Few players on the San Francisco 49ers roster will have more of an opportunity to shine in the preseason opener with the Dallas Cowboys than D.J. Reed.

A fifth-round rookie out of Kansas State, Reed is expected to start at nickel cornerback and will also serve as the second-team free safety having practiced at both positions in training camp.

Reed's opportunity has not come by accident, it has come as a result of an aggressive mindset that has been apparent throughout training camp.

"He fights his tail off. He's got a great mindset, a great mentality," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said this week of Reed.

"He's fighting. We're asking him a lot for a rookie to learn free safety and nickel. He's doing a good job with it. He's one of the guys, and there's a lot of guys that I could speak of, that we could all speak of for this, but he's taking this opportunity and he's absolutely running with it."

The fighting spirit Saleh speaks of has defined Reed's career. After walking on at Fresno State, Reed transferred to the Junior College ranks and spent a year at Cerritos College as a redshirt freshman.

He took full advantage of that opportunity, recording 42 tackles, three pass breakups, and two interceptions in 11 games and earning a transfer to the Big 12 with Kansas State, where the determination Saleh spoke of was more than apparent.

In two seasons with Kansas State, Reed intercepted seven passes, including this one against Texas, which exemplifies his tenacity.

Initially beaten over the top, Reed showcases the speed to recover the separation the wide receiver has gained and then fights for inside leverage to put himself in position to beat the wideout to the football with his jump.


Though he is only 5'9", Reed boasts arms over 31 inches long. They were a big contributing factor to a collegiate career that saw him twice named to the All-Big 12 team as the combination of his grit and long arms allowed him to disrupt at the catch point and record 25 pass deflections.

He makes two such plays in the game with Texas. First, he recovers after biting on the inside plant and does an excellent job of finding the football and breaking up a likely touchdown pass. On the second play he overcomes a much bigger receiver having leverage on the comeback route to make another impressive play on the ball.



Reed does not boast elite speed but, as with his lack of size, has been able to succeed despite that. His transition from off coverage can be inconsistent but he is still able to produce short bursts of acceleration to break to the football, as he does on this play against Oklahoma State, where he almost intercepts the pass.


Arguably Reed's most impressive play came on this interception from the same game. Reed has enough speed to stay in stride with the receiver downfield and is able to find the overthrown ball and pick it off with one hand, pinning it to his body as he goes to the ground.


With plays like this on his college resume and a so far impressive camp under his belt, it is no wonder Saleh is relishing seeing Reed take the field in a game.

"(I'm) excited about where he is. (I'm) excited to see him play. That's where everything is going to kind of come to fruition, hopefully," Saleh added.

He's far from the biggest and he's not the fastest but, as plays like that pick demonstrate, Reed has regularly found a way to make an impact despite his athletic makeup.

His drive to prove himself and overcome his athletic deficiencies have put Reed in a position where he could become a rookie contributor at two positions for the 49ers. Reed's mindset helped him show he belonged in a Power 5 collegiate conference and, providing he maintains that attitude, there is little reason it cannot all come to fruition for him in the pros as Saleh hopes.