As the 2020 season ended, and draft nerds like myself turned our attention to the 2021 draft in late April, fans took a look at the players leaving and being added in free agency as well as the team’s strengths and weaknesses in the wake of the 2020 season. Ronald Darby was lost, but replaced with William Jackson III, who appears to be a net upgrade. Curtis Samuel (and Adam Humphries) absolutely improved the WR room. Kevin Pierre-Louis was lost without an in-kind replacement, weakening that group a bit. Based on those evaluations, an assessment of team “needs” is often informally developed, as a lens to consider during the draft.
At this point, I think it’s a near consensus among the fanbase that Washington should add a linebacker (or two) in the draft to bolster one of the thinner position groups on the team.
Though the offensive line played well last year and returns completely intact, I think there’s a recognition that your OL talent can never really be “deep enough” and that it should be a draft priority too.
Until fairly recently, more out of habit than anything else, I had “free safety” on that needs list. I suspect many still do. For years, it seems, Washington has had sub-par play at safety. In 2019, Washington added Landon Collins as a strong safety, ostensibly to lock down the position for years, but the memory of the last roving, menacing free safety, patrolling deep center field in burgundy and gold seems to take most fans all the way back to Sean Taylor, well over a decade ago.
At the beginning of 2020, Washington started with Landon Collins and Troy Apke in the deep secondary, and for most of the early part of the season the safety play was nothing to write home about. Collins went down in Week 7, with a torn Achilles against the Giants, and was replaced by rookie Cam Kurl. Apke played all of the snaps in the first 4 games, but failed to impress on defense. Subsequently, Deshazor Everett filled in for Apke, and played relatively well before he suffered a pectoral injury in week 14 and missed the rest of the regular season. The next man up was Jeremy Reaves, and that’s where things got interesting.
This Safety tandem has been rockin' since Week 12:— PFF Washington (@PFF_Washington) December 14, 2020
Jeremy Reaves: 79.5 (12th)
Kam Curl: 79.2 (13th) pic.twitter.com/Odgd2xNnYx
From Sun Belt Stand Out to the NFL
Jeremy Reaves had an impressive college career at South Alabama, starting in his final three seasons there, racking up accolades all along the way. His sophomore season, he was named Second Team All Sun Belt, and was second on his team in tackles. The following year, he was selected as First Team All Sun-Belt, one of just two juniors chosen on the defense.
During his senior season, Reaves truly broke out, playing well enough to be named the 2017 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and receiving an invite to the Senior Bowl. At the Senior Bowl, Reaves had 8 tackles, a pass break up, and an interception, helping lead his team to victory.
Jeremy Reaves led the charge in terms of grades on South Alabama in 2017 pic.twitter.com/sMl64jLBuF— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 21, 2018
“He was a running back in high school and he just has a natural feel for angles to the football. When you watch tape, you see him maneuver around traffic just like a running back would between the tackles. He’s tough and he’s a leader.” — AFC team scouting director
Reaves went into the draft relatively well-touted. In fact, he was profiled here by Gabe Ward, who wrote the following about his prospects:
If the Redskins don’t make corner or safety a priority in the first couple of rounds I can see Reaves being a nice versatile option for the team. Reaves could come in and play where the team needed him. That could be depth at safety or he could compete for the starting nickel CB job and he could definitely contribute on special teams as a coverage guy. It may take Reaves a season or two to get the hang of the speed of the NFL but he is a solid prospect with good fundamentals. If he tests well there I could see him going as high as the 3rd round. Reaves nose for the ball should help the Redskins both in run defense and in coverage. He’ll need some coaching to improve his technique and learn when to be strategic in the chances that he takes but he is a high upside player.
Unfortunately for him - but fortunately for Washington - Reaves wasn’t selected in any round of the draft. Concerns about his size (he was 5’10”, 204 lbs at draft time) and his “over aggressiveness” in the secondary ultimately caused his stock to fall.
The Eagles saw his value though, and picked him up as an undrafted free agent. There, he was seen as a potential special teamer - called out for his great tackling ability - and depth player in the secondary. Again, unfortunately for Reaves, but fortunately for Washington, he was waived by the Eagles before the 2018 season.
Washington signed him to their practice squad a couple of weeks later, and he was ultimately promoted to the 53 man roster late in the season to play against the Titans. In 2019, Reaves was waived and almost immediately signed to the practice squad, only to be promoted to the 53 man roster again in October. He ended up playing in nine games and starting three that year.
At the beginning of the 2020 season, Reaves was again waived and signed the practice squad. He was promoted to the 53 man roster when Collins went down and proceeded to play very well in the past several games for Washington. He ended up with 25 tackles, a sack, and 2 interceptions in the regular season and 10 tackles and a forced fumble against the Buccaneers in the playoffs.
At the end of the year, per PFF (and albeit in limited snaps), Reaves ended up the 5th highest graded safety in the NFL. Can he replicate that level of performance in a full 16-game season? That’s the question that Chris Harris, Jack Del Rio, and Coach Rivera will need to answer this offseason in order to shape their own sense of the team’s “needs” going into the draft. What do you think, can Reaves continue to realize his projection as “high upside player” in 2021 and beyond?
Jeremy Reaves (81.2): ⭐️— PFF Washington (@PFF_Washington) January 5, 2021
5th highest graded Safety in the NFL pic.twitter.com/JR0jUkclOe
A couple things I noticed from Jeremy Reaves last Thursday was his ability to recognize plays and communicate.— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) December 2, 2020
The first example of this is a screen he knows is coming. Dalton signals to his WR and Reaves recognizes it, tells Curl allowing him to sell out to make the tackle. pic.twitter.com/3s5QAY4spP
Would you be comfortable with Jeremy Reaves as the WFT’s starting free safety in 2021?
This poll is closed
Yes, but please draft me some depth.