12 history. He became the first Wildcat since Terrence Newman to return both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season.

Since setting foot on campus in Manhattan, Reed’s growth and development has been noteworthy. Below is a quote from Head Coach Bill Snyder via the Kansas City Star:

“He has had some difficulties, but he continues to make improvement, and I was really impressed with the interception that he made. It was how he read the scheme and broke on the ball, to make that quick decision. It shows that he is progressing.”

It’s evident that Reed has continued to strive for greatness and development, as the tape confirms. While he made an instant impact in 2016, he noticeably looked more comfortable during this past season. You can’t help but admire his heart, and root for him as he is constantly playing hard and expressing his emotion on the field, which proved to be infectious throughout the rest of the defense.

He’ll never be as fast, as strong or as big as other corners at the next level, but it’s his will and determination that should find him longevity in the league and make him effective in the optimal role. Below I put D.J. Reed under the microscope in my latest film session.

Setting Up to Make the Big Play

Reed plays the out route to perfection. The tightness in his body alignment allows him to quickly transition into his break on the ball. Records the pass breakup, but can’t quite come down with it. Reads the play and makes the play.

The dagger! Late against Oklahoma State (2016), Reed makes a spectacular interception on Mason Rudolph with his team up nine points early in the 4th quarter. I don’t even know what to say. That is the type of circus catch you see in Madden. Working off the ball, Reed sticks with his man over the middle of the field on the deep post. Looks it in the entire way and makes the shocking one-handed snag. This looked to have put the game on ice, until Rudolph led the Cowboys to an epic 4th quarter comeback.

Early on the game’s opening drive, Reed makes another highlight reel interception. The advantage goes to Reed here on the underthrown ball, but he does a tremendous job of attacking the ball and launching in front of the receiver. Superb concentration and focus.

Based on measurables, Reed doesn’t boast the ideal size to play at the goal-line, but he can stand his ground. He doesn’t try to overdo it working against the fade, just hangs on his man and makes a timely play on the ball to poke it loose.

Bringing the Thump

D.J. Reed may not be the most assertive presence against the run, but he is willing and physical closing downhill. Shows off here as he leaps the aggressive cut block, maintains balance and finishes with the solo stop.

Another example of Reed’s surprisingly exceptional downhill ability. Quick to diagnose and lock onto his target, Reed displays exceptional quickness as he bombards the run with a hard shoulder pop. You’ll see Reed  frequently expressing emotion on the field.

Flowing with the play, Reed is quick to reverse his path and shake the big man in the open field through congestion. Shoots into the backfield, closes and makes the leg tackle on Kolton Miller.

Main Focus of Improvement

In terms of run support, Reed excels thumping downhill through tight play windows. However, you don’t want to catch him 1-on-1 out in space, especially against Baker Mayfield. Off the read option, Mayfield jolts into the 2nd level and freezes Reed to win the corner. It then becomes a foot race and Mayfield is able to outhustle Reed. At times you’ll see Reed show hesitance at the point of attack.

Signature Skill

It’s only fitting to end the film session with a D.J. Reed punt return. This came back from the 2017 season opener against Central Arkansas. Reed has received special teams honors during his time at Kansas State, and you can clearly see why. Reed plays with a lot of heart on the field, and that is all but evident on this return. He quickly scans the field, jolts into the seam up the sideline, bursts through split defenders and chugs it all the way down inside the five yard line.

Pro Comparison: Jourdan Lewis

I’m not one to fish for prospect comparisons, but this one struck me early on in my evaluation of D.J. Reed. Similarly to Jourdan Lewis, Reed is on the smaller side, but you’ll rarely see him shy away from contact. He is the ultimate competitor and pesky working against contact.

Both aren’t the most stellar athletes, but it’s their drive and scrappiness which make them so special. You didn’t see Lewis kill the 2017 NFL Combine, but that didn’t stop the Dallas Cowboys from drafting him in the 3rd round. I expect Reed to test similarly, and perhaps slide into the end of the 3rd round, like Lewis. We’ve already seen Lewis make an impact as a rookie, and I think Reed will thrive early on as well.

Another similarity between the players, you saw them make some ridiculous interceptions downfield, which in a way become their hallmark. Both even have background as a return man in college, although Reed was more efficient in an expanded sample size.

Outlook & Projection

D.J. Reed has come a long way from Cerritos College. From being an overlooked high school recruit, to junior college, to being named All-Big 12 and now with his sights on being an NFL draft pick, Reed brings an inspiring underdog story with him to the next level.

He’s not the most physically gifted, but as emphasized in this piece, you don’t see many players on par with his determination on and off the field. He’s a natural born leader and was even voted team captain this past year, in just his second season in Manhattan.

You want to see Reed polish his technique a bit, but in his case, I think that’ll come with more reps. He’s not the stickiest corner, meaning he doesn’t have the best mirroring skills, but it’s no weakness by any means. His hip fluidity could use some tightening as well, but again, not big enough of a concern to be considered a weakness.

Playing off the ball for the majority of his career, his use in press is still to be seen. However, based on intangibles, and the fact that he’s continued to get better, I believe Reed has the adaptability necessary to play in just about any scheme. You’ve seen his willingness to attack downhill earlier in the film portion, with that and his overall subtleties in coverage and superb ball skills, he should be able to carve out a longtime slot role during his pro career.

Grading out as a 3rd round pick on my scale, I expect Reed to land in a similar spot on draft day, although I could see him being overlooked (again), and sliding into Day 3. He’s a player without any real weaknesses, besides the obvious, and he has a well-rounded skillset, with a few highlighted traits, including his heart, which should take him far.

About The Author Jonathan Valencia

The Editor-in-Chief of Breaking Football, Jonathan has been an amateur NFL Draft evaluator for nearly the past five years. He prides himself on producing extensive, informative content. Follow him on Twitter @JonValenciaBF for fresh draft takes and GIF analysis of draft prospects. Born and raised in the Jersey Shore area, Jonathan now resides in Washington state with his wife.