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Chiefs’ Jarran Reed film review: Why Kansas City’s defensive line just got better

What are the Chiefs getting in their new defensive tackle?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After a free agency period with a few misses, the Kansas City Chiefs landed themselves another player on Sunday night. Recently-released Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed signed a one-year, $5 million (and up to $7 million) contract to join the Chiefs defensive line rotation, reuniting with his friend and former teammate Frank Clark.

What does Reed’s addition to the defensive line mean for the Chiefs and how does it affect the other players on the roster? In this post, we’ll take a look at what the new signing brings to the table and how it may affect the other defensive linemen that Reed will be playing next to in 2021.

Run defense

As one may expect from a 6’3, 306-pound defensive tackle, Reed is a good run defender. He plays with a good anchor and doesn’t get blown off the ball when setting against double teams, allowing linebackers behind him to run free and make plays without fear of encountering a climbing blocker to his side of the field.

He’s also a very gap-sound run defender, which will make Steve Spagnuolo and Brendan Daly happy with the signing. Reed uses his length well and will extend to find the ballcarrier in the backfield, before using his power to toss aside the blocker and make the play. He may not be the immovable force that Derrick Nnadi is at nose tackle, but the two of them playing side-by-side could make for a formidable interior against run-heavy teams.

Pass rush

Unlike some other 300-plus pound defensive tackles, Reed offers some pass-rush productivity. He tallied 19 sacks and 66 pressures over the last three seasons, despite being a focal point as the number two — and often the number one — pass rusher on the field for the Seahawks.

What makes this even more remarkable is that Reed is more of a “slow burn” pass rusher. He is not particularly quick off the snap and won’t win reps in the way that Chiefs fans have become accustomed to from Chris Jones. Instead, Reed wins with power and technique — often when he is double-teamed on the interior.

The nature of the position that Reed plays sees a lot of help blockers, particularly when the defense lacks a true pass-rush threat. Despite that fact, he continues to work through the point of attack, clubbing away the hands of the blockers and ripping through to collapse the pocket. Many of Reed’s sacks come late in the quarterback’s drop, leading to some less-than-stellar pass-rush grades from PFF and other publications. However, his presence is definitely felt up the middle of the defense, and offenses adjusted their game plan to try to take his pass rush out of the equation on their longer dropbacks.

When Reed does get one-on-one reps, he tends to make the most of them. His powerful hands show up regularly against good guards, and he is able to give many trouble with his extension and long arms when rushing the passer. He still doesn’t possess the quickest first step, but his ability to clear blockers quickly makes him a very effective rusher.

Reed also has an exceptional motor for a 300-plus pound player that plays as hard as he does. He has played over 75% of the defensive snaps in 16 of his last 26 games — as well as playing around 20% of the Seahawks’ special teams snaps. Despite that snap count, Reed might be at his best late in the game. He regularly notches pressures and sacks in late-game situations, helping the defense to close out the affair. He’ll endure himself to Kansas City fans quickly with his hustle and late-game production, especially if he’s getting more one-on-one looks next to Jones and Clark.

Mental processing

Nick Saban asks a lot of his defenders at Alabama, and they’re often some of the quickest-processing players to come out of the draft each year. Reed is no different, and his ability to read the leverage or release of the offensive lineman allows him to play quicker than more athletic players at his position.

Throughout the games that I watched, Reed regularly devoured screen plays and misdirection, causing problems for the offense’s blocking scheme and chasing down faster players in the flat. He is exceptional at recognizing the play direction and can make up for another defender’s over-pursuit from an interior defensive line position. Reed will cover his gap initially on the snap but has the processing speed to still make up ground and disrupt the play. That is the hallmark of a Spagnuolo defensive lineman and one that will garner him much praise in the Chiefs' mid-week pressers.

Familiarity with Frank Clark

One of the reasons that Reed ended up in Kansas City was his familiarity with Clark. The two players are friends, having spent the 2016-18 seasons together in Seattle. Reed had a career year next to Clark in 2018, lodging 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 31 pressures. Clark also had a terrific year working off of the attention Reed garnered, tallying 13 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 48 pressures. The two defenders were key disruptors for the Seattle defense, and both players understood the importance of each other in the scheme.

Having that familiarity with Clark should only make the transition for Reed in Kansas City easier. The two of them play off of each other so well, covering adjacent gaps, running twists and stunts and reacting quickly to help the other shut down the play. While they’re not the same players that they were in 2018 — for better or for worse — their ability to pick up on the same page immediately should prove to be a positive for Spagnuolo’s defense.

The bottom line

Reed is a good 3-technique that should have a positive impact against the pass and the run. He likely won’t add his 10.5 sacks from 2018 to the equation, but it is highly likely that he’ll be near the top of a Chiefs pass rush that was led by a 7.5 sack performance from Jones last year. He’ll also likely improve the interior run defense for a team that was slowly progressing in that direction last year, affording Anthony Hitchens and Willie Gay Jr the ability to play behind the line of scrimmage more often than we are used to seeing.

However, what does this mean for the Chiefs rotation?

As previously stated, Reed has the gas tank to play significant snaps. He is also mostly utilized as a 3-technique — and not a nose tackle, meaning he overlaps a bit with Jones and Tershawn Wharton. Louis Riddick reported shortly after the signing — which usually means it’s well-sourced — that the Chiefs plan to utilize Jones more as a defensive end on base downs before kicking him inside on pass-rushing downs.

This makes sense, as most Spagnuolo defensive tackles have been built like Reed, and most defensive ends have been closer to Jones’ build. We know that Spagnuolo and Daly like to rush their defensive ends from the inside on passing downs, and that happens to be where Jones is most effective. Jones also has some natural leverage problems due to his height, so putting him on the edge of the defense against the run could help him utilize his length to set the edge and create a better front.

If Jones can fill that early-down defensive end role — one that he’s asked Spagnuolo to play for two years now — that helps to solve a potential need for the Chiefs this offseason. Given a full minicamp and training camp, it’s not unreasonable to think that Jones could be a better player on the edge of the defense than he was when he filled that role in 2019 against the Tennessee Titans.

Reed will make an impact with his play; that much can be certain. However, the impact that may occur by moving Jones out to defensive end on base downs could be the greater one in 2021. The Chiefs defensive line definitely got better with this signing, but it could potentially be a game-changer with how it can shuffle Spagnuolo’s lineup.

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