“That’s probably where he’s going to have to make his living at first because of the guys we have in front of him and the learning curve he’s going to come in with being from a small school.” - Kansas City Chiefs scout Willie Davis
That comment was about the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick, cornerback Tremon Smith. The path to the 53 man roster for a small school draftee still most often starts with special teams. The hidden third of the game is under the microscope of successful NFL teams. The bottom of the roster is the pool of players you have to choose from for your special teams units. The ability to play special teams is often the difference between the active roster and the practice squad. Or even worse, the street.
While Smith’s chances as a draft pick may be a little better than the undrafted players, another small-school cornerback from Villanova has some intriguing ability as well. His name is Malik Reaves, and he could be an asset on special teams and as a developmental corner.
Why he went undrafted
Reaves isn’t the greatest athlete in the class. He doesn’t show great fluidity in his hips or the ability to close quickly on receivers. Villanova had him line up at safety at times in his career, likely due to some schematic and athletic limitations he has as a cornerback.
If Reaves is going to make this roster, he’s going to have to stand out on special teams.
#LotteryTickets UDFAs are probably going to have to play special teams. Malik Reaves plays with the effort and energy to be solid contributor. Here he is at the bottom of the screen making a play as a gunner. pic.twitter.com/j56HcDbfek— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2018
Effort, energy and a willingness to tackle. That’s a good baseline for a cornerback that will have to earn his spot on the roster as a gunner on special teams like he is here. While he isn’t a fit for every scheme, Reaves has some intriguing ability as a press corner.
#LotteryTickets Reaves isn't the greatest athlete, but he plays with physicality as a corner. Technique isn't great, and it's just a run off, but it's fun to watch him be a bully on the edge. pic.twitter.com/RSgk00hMd5— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2018
For Reaves to stick outside as a corner, he’s going to have to play in a press-heavy scheme like the one the Chiefs are reportedly planning to use this season. Reaves is a thickly built corner, and he has some very aggressive tendencies. Here, he shoves the receiver out of bounds, which, even though the receiver is running a clear out, is impressive. He’ll have to be able to use his frame to his advantage to have success in the NFL.
Reaves doesn’t have the greatest speed, quickness or agility, but he can certainly be physically imposing in the passing game. Reaves uses the sideline to his advantage, cutting off the route and boxing out the receiver. He makes more of play on the ball than the receiver did. He’ll need to continue finding ways to maximize his size on the outside.
Reaves’ tackling ability on special teams and defense really shows up when you watch him.
He has no fear as a tackler. He attacks the game. Reaves played through some injuries at points in his career as well. The little things add up to someone who shows good football character. He’s a willing tackler who has played through a meniscus tear in his career. It’s not just that he’s willing to tackle, he can also deliver some power behind his hits. It’s understandable why Villanova tried him at safety. He doesn’t show a ton of ball skills but played this route well in the red zone.
#LotteryTickets Reaves played some safety at Villanova. Nice close from the backside getting to number three receiver and making a play on the ball. Read the play well. He has the size and mentality to develop at safety if need be. pic.twitter.com/PSx5H0CR2e— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2018
Reaves did a nice job playing the eyes of the quarterback and the concept. He’s playing the number three receiver here from the backside. There was a hole after the number three receiver cleared the underneath backer. Had Reaves not got to the spot, it might have been six. This was a good read by Reaves and a great close to make a play.
I wouldn’t be upset to see Reaves transition to safety if he’s unable to hold up outside. That might ultimately be his best fit. He’s got the special teams ability and desire to be able a four-core special teamer with some interesting developmental traits to work within the secondary.
The bottom line
There are holes in Reaves game technically and as an athlete. He’s not a true corner but could provide some intriguing traits worth develop in a press-heavy scheme. It’s not unrealistic to think he could be a safety either.
His ability to tackle makes him a competitor for a special teams role with a chance to develop as a depth piece somewhere in the secondary. He shows toughness, effort and a desire to be physical.
There’s a long road ahead for the defensive back.
He’s underdeveloped and probably profiles more as a practice squad player in 2018 who has a chance to develop and build off the opportunity.
I like the edge Reaves plays with and would like to see him in Kansas City in some capacity in 2018. My guess is that he is a practice squad player in 2018 with the chance to develop either as a cornerback or safety.
Lottery Tickets is a breakdown series of the lesser known players who have a chance to make the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 roster. Leading up to training camp, we’ll be profiling the intriguing undrafted free agents and reserve/future contract players that show the ability to potentially stick in the NFL. The players we discuss are high upside players that haven’t significantly affected the Chiefs bottom line, but the returns could be substantial.