Before this past free agency, C.J. Mosley was asked by members of the Jets’ football department to watch film on D.J. Reed and share his opinion. Mosley was impressed, but he had no idea what kind of impact Reed would have on the Jets.
He is having a Pro Bowl-type season and has helped make the Jets one of the top defenses in the NFL.
You could make a case that Reed — who signed a three-year, $33 million contract — has had the biggest impact of any of the new faces on the Jets’ defense, not only with his play but with his leadership and approach every single day.
“He’s a No. 1 at corner on an island,” Mosley told Newsday. “Somebody that you can count on, a person that’s going to be a pro day in and day out.
“He’s been the same guy every single day, attacking the playbook, training room, anything that involves him getting better and helping the team out. He’s definitely that guy.”
Reed, 26, also is a guy who doesn’t act like a cornerback. He’s laid-back, humble, soft-spoken. He doesn’t talk big about himself or declare that he’s going to shut anyone down, He speaks more about his teammates, especially rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner, than he does about himself.
Mosley, who is similar in that respect, said Reed is a different person when he takes the field. It’s as if he flips a switch. Once the game starts, Reed definitely has the cornerback mentality.
“On the field, he’s the best player out there. You can’t tell him otherwise,” Mosley said. “That’s the type of mentality you want your teammates to have, especially when you’re out there on an island. He thinks he can go against anybody no matter their speed or height.
“When you have two guys like that on the outside, you don’t really have to worry about anything. You just play your game.”
That will come in handy on Sunday when Reed and Gardner face a big-time challenge, perhaps their biggest of the season. They will try to contain Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, arguably the best at his position in the league. He has 1,232 yards, one fewer than NFL leader Tyreek Hill, on 81 catches.
Reed plays right cornerback, and Jefferson lines up mostly on his side of the field. Minnesota does deploy Jefferson on Gardner’s side, as well as the slot, but not nearly as much. Reed likely will be defending Jefferson more.
He looks forward to the challenge — every challenge, really — and flipping the switch, which he acknowledges he does every game day.
“I’m super-chill off the field,” Reed told Newsday. “I’ll be vibing, chill vibes. It’s definitely a light switch; the alter ego turns on. That light switch definitely turns on on Sunday.
“That’s how I was always taught how to play the game by my older brothers and my pops. It’s just in me now. Something just clicks inside of me that it’s time to turn up. It’s only for a couple of hours. Then you put it back away.”
As chill as Reed is, he’s had a very emotional first year with the Jets.
His father, Dennis, passed away before Reed’s first game as a Jet. He intercepted Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson in that game, ran to midfield and pointed at the sky. Reed has dedicated this season to his dad.
On Wednesday, Reed became a dad for the first time. His girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Kinsley Nicole Reed, and he was excused from practice to be there for the birth.
Reed said it “was so emotional” and that he has “a whole new perspective on life.” He couldn’t stop smiling.
“This season is still for my pops,” he said. “I wanted him to meet her. Once the season ended, I was going to bring her to Iowa where he was living. God definitely blessed me. She’s beautiful. She’s healthy. I’m blessed.”
Reed feels that way about football, too. He’s “grateful” for his teammates and his coaches and the trust they have in him. He said it allows him to play fast and free.
“I’m just playing football like I was playing football when I was a kid,” he said.
Robert Saleh was Reed’s first defensive coordinator after the 49ers took him in the fifth round in 2018. Saleh said he “screwed that one up” by playing Reed at nickel cornerback those first two seasons.
Reed spent the past two years with the Seahawks, who moved him to the outside. Reed played well, and he’s flourished with the Jets.
“The mindset is still there,” Saleh said. “The tenacity, the intensity, the strain, all of it’s still there. He’s really found his home at the corner at that right spot. I’m just thankful that he’s here.”
The Jets, who had one of the worst passing defenses last season, have allowed the eighth-fewest passing yards this year. They’ve held teams under 200 net passing yards in six of their last eight games.
Reed has allowed only 36 catches for 302 yards, according to Pro Football Reference. He gave up his first touchdown of the season last week against Chicago’s Byron Pringle.
“What people don’t see is the dog that he is behind closed doors,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “The way he pushes people, the way he holds people accountable, the way he holds coaches accountable. He’s constantly asking questions and wants clarification and clarity.
“He’s brought mentality. He’s brought talent. He’s brought us a corner that we have a ton of trust in to cover anybody.”
Gardner credits Reed for having “a huge impact” on him and helping him through everything his rookie season, from film study to how he works and carries himself. Reed has been a big brother to Gardner on and off the field.
The NFL announced first returns of Pro Bowl balloting this past week, and Gardner is the AFC’s leading vote-getter at cornerback. Reed doesn’t have the cool nickname, draft status and following that Gardner has, but he’s every bit as deserving of making his first Pro Bowl.
It would mean a lot to Reed, especially after dedicating this season to his father. Not surprisingly, though, the team matters more to him.
“I think it would be a great accomplishment, that and All-Pro,” Reed said. “They would be cool accolades. Whatever happens happens. More so, I’m focused on getting to the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. We’ll see.”