49ers D.J. Reed facing turning-point season in 2020

D.J. Reed #32 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
D.J. Reed #32 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers face some crucial decisions in the secondary after the 2020 season, making defensive back D.J. Reed‘s efforts this year of extreme importance.

Pro Football Focus ranked San Francisco 49ers nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams the seventh best at his position in 2019.

Not just nickel backs, all cornerbacks.

Williams’ efforts were a key reason why the Niners boasted the league’s best pass defense last season and made it all the way to Super Bowl LIV.

And there’s a good chance San Francisco won’t be able to re-sign Williams when he’s finished with his contract year in 2020. Even though nickel corners never make as much as boundary cornerbacks, the 49ers’ long-term cap situation could make that proposition difficult.

In an ideal world, though, the Niners are already fielding Williams’ long-term replacement, third-year pro defensive back D.J. Reed.

Reed, the 49ers’ fifth-round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft, saw plenty of time at nickel his rookie season when Williams was dealing with injury. The rookie flashed some promise during that first season, too, registering 41 tackles, picking up a sack and even forcing a fumble.

Yet Reed was relegated to something of an afterthought last year, most likely due to Williams playing so well. In total, Reed saw over 20 snaps in a game just once in 2019.

With two seasons under his belt, the hope could easily be San Francisco engineering a seamless transition to Reed from Williams. Reed saw some time at free safety during the preseason, too, although the Niners locked down the long-term situation at that position by re-signing the veteran, Jimmie Ward, and one would guess Tarvarius Moore acts as the immediate backup.

So if Reed figures to carve out a role for himself beyond this upcoming season, he’ll have to showcase a lot of value at nickel.

The 49ers gave Reed plenty of field time during the preseason a year ago, which is indicative they are hoping he can be a long-term solution, if nothing more than a quality backup for the secondary.

That said, the lack of use last season aside from special teams could be an indication the clock is ticking on his development.

And if the Niners add yet another slot-type corner in this year’s NFL Draft, it could spell even more trouble for Reed’s long-term future with the franchise.

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Either way, assuming Reed is able to make the regular-season roster, he’ll be under more than enough pressure to prove to San Francisco he’s worth the deeper look as a long-term replacement for Williams, if it comes to that.