+Superhuman run defense
+Had 14.5 TFLs his sophomore year
+Played linebacker against Georgia Tech in 2010 to improve the run defense
+Tough as nails
+Outstanding instincts against the run
+Phenomenal at shedding blocks
+Amazing instincts against the pass
+Outstanding in zone coverage
-Doesn’t have a ton of long speed
-Some durability issues
-Will bite on double moves
-Pedestrian ball skills
The run defense of Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller is one of the most extreme positives of any player I have ever scouted at any position the last 5 years. When I think of qualities of certain players that are off the charts, things like Luke Kuechly’s instincts against the run, C.J. Spiller’s speed, Cordarrelle Patterson’s YAC ability (especially for a 6’2 receiver), and J.J. Watt’s fundamentals come to mind, along with Kyle Fuller’s run defense. Kyle Fuller’s run defense is the football equivalent of Billy Hamilton’s speed; it just breaks the scale. They say Hamilton has 90 speed on baseball’s 20-80 scouting scale. Football has no equivalent scale, but Kyle Fuller’s run defense is similarly incredible.
I have tons of anecdotes about Kyle Fuller’s run defense. But one in particular makes my point. A play in the 2012 game against Miami. Miami throws a screen pass to the slot receiver, Fuller beats the block of the wide receiver instantaneously and tackles the slot receiver for no gain. The play itself isn’t what is so incredible. A typical corner can make it about 5% of the time. It’s the amount of faith Virginia Tech showed that it had in Fuller on the play. Fuller is opposite the wide receiver, with his chest angled toward the quarterback, indicating zone coverage. There was a slot receiver lined up immediately behind the wide receiver. No one was covering him. The nearest Hokie was Antone Exum, lined up 14 yards off the line of scrimmage when the play started, and he actually just backed off further when the play started. A linebacker is sort of in the vicinity, but as long as the receiver doesn’t run inside, he’s not a factor. Virginia Tech gave Kyle Fuller an assignment that no other coach would do in their wildest dreams. They basically told Miami “You have two wide receivers, we have only Kyle Fuller near them. If you win this 2 versus 1 matchup, toss a screen and either block Kyle Fuller or evade his tackle, you’ll get 10 yards, maybe more if the receiver can turn the corner.” Miami responded by saying “Hell yeah, we’ll give it a shot.” After they failed miserably, Virginia Tech basically said “Oh, that’s cute. You think 1 wide receiver is enough to block Kyle Fuller.” I’ve never seen a play like it before in my life. It’s not like the safety backed off the line of scrimmage at the last second. It was just Kyle Fuller matched up against two wide receivers by himself. And Virginia Tech liked those odds (first play of the video). Another fun Fuller fact: in the 2011 game against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech started the 6’0, 190lbs Fuller at linebacker to improve it’s run defense. Just insane.
In addition to the anecdote, I’ve also got a stat illustrating Fuller’s run defense. Kyle Fuller finished third in the ACC with 14.5 TFLs in 2011, behind Quinton Coples and Andre Branch. If that’s not impressive enough by itself, for a little more context, no NFL corner has reached double digits since 1992 (the first year I can find data). Oh, and the NFL doesn’t distinguish between assisted and unassisted TFL’s like the NCAA does. That’s just weird. That number just doesn’t seem right. It just seems ridiculous. He hasn’t been able to match that, and I don’t expect him to, especially because he hasn’t been playing as much nickelback as he did during his sophomore year. But everything about Kyle Fuller against the run, his instincts, his tackling, his block shedding, and his effort are just flawless.
Here’s the crazy thing; Fuller is actually really good against the pass as well (watch the Alabama tape). I’ve seen corners in the past that looked like they were born in the wrong body, that play as if they are meant to be a linebacker but are trapped in a short but athletic body. You won’t find a better example than Marcus Gilchrist. But Fuller is actually a really good corner. His instincts in coverage combined with his strength translate to lots of success in press man coverage. He is outstanding at recognizing the routes of opposing receivers, and he has really fluid hips and good quickness. He covers underneath routes with incredible effectiveness and he knows how to use his outstanding length and size to deflect passes without committing pass interference. He is extremely physical in coverage and can easily jam the routes of receivers at the line of scrimmage, and his loose hips allow him to stay with anyone. He occasionally will bite on double moves.
Fuller is an odd corner because he’s 6’0 and he’s more quick than fast. One thing that always drives me crazy; you sometimes hear announcers make an excuse for a mediocre 40 by saying the player is “more quick than fast,” as if that’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with being more quick than fast; if you are more quick than fast, you tend to accelerate very quickly and change directions very naturally. A guy that’s more fast than quick is great in a straight line, but may not have much body control and they take a while to reach top speed. Each type of player has his own use. Guys like Fuller have the burst and fluidity to cover quick receivers on shorter routes and match them stride for stride. A corner that’s more fast than quick, say, Justin Gilbert, has a chance of going an entire season without allowing a catch longer than 40 yards. The reason why I say it’s weird that Fuller is more quick than fast is because he’s 6’0 feet tall. Quick, fluid corners tend to be short striders that may reach their top speed on a dime, but struggle to keep up with bigger receivers when they run in a straight line. Fuller has above average size for a corner, but due to his unspectacular long speed, you have to control his assignments in man coverage just a little bit. There’s really only one matchup I feel uncomfortable putting him in: against an undersized deep threat, someone shorter than 6’2 who averages 14.5 or more yards per catch. I must emphasize I don’t mean all deep threats. I have no problem putting Fuller up against a guy with a high YPC because he wins jump balls, and that’s why I don’t include guys like Brandon Marshall. He is outstanding against jump balls, because he knows how to read the eyes of opposing receivers to figure out when the ball is in the air, plus he’s 6’0, he has really long arms for a corner, and he has a 38.5 vertical leap. He has no problem making this play. But against smaller burners, I’d keep him away. I wouldn’t ask him to cover Mike Wallace. If I’m facing Atlanta, Julio Jones is probably a better idea matchup for him than Roddy White, although I would still give him help over the top. Torrey Smith and Victor Cruz are probably other guys he should avoid. But I have heard about people saying he should play safety in the NFL, but I don’t think that’s necessary. He really is good in man coverage.
Fuller is very good in zone coverage. His physicality and instincts do him wonders here, as he’s always in good position and he can jam the release of wide receiver if he is in cover 2, although the Tampa 2 is fading a bit in the NFL. He’s a likely candidate to go to a 3-4 team in the NFL since 3-4 teams tend to use more pattern read coverage than 4-3 teams, and pattern read coverage is an area in which Fuller is likely to excel. Pattern read coverage takes a long time to explain, but it’s a form of zone coverage, that, when executed correctly, gives a team more freedom to blitz (which is difficult in traditional zone coverage). It’s really hard to execute, and teams that use it run into problems in Seattle, where the crowd is so loud that the defensive communication necessary to execute it is nearly impossible, but, when executed correctly, it’s amazing. If you want to learn more, look up Dick LeBeau or fire zone blitzes. Frankly, almost no collegiate defender (I say defender because linebackers are involved too, as well as safeties) will enter the NFL with any experience in pattern read coverage. A couple of schools, namely Alabama (C.J. Mosley is awesome) and Georgia Tech, use it, but most won’t enter the NFL with much experience in anything but quarters coverage. Kyle Fuller sees the field well enough to be the kind of corner that would excel in pattern read coverage. He doesn’t get many picks, as he doesn’t really show a feel for jumping routes, but he does move very well laterally.
Kyle Fuller is awesome. His ability against the run is unmatched, and his instincts in coverage go a long way. He’s going to be a great player, one of the best corners in this draft class. Any team he goes to will be lucky to have him.
NFL Comparison: There are no corners in the NFL who are as good against the run as Fuller. But Antoine Winfield was that good in his playing days. Winfield is a bit more athletic, but Fuller is a bit taller.
Grade: 97 (worthy of a top 10 pick)
Projection: 92 (will be a late first round pick)