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In what ways can Malik Reed bring the most value to the Steelers defense?

What should the Steelers expect from their newly-acquired outside linebacker?

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed into the regular season after establishing their 53-man roster. In doing so, they made two trades ahead of roster cuts to try to bring depth to the offensive line and outside linebacker rooms. The first trade the Steelers made was with the Denver Broncos where they sent a sixth-round draft pick in 2023 in exchange for edge rusher Malik Reed and a seventh-round pick. But what does Reed bring to the Steelers to help the defense? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

In three seasons in Denver, Malik Reed played in 45 games with 34 starts with 15.0 sacks, four pass defensed, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 123 tackles, and 30 quarterback hits. In 2021, Reed started 13 games for the Broncos with 5.0 sacks with one of them coming in Week 5 in Pittsburgh. It was the Broncos only sack of Ben Roethlisberger on the day which was also a forced fumble wand set up the Broncos for their first field goal of the game.

Despite being their third option on the edge, Malik Reed was used extensively in the Broncos defense, particularly over the last two seasons. While he played 468 defensive snaps in 2019, he logged 785 in 2020 and 739 and 2021.

Looking at some advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference, Malik Reed had 14 quarterback hurries, three knockdowns, and 5.0 sacks last season for 22 total quarterback pressures. But with five missed tackles, Reed had a 10.4% missed tackle percentage. In 2020, Reed had 33 quarterback pressures which broke down to 15 hurries, eight quarterback knockdowns, and 8.0 sacks. Additionally, Reed had only three missed tackles on the season for a 5.4% missed tackle percentage.

now that we know the numbers, how dowhnRi they show up for Reed on the field. It’s time for the film..

The Film Line:

Looking at Malik Reed’s film from 2021 reveals a solid edge player that isn’t going to be anyone’s preferred starter, but can play on both sides and give you reasonably good play.

Broncos vs. Steelers, 1st quarter, 4:09.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the right side of the screen.

Most Steelers fans probably didn’t remember Malik Reed when they first announced the acquisition, but he had one of his better games playing against Dan Moore Jr. in Week 5 of the 2021 season. Reed throws down his best pass rush move, a one-arm bull rush, and when that doesn’t work, he just hand fights his way around Dan Moore Jr. and ends up getting a strip sack.

You can see his high motor and relentless effort on this first play, but it showed up even more other times.

Broncos vs. Jets, 2nd quarter, 4:38.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

His loop inside isn’t very well executed and fools nobody, but Reed is able to disengage from his blocker and run down the quarterback to force an incompletion. Reed doesn’t beat a lot of blockers, but he does a good job disengaging in order to chase the ball.

Broncos vs. Jets, 2nd quarter, 8:47.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Reed also occasionally stands out for a heads up play like this one. While he plays very aggressively and it sometimes gets him in trouble, here he senses the screen and gets back to shut it down.

Broncos vs. Steelers, 1st quarter, 14:20.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

On this play Reed again identifies the play, and he moves to intercept the pulling guard, Trai Turner. He is able to stand him up and keep him right around the line of scrimmage long enough to help limit Najee Harris’s run lane.

Broncos vs. Jets, 3rd quarter, 3:08.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

This is even better. Reed gets through the combo block without the tackle getting proper leverage on him. That allows him to force the running back wider and buys time for his teammates to catch up and make the tackle. He is being blocked for much of this play, but you can notice that he isn’t moving like Bud Dupree used to on these types of plays.

Broncos vs. Eagles, 4th quarter, 9:55.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

Malik Reed is limited in his athleticism. He isn’t going to stay even with a running back racing to the sideline, nor is he going to run down any of the quicker quarterbacks. That’s not his game. When he is in, the Steelers will need Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Terrell Edmunds to get outside quickly on outside runs and scrambles to prevent first downs on plays like this.

Broncos vs. Eagles, 4th quarter, 8:34.

Malik Reed (#59) is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

While Malik Reed isn’t going to confuse anyone into thinking he’s James Harrison, Bud Dupree, or even Alex Highsmith in run defense, but he does a good job most of the time of holding his own even against combo blocks. Outside of plays where his aggressiveness gets him out of position, I’d consider him a pretty good run defender.

The Point:

Malik Reed fits the Steelers mold of outside linebacker with his high motor and good functional strength. He has shown he can play on both sides of the defense and be successful, and while he doesn’t have any part of his game that is going to scare opposing offenses, he also doesn’t have glaring weaknesses for the offense to attack. He’s a solid backup linebacker, and will likely be the primary backup on the right side where the Steelers have valued run defense over pass rush from their outside linebackers.