In a story published in The Ringer on Monday — and that Arrowhead Pride shared with you on Tuesday — Danny Heifetz argued that Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller is one of the five most undervalued players in the NFL.
In the article — which is part of The Ringer’s NFL season preview — Heiftez makes a solid case.
Fuller played primarily from the slot in 2017, and by the end of the year he graded out as the best slot cornerback in the NFL by Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000 scouting grades. He was third among all corners in Pro Football Focus’s grading system.
Heifetz noted that while the Washington Redskins had seemingly thrown Fuller into their trade for Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith “as an afterthought” — the Redskins didn’t even inform Fuller before the trade became public knowledge — the Chiefs were confident about the player they were getting.
Fuller, a former third-round pick who would have been drafted much higher if he hadn’t gone down with a knee injury in college, was so good in his second NFL season that Kansas City felt comfortable trading All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams a day after acquiring the Virginia Tech product.
But among Chiefs fans, the immediate concern was whether Fuller’s unquestioned ability as a slot corner would translate to being an outside corner — the position where the then-traded Marcus Peters had played, and where there was plenty of concern about other Chiefs cornerbacks.
In MNchiefsfan’s Arrowhead Pride film review of Fuller published in January — which, if you haven’t read, you should — Seth addressed this question directly.
However, by my eyes and charting, Fuller absolutely earned the unanimous praise he received for his play last season, and based on the way his teammates reacted to him being traded, I don’t believe it was a fluke. He didn’t just demonstrate the traits of an elite CB last season... he WAS an elite CB.
That performance was out of the slot, but nothing that I saw indicates he has to be shackled there. Reports are that Washington was planning on using him outside as well as inside this season, and I believe that would be a very good idea.
As late as mid-July, though — as noted in a FanPost by AP user commanderinCHIEFS — Chiefs defensive backs coach Al Harris was still considering Fuller a slot corner.
“Those guys right now, all three of them are doing a very good job. [Kendall] Fuller is a pro, football IQ is high. Steve [Nelson] has always done a great job, he’s a competitor, doesn’t miss reps. I mean he wants to compete all the time. I know what I am going to get from him. Dave [Amerson] has also done a great job as well, coming from a different scheme, adapting to what we do, our culture and how we handle business here… Right now Dave [Amerson] and Steve [Nelson] are my outside pieces and [Kendall] Fuller will go inside.”
Three weeks ago, AP’s Craig Stout, Kent Swanson and Matt Lane had a conversation about Fuller, and whether fans should be concerned that he had — up to that point — not seen a lot of training camp snaps as an outside cornerback.
Craig: With Fuller being the only proven cornerback on the roster beyond this season, should we be worried he’s not getting as many snaps outside in the base defense?
Kent: Fuller is one of the most instinctual, smart players I’ve seen at the corner position for his age. He’s prepared and quick to process. He needs to be on the field as much as possible. He is one of the best slot corners in football and the best cornerback on this roster. He deserves every opportunity to stay on the field when only two corners are on.
Matt: I 100 percent agree with Kent’s opinion on Fuller’s play and abilities, but can’t help but share Craig’s concern that he didn’t really get much time outside until this last practice. I do find some solace in the fact that we are almost certainly running five or six defensive backs the vast majority of downs so the snaps in which a slot cornerback won’t be needed are very low.
Craig: I’ll shelve my Fuller worry for the time being, but I won’t be afraid to overreact if we get to preseason Week 1 with him exclusively as a slot cornerback.
But in Friday night’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Craig noticed a great play by Fuller — playing outside in off-man coverage, no less.
Kendall Fuller showing great close on a hitch route vs Atlanta's Smash out of 2x1 with 21 personnel. Fuller's deep off the line, keeping the play in front of him on 1st down, but ID's the concept and closes quickly for a PBU. Fantastic coverage. pic.twitter.com/aDcbLbgrbo— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
It remains to be seen exactly how Fuller will be utilized in the Chiefs defense once the games actually count. Here’s a good bet: he will see lots of snaps outside, but still be utilized — at least some of the time — as a slot corner.
We are, after all, expecting Bob Sutton to play a lot of press-man coverage once the regular season gets underway. It’s not unreasonable to expect that in such a scheme, Chiefs corners will sometimes be assigned to specific opposing receivers — which will sometimes put Fuller in the slot.
As long as Fuller maintains his level of play in each corner position, here’s another good bet: he won’t be undervalued any longer.