Senior free safety Ed Reynolds earned the reputation as Stanford’s ball hawk after his three pick-sixes in 2013. But his counterpart, junior strong safety Jordan Richards, is no pushover. Richards is known as a harder hitter and himself returned an interception for a touchdown—the first of his career, against Washington State on Saturday. We asked football writers Winston Shi, Do-Hyoung Park and David Cohn: Which starting safety is more valuable to Stanford?
Winston: I’m not entirely sure that you could find two better safeties in college football than Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds. Stanford’s stars excel at anything that one could reasonably expect from a safety duo, and it’s hard to imagine them not being included in the end-of-season accolades. The two of them obviously have different roles to play, but I’d say that Richards is more of your prototypical safety—he’s trusted to hold down the top of the defense, allowing Stanford’s Cover 2 to take on the characteristics of a single safety, run-stopping Cover 1 look at times. The two have great chemistry and Stanford is lucky to have both of them.
Reynolds has made the difference time and time again on the football field, most notably with his near pick-six in last year’s Pac-12 championship game. But Richards’ role, at the very least, is more foundational than that of Reynolds. The first goal of every secondary should always be to avoid the big play, and Richards does that more effectively than anybody else. Outside of garbage time, Stanford has only given up three plays of longer than 30 yards this season. That’s less than one big play a game—that stinginess is the prime mover of Stanford’s defensive success.
Reynolds’ nose for the big play has repeatedly halted opponents’ drives. Turnovers are absolutely backbreaking for an offense, and Reynolds can thus credit himself with a massive share of Stanford’s more recent success. But Richards is Stanford’s last line of defense, and his ability to cover the middle of the field is the reason that Reynolds can gamble by floating in the intermediate zone, jumping pass routes and flying to the ball.
I believe that Reynolds can run the show as Richards currently does, so to a certain extent the question is academic. The answer depends on what you think about Stanford: Can Stanford throttle its opponents with slow, active containment, or is ball-hawking necessary to stop the explosive offenses that Stanford faces day in and day out? More importantly: If a defense aims to be as elite as that of Stanford, shouldn’t it be able to do both at the same time?
Do: Winston’s going to come at you with his football jargon, but I really don’t think he’s doing any justice at all to the fact that Ed Reynolds has been more explosive than anybody in this secondary for the last year and a half. All of Stanford’s safeties will make the tackles and play great pass coverage—the coaching staff will make sure of that. But Ed Reynolds does that and has done so much more. In fact, why are we even asking this question?
Sure, Richards’ role may be more “foundational” to the team’s defense, but is there really a better way to measure value to a football team than results? Jordan Richards is a fantastic player and avoids the big play on a level that matches or exceeds most safeties around the country. He makes Reynolds’ job possible, as Winston said.
But really, Ed Reynolds is the one that executes. His is the big name that opposing quarterbacks are scanning the field for, and the senior also brings an additional element to the table that really takes him over the top: his uncanny ability to instinctually read opposing quarterbacks and come up with huge plays to spur the defense and energize the team. He doesn’t just avoid big plays; he makes big plays happen on his own terms.
Richards may be a harder hitter and play excellent pass coverage in his zone, but Reynolds’ pass coverage has proven second to none during this last season and a half as he seems to be literally everywhere on the field, just waiting with bated breath to pick off whatever unfortunate quarterback happens to be challenging the Cardinal secondary that day and bring it to the house. Not only is he the ball-hawk of the vaunted Stanford defense, he is also a leader on the field who spurs his fellow defenders onward through both his presence and his play. And that is what makes Ed Reynolds so valuable to the Cardinal.
David: In a staff meeting earlier this week, I likened the process of deciding between Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds to choosing whether air or water was more important to life. More specifically, any answer that the three of us may give is going to be highly subjective, and, ultimately, the process of choosing one over the other is going to inherently ignore the fact that both are vital to the Cardinal’s defensive designs. However, since I am being forced to choose, I will say that Jordan Richards is more valuable to Stanford.
When I was watching film on Jordan Richards from last year’s Pac-12 championship game, I was struck by Richards’ sheer ability to tackle in the open field. He possesses tremendous strength to fight through blocks and bring ball carriers to the ground. In addition to that, Richards has great speed—particularly evident in one rather unexpected example.
Early in the first quarter of the Pac-12 championship, UCLA tailback Johnathan Franklin broke a run up the middle for a 51-yard touchdown. However, what most people probably did not notice on that particular play was that Richards was able to run down Franklin on his way to the end zone, eventually tackling Franklin after he had crossed the goal line. While Richards was unable to prevent UCLA from scoring, the fact that he was able to catch the speedy Franklin was nonetheless very impressive.
I wish to reiterate that Stanford is fortunate to have two NFL-caliber starting safeties. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards provide unique skill sets that are both very valuable to the Cardinal. In the end, I am left echoing a thought of my colleague Do, albeit for a very different reason: Why are we even asking this question?
Do-Hyoung Park is going to be looking over his shoulder for a bone-crushing hit from Jordan Richards after picking Ed Reynolds. Contact Do at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu and contact David and Winston at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu and wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.