Editor’s note: This is our fourth film review of the Chiefs’ 2019 draft class. If you missed our review of second-round wide receiver Mecole Hardman, click here. If you missed our review of second-round safety Juan Thornhill, click here. Finally, our review of third-round defensive tackle Khalen Saunders is located here.
Going into the 2019 NFL Draft, most agreed that the Kansas City Chiefs needed to add some bodies to the secondary, particularly at the cornerback position.
I think most wanted to add one before they did: in the sixth round. The player they took was Rashad Fenton from South Carolina. While some may wonder about why they chose him instead of some of the other cornerbacks in that draft range, Chiefs area scout David Hinson described his fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
HINSON: “Sometimes in college, you get guys who played just strictly man, strictly playing press the majority of the time. But when you see a team in college that plays a versatile of quarters and cover 2 and cover 3 and works on some different things, usually those corners are a little bit more prepared for the next level and you can work with them to do some zone stuff. Because that is really the tougher things for them at the next level. Everybody is playing some version of man, but how many coverages of zone did you play and then your awareness and your instincts, those are the things coaches are looking for.”
Fenton’s versatility, ball skills, and quickness — as well as his ability as a punt gunner and return man — led to a good depth fit for a Chiefs team that needs more bodies at the position for 2020 and beyond.
Let’s dig into some of the things that Chiefs fans can expect out of Fenton in 2019, as well as where he could prove to be valuable as a developmental player going forward.
South Carolina CB Rashad Fenton
Ball skills and speed
Fenton may get ragdolled a little bit by bigger receivers, but he does an excellent job locating the ball from zone or off-man coverage responsibilities. Here, Fromm lets one sail with pressure in his face, but Fenton locates the ball while off balance and comes up with the pick. pic.twitter.com/0KnCZwsIEK— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 1, 2019
One of Fenton’s best attributes is that he’s typically looking for the ball. That’s music to some Chiefs fans’ ears after some of the cornerback play they witnessed last year. He’s not particularly strong at the catch point, and he doesn’t typically wall the receiver off to high-point the ball, but he makes his fair share of plays on the ball in open field.
The above play sees Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm sail a pass under pressure. Fenton is in coverage on the intended receiver, who runs a deep curl. Fenton stumbles out of the break but keeps his eyes up and locates the ball while off balance. He adjusts and comes down with an alert interception.
Chiefs sixth round pick Rashad Fenton has the ball skills and speed that Spagnuolo is looking for. Here, he shuffles while keeping the receiver in his peripheral vision, then turns his hips to run with the receiver when the quarterback loads up. He locates the ball for an INT. pic.twitter.com/WdTiehujXq— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 1, 2019
We might see some version of this in camp this year, with Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur signing as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs.
Fenton showcases a natural ability to stay “on top” of the route vertically. That’s important for Spagnuolo’s four-read pass coverages (more coming on that soon) as a boundary cornerback.
Fenton keeps the receiver in his peripheral vision and his eyes in the backfield. As he identifies the vertical route, he flips his hips to carry and keeps the receiver underneath him. If the throw is put on the receiver, Fenton can drive down for a breakup. However, it’s overthrown slightly, and that allows Fenton to come up with the interception.
Fenton does an especially good job on this coverage snap of keeping his hips horizontal while reading the route and not biting on the double move/pump fake combo. He flips his hips and showcases the speed to carry the vertical route and undercuts the throw for an INT. pic.twitter.com/wKZwCAxvQ7— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 1, 2019
This is probably Fenton’s most impressive interception that I watched, and it comes against Missouri and now-Broncos quarterback Drew Lock. Lock has a fantastic pump-fake in combo with the receiver’s double move, and many cornerbacks would try to jump the route to pick it off. Fenton stays patient, sees the double move out of his periphery, and flips to carry the vertical. Lock lets it rip, and Fenton comes down with the interception.
As all these clips have shown, Fenton is best from off-man or zone coverages, particularly against vertical routes. He shows a proficiency in his shuffle-bail technique, the speed to carry vertically and the ball skills to come down with a game-changing turnover.
While Fenton showcases good ball skills when he can stay on top of the route, he is a mixed bag with this back to the ball. He draws too many flags like this one that are pure "awareness" flags and are easily preventable. pic.twitter.com/JHOAJItDeN— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 2, 2019
However, when Fenton can’t keep his hips open and has to play with his back to the ball, he has far too many pass interference flags. While he generally plays faster than his 4.52 40-yard dash time, faster receivers can get him turned to the sideline on vertical routes, as shown above.
This is concerning for press-man coverages that Spagnuolo may want to run. Fenton struggles to “feel” the route and has too many times where he doesn’t have an awareness for the catch point. This leads to him running through the receiver or grabbing out of breaks. He’ll need to develop this part of his game to be trusted on the boundary in tight man coverage.
The Chiefs remarked that they liked Fenton's shuffle technique and watching his tape, you can see why. He's got quick feet to transition and drive on breaks. Here, he's able to keep his hips open, then drive on the dig to swallow it up and shrink the throwing window. pic.twitter.com/1Yg6oVI3Nq— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 2, 2019
Hinson specifically mentioned Fenton’s shuffle technique in his press conference, and I can see why. Fenton does well to keep his weight over his front foot so he can plant off of the shuffle and drive. He also takes short strides while still covering a lot of ground, allowing him to trigger quicker.
Fenton sits on the above dig route and can get good depth in his shuffle without fully opening his hips. This allows him to see the dig and flip to drive inside, staying on top of the route and shrinking the throwing window.
Fenton is perfectly capable of staying in phase and on top of the route when the receiver breaks from a shuffle, and that’s the technique the Chiefs will need to put him in if he has spot duty in year one. As I mentioned above, with his back to the ball, he gets grabby and “guesses” too often. They’ll need to avoid trail technique in the early parts of his career because of this.
Fenton gets stuck on blocks too often in run support, but he's a willing if you give him the alley. Here, the safety rotates over and Fenton crashes the box off the snap. It's a run play that he's able to come in and clean up. pic.twitter.com/1TJnQetcMM— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 2, 2019
Fenton is hot and cold in run support. He’s not afraid of coming up to deliver a hit, as the above play shows. If you give him an alley, he’ll shoot the gap without hesitation and try to deliver a blow.
However, his slight build shows up when trying to get off of blocks. All sizes of receivers will lock him up and drive him out of the play, limiting his effectiveness in support. This especially shows up in bubble screens, where he will take the right angle and get the proper leverage on the blocker, but simply cannot beat the man to make a play.
An NFL weight room might do Fenton wonders to help with his play strength — something that he’ll need at the catch point as well — but I wouldn’t expect much in run support in year one.
Fenton will definitely contribute on special teams as a gunner, but a bigger contribution might come from his ability as a kick returner. He's got sharp cuts -- which also show up in his click and close -- and can make guys miss in the open field. pic.twitter.com/WG10Aan6Wy— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) May 1, 2019
One of the reoccurring comments from Hinson was about Fenton’s special-teams ability. Fenton returned kicks and punts in his time at South Carolina. Early in his career, he housed the kick shown above against LSU. Much like his coverage ability, he’s got good vision and quick feet to make cuts when the read is in front of him. While he likely won’t be demoting fellow rookie Mecole Hardman in this role, he offers a quality backup if Hardman’s role in the offense prevents him from returning kicks.
Where Fenton will have a solid role is as a punt gunner. He’ll once again need better functional strength getting off of blocks and rerouting other gunners, but he showed an ability to slip lanes at the collegiate level and make an impact on the punt team.
The bottom line
Rashad Fenton needs work at cornerback. Expecting year-one contributions out of him is expecting too much. From the way that he’s been talked about inside of Arrowhead, they know it as well.
He needs more strength to play with bigger NFL wide receivers. He needs a better feel for the route with his back to the ball. He needs to be able to shed blockers better to contribute in the run game the way that Steve Spagnuolo likes his cornerbacks to contribute.
However, he comes built in with the requisite technique, ball skills and feel for distribution from zone coverage that Spagnuolo will like. His versatility with Quarters, 2-read, Match 3, and man coverages is a major plus with the mixing and matching Spagnuolo will do in the secondary.
When watching the drills at the combine, Fenton was one of three players I felt performed well in every one of the cornerback drills — alongside Byron Murphy and Chiefs undrafted free agent Mark Fields. Their technique and fluidity from both sides and through multiple techniques jumped out compared to a mostly clunky group in the drills.
Fenton can contribute in year one in special teams and offers good depth at the cornerback position while he develops — which is about as good as you can reasonably expect from a sixth-round pick.
If he can put on some more mass and develop his ability to feel the route from trail technique, Fenton has the upside as a spot starter going forward. He should be in the mix as a quality depth piece in 2020 and beyond.