49ers: Safety Eric Reid Underachiever? Or Over-coached and Misutilized?

Niners Live introduces its series on an underachiever. Or over-coached and misutilized? First up, San Francisco 49ers’ safety Eric Reid.

Here on Niners Live, we now turn our attention to safety Eric Reid with an in-depth breakdown of year one of his standout 2013 rookie season to this past 2016 season in which he was relegated to injured reserve. Will the new coaching staff over-coach and misutilize Reid? Or will the new general manager and head coach feel like he is an underachiever based on his decline in production since his rookie season? All legitimate and interesting questions indeed. Now, let’s take a brief snapshot at Reid’s career so far, shall we?

After drafting Reid with the 18th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers were coming off a near franchise sixth Super Bowl campaign and certainly had high expectations when they moved up from the 31st pick overall. Former General Manager Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh rolled the dice and chose the 6’1” and 213lbs Reid, amongst other notable suitors. In his senior year at Louisiana State University, he was named by consensus All-American by CBS Sports, as well as being touted as one of the top safety prospects in his class.

Reid surely did not disappoint in his rookie season taking over the starting free safety role for one of the top ranked defenses in the league, via NFL.com. Reid finished the season with 77 tackles, four interceptions, 11 passes defended and two fumble recoveries, starting all 16 games that season and receiving Pro-Bowl honors. He then followed up in 2014, amassing a not so impressive season concerning tackling with only 42; he did account for seven passes defended, three interceptions while totaling up 138 net return yards, good for fourth-best in the league. Reid seemed to fit in quite well with former Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme and looked primed to become a Stallworth in the 49ers’ secondary for years to come.

Interesting to note: Under Vic Fangio during 2013-2014, Eric Reid accounted for seven interceptions. His last two years under defensive coordinators Eric Mangini and Jim O’Neil, Reid only accounted for one. So why is that?

Well, speaking of former 49ers’ Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, his philosophy has always been to utilize a player’s strengths and natural abilities by not forcing him to overthink by way of not over-coaching. Fangio used base defenses while rarely blitzing and letting his players use their talents to the fullest. But that left much to be desired in which the team went through a lot of player and coaching turnover. The domino effect would be the passing over to the defensive ranks to Eric Mangini in 2015, who had spent the last two years as the 49ers’ tight-end coach. Mangini brought more elaborate and complicated defensive schemes, leading to Mangini often being criticized for mismanagement and over-coaching, which is pure speculation, of course.

Important to note: Reid’s stats in 2015 while playing in 16 games were 71 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and seven pass defensesvia ESPN.com.

Reid had 1,113 snaps played — a 97.8 percentage rate of actual playing time on defense — and 153 snaps played on special teams at an actual playing percentage of 34.08. 

In just 10 games in 2016, Reid accounted for 742 snaps, 62 tackles with one forced fumble, and one interception.

Things only got more complicated this season with the hiring of former 49ers’ Head Coach Chip Kelly, who had made a reputation by having quick drives on offense, forcing his defenses to wind up spending more time on the field. It came as no surprise that the 49ers’ defense led the league in snaps and ranked dead last in time of possession spending more than 33 minutes a game on the field, eventually leading to significant players at each level of the defense being out for the year with numerous injuries — Navarro BowmanArik ArmsteadRay-Ray ArmstrongJimmy Ward, and eventually Reid in Week 10, which put him out for the season.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil relied heavily on his veteran safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea’s football I. Q. to not just be an extra set of eyes on the field but as an extension of the coaching staff and to make up in terms of his defensive/scheme deficiencies. Could that be why the two were constantly seen making touchdown saving tackles? Or could that have been why they looked out of place and frequently out of position to make a play on the ball/tackle? Good question. 

Did the combination of an ineffective defensive scheme and suspect play-calling lead to Reid underachieving? Was it too much over-coaching?  Are your eyes wide open?

In an interview during the season via the team’s website, O’Neil thought it would be a good strategy to put Eric Reid in multiple different positions on the field, even down in the box as a nickel linebacker. However, safety Jacquiski Tartt in 2015 was designated that assignment as part of his roles and responsibilities under coach Eric Mangini. The biggest downfall of the coaching staff was the lack of understanding players’ strengths and not allowing them to play to those strengths, while still developing the other areas of their games.

I leave you with this:

With the 49ers set to bring in their fourth head coach since 2011, there will be significant decisions made regarding personnel, coaching, and the overall future of this franchise going forward. Head coaches and coordinators alike in today’s game are very important and play a vital role in the development and continued success of a player. Will the 49ers’ ownership be able to assemble the right mixture of coaches to bring out the best of the young and upcoming talent on this 49ers team? Inquiring minds want to know.

After seeing the potential of Reid through his first few years in the league and what he can do with the right leadership, will the new coaching staff have their #eyeswideopen and put him in the best possible position for success? Can we go out on a limb here? If Eric Reid had the right coaching and been utilized correctly, would he have a better opportunity for a bounce back/impact season? Or have his opportunities run out? As one of the leaders on this 49ers’ defense and in the community, one would hope that the new regime will give Reid the chance to prove himself worthy of a long-term contract extension.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Editor Niners Live.  Co-Author Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live.