Chip Kelly might know Ed Reynolds' impact more than any other opposing coach, so it comes as little surprise that his Philadelphia Eagles took Stanford's interception magician in the fifth round (pick no. 162) of the NFL Draft.
Reynolds has now joined his former teammate Zach Ertz in the City of Brotherly Love, but questions regarding his decision to forego his final season of eligibility have persisted. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said the free safety "could have been a second-round type had he stayed at Stanford another year."
Of course, it's impossible to know if Kiper is right. Only this much is certain: Second guessing won't deliver satisfying answers when so many different variables are involved. We do know that Reynolds delivered jaw-dropping interception numbers in 2012: Six picks and 301 return yards, including three returned to the house (should have been an NCAA record four if not for a blown call in the Pac-12 title game). The following year, Reynolds' interception output wasn't nearly as remarkable, and that's what caused many to suggest he had regressed as a free safety prior to his declaration for the 2014 NFL Draft.
|Ed Reynolds: By Year
But that supposition is a gross oversimplification.
In reality, Reynolds actually changed the way opposing teams attacked Stanford's defense. The Cardinal built their remarkable 2012 success around a rather simple formula. They overpowered pass blocking schemes with their rugged defensive front seven, entrusting Reynolds and his fellow secondary members to clean up a mess of stray passes downfield. The statistics bear this out: Stanford led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss by a wide margin, all while Reynolds feasted on his way to a career year.
By 2013, previously shellshocked offenses had adapted to counter this ferocious Cardinal pass rush and predatory secondary. A quick-release aerial attack became the norm (see death-by-swing pass against Washington and Utah), and that effectively removed Reynolds from the center field interception accumulation game.
The fact that Reynolds' critics often neglect: He, too, adapted his game in 2013.
Reynolds recorded 40 more tackles in 2013 than he did in 2012, a testament to new challenges posed by opponents and his counter-adjustments to them. Reynolds became more of an effective missile in run and short pass support (his perimeter help was critical in solving Stanford's swing pass woes), and he rose to the challenge in time to help his team solve defensive puzzles and deliver legendary performances against Oregon State and Oregon.
Reynolds' fourth down end zone break-up saved the Cardinal at Reser Stadium as time expired. One week later, his mastery of the safety position helped Stanford flummox the Ducks in an epic defensive effort. Oregon was averaging nearly 50 points per game; the defense shut them out through three quarters. Looking back, it's clear that Reynolds' command of center field was critical to both of those victories.
He engaged in a down-by-down chess match with opposing quarterbacks. In 2012, those confrontations frequently ended in fireworks: No Stanford fan will forget Reynolds's spectacular second quarter interception and 70-yard return of Brett Hundley's pass that tilted the Pac-12 Championship Game in Stanford's favor. In 2013, Reynolds' contributions were less obvious, but -- as the results indicate -- just as vital.
There may be an opportunity in Philadelphia for Reynolds to earn significant early playing time. Malcolm Jenkins has one of the Eagles' safety spots locked down, but Nate Allen and Earl Wolff (the team's fifth round pick of a year prior) are currently battling hard for the opposite slot, and Reynolds certainly has the physical tools and smarts to throw his name into the mix -- at least on special teams to begin. He posted a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at Stanford's Pro Day.
There's also NFL pedigree here. Reynolds' father of the same name played 10 years for the New York Giants. Ironically, his son will initially play for New York's most hated rival.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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