The Denver Broncos struggled to get after the quarterback during the 2021 NFL season. The Broncos couldn't generate consistent pressure, even with eight different edge rushers seeing the field and five of them having over 100 pass-rush snaps.
Of those edge rushers, Malik Reed had the most pass-rush snaps with over 400, which was the second-most on the team. As a result, there was a reliance on Reed to provide a consistent pass rush.
On top of that, Reed also led the Broncos' front seven in run defense snaps while having the fourth most on the whole defense. He was Denver's leading edge rusher. With Bradley Chubb injured, the team needed Reed before trading away Von Miller and even more so after.
Despite that, Reed was also the most ineffective edge rusher the Broncos had last year and was part of the problem that needed to be heavily addressed this offseason. So as Reed enters what could be his final year in Denver, what can fans expect from him?
Let's dive into his resume to hopefully uncover the answer.
While Reed has three years of experience in the NFL, he will turn 26 on August 5. He was born and raised in Alabama before going to Nevada for college.
Reed didn't see the field in 2014, his first year, but cracked the lineup in 2015 before becoming a starter in 2016. In his limited action in 2015, he did alright, getting 18 pressures with one sack, 11 stops, and 16 tackles. It was a solid showing and was enough to get him the starting job.
Reed's pressure rate was one every 8.1 snaps in 2015, and that mark improved yearly to one over 7.3 snaps, then 7.0, and finally one pressure every 4.9 snaps in his final year.
For 2916 specifically, Reed's pressures jumped to 29 total with five sacks on under 70 more snaps. His effectiveness jumped dramatically as a pass rusher. In addition, his run defense slightly improved, which had become a concern during the 2015 campaign.
Reed didn't just impact directly with sacks and pressures, but he also forced three fumbles and made 29 stops. Overall, it was a good year and enough to keep him as the starter.
Reed's effectiveness continued to improve for the 2017 season with 41 total pressures and nine sacks, with 27 stops and four fumbles forced. Not only did he improve his effectiveness as a pass rusher, but his run defense also took a pretty significant step from the year before. In fact, his run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus rose almost 13 points from 64.6 to 77.5.
There is no doubt that Reed's 2018 season, his final in college, was his most effective as a defender in all phases. With 57 total pressures and nine sacks as a pass rusher, Reed added 50 stops, four forced fumbles, and an interception to his stat-line that season.
It was a great season for Reed and got him plenty of attention as he turned to the NFL, despite not playing the toughest of competition while at Nevada. Reed did the main thing you look for when a prospect doesn't face super tough competition: he dominated those he did play against.
Reed garnered an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he started the game after a good week of practice. He played 18 total snaps in the game, with eight as a pass rusher, and picked up two pressures.
However, Reed didn't get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, which many analysts viewed as a snub. He had a strong season, strong NFLPA bowl week, yet received no Combine invite. All he had was his pro day, where he had an alright showing and earned a 5.73 relative athletic score.
None of it was enough to hear his name in the draft, despite many grading him as a later day-three pick. After the draft, the Broncos signed him as a college free agent.
Reed has been with the Broncos his entire career and has seen a lot of action. Over his three-year career, he has played 1,990 snaps already, with 468 coming as a rookie. His name was called on often due to injuries at the position.
Reed had a solid showing as a rookie pass rusher, but his play against the run was a liability for the Broncos' defense. Even after a solid final season in college, there were plenty of concerns about him holding up against the run in the NFL. Unfortunately, it's an area Reed has regressed in each year, with the 2021 season being by far his worst.
Reed's play as a pass rusher is fine but is suited as that No. 3 or 4 edge rusher, and you don't want him in a starting role. While he has 17 career sacks, according to PFF, the majority of them would fall into either coverage sacks or clean-up category.
Coverage sacks are qualified when it happens over three seconds from the snap, and a clean-up is someone else getting to the quarterback and unable to bring him down fully with Reed finishing or cleaning it up.
Reed's pressure rate also has worsened each year, going from a pressure every 11.7 snaps as a rookie to 11.9 in 2020, and then hitting a lousy mark of 14.8 in 2021. Again, Denver counted on him, and he fell short of the average rate.
To compare Reed with the rest of the NFL, there were 43 total edge defenders with at least 400 snaps as a pass rusher last year. Reed had the fewest pressures of that group and was one of two below 30 pressures (Jason Pierre-Paul had 29). In terms of pressure rate, Reed had the third-lowest behind Pierre-Paul and Rasheem Green.
Additionally, Reed had the second-lowest pass-rush productivity and third-lowest pass-rush win rate. He's a pass rusher that struggles to get after the quarterback with any sense of urgency. Yet, that's how he is supposed to make up for his less-than-ideal run defense.
So let's look at Reed's run defense compared to the rest of the NFL, specifically those with over 200 run defense snaps. He had the 24th-most snaps as a run defender among NFL edge rushers.
Reed's run defense grade was eighth-lowest, his run-stop percentage was tied for sixth-lowest, and his average depth of tackle against the run was fourth-lowest. On average, he made a tackle after the ball carrier picked up 4.2 yards.
At least he didn't miss a lot of tackles, except he was ranked No. 24 of 57 in total missed tackles and 27th in missed tackle percentage.
It was a bad sign for Reed and his career in Denver when the team was hesitant to even place the original-round restricted free-agent tender on him. That was a one-year deal worth less than $2.5 million, and the Broncos waited until the final day. What is notable about the wait was the team handed out tenders to other players before that.
So it is a concern that the Broncos were seemingly hesitant to give Reed another year. That concern is enough to say that he isn't guaranteed a spot on this roster, especially considering the overall position.
Chubb, free-agent acquisition Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, and rookie second-rounder Nik Bonitto are all essentially guaranteed roster spots. That accounts for four of the six potential edge rushers the team can keep due to roster math and the usual numbers.
Jonathon Cooper outperformed Reed and brings special teams ability as a rookie last year. Special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes has highlighted rush linebacker Aaron Patrick as a core third-phaser, something Patrick did quite well in 2021. Reed doesn't bring the special teams ability, and that is something you want from your fifth and sixth edge rusher.
Reed has a chance to make it, but it seems like he is destined to be the odd man out. To make it, he will have to show drastic improvement on defense during training camp and preseason, as well as on special teams.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Reed get dangled on the trade market before the start of the season. He's an experience edge rusher with good raw production (not analytics) at a position of importance in the NFL. Denver might be able to get a team to bite.
For as rough as Reed's play has been, however, there is no question that he has vastly exceeded expectations from when he signed with Denver as an undrafted free agent.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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