Welcome to another article at Anatomy of Titans, and today we look at another off-season target for the Tennessee Titans. Kyle Fuller is a free agent this off-season and should cash in after having a strong year. He does have an extensive injury history, which should put a ceiling on his next contract, but he’s one of the more talented cornerbacks out there. This is the third of my off-season targets list, first being Paul Richardson and the other being Jerick McKinnon. If anyone has a suggestion for another free agent, please feel free to leave a comment. Also, as usual please share on social media and among your friends and family.
The lack of a shutdown corner back was a monumental problem for the Titans during last season. Countless times, cornerbacks were out of position or confused by late movements at the line of scrimmage, giving up large chunks of yards. Football Outsiders rated the pass defense as 24th in the league this past year. However, diving deeper into the issue reveals a problem at No. 2 cornerback position. The Titans ranked 11th overall against No. 1 receivers this year, but fell all the way to 28th overall against No. 2 receivers. As most of you know, I’m a fan of Adoree’ Jackson’s potential and think he’s bound to make a leap next year. A Jackson-Fuller combination with Byard as the safety will greatly improve the pass defense in the coming years. According to the same site, the defense ranked dead last against passes to the running back, so that’s an issue I’ll tackle with another target later in the off-season.
One of the best attributes about Dean Pees is that he doesn’t get pigeonholed into one type of defense, and the Ravens were excellent at disguising their base defense at the line of scrimmage. This type of play requires great communication between the defensive players (something the Titans sorely lacked) but also a fair amount of versatility. The mark of any great defense is to adjust along with the offense, especially with late moving wide receivers. In the playoff game against the Patriots, the defense was dismantled by late movements, which often caused confusion among the secondary. You can check out that article in the coming weeks as I post the weekly film breakdowns.
Kyle Fuller came out of college as a highly touted cornerback from Virginia Tech University. The university has a good standing in the draft community for developing secondary unit players, with such alumni as Kam Chancellor, Brandon Flowers, DeAngelo Hall, and Kendall Fuller. He was touted as being a very good cornerback in zone as well as man coverage, and picked in the middle of the first round by the Chicago Bears.
6’ tall (rounded up .4 inches)
40: 4.49 forty-yard dash – which placed him 13th at the combine among cornerbacks
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.18 (11th)
3 Cone: 6.90 (10th)
I personally like to watch the 40 times along with the 3 cone drills as the most important factors for a CB prospect because it’s a reactive position. The player has to react to the wide receiver and/or QB and I believe overall speed (especially with splits to show short range burst), along with the three-cone drill to show change of direction skills are the most vital for a cornerback. Obviously, other factors such as size and intellect come into play, but these two are at the top for me, at least when it comes to the combine. If you are scouting cornerbacks, notice hip rotation as well because that is extremely important in game play. Of course, overall, I think it’s game-play that should stand out as the main component in evaluating cornerback play.
Kyle Fuller has been a disappointment for the Bears, partially because of injuries. He missed most of 2016 with arthroscopic surgery for one of his knees. The injury (as well as the GM change) was the reason his 5th year option wasn’t picked up and why he’s a free agent. The main problem with Fuller in Chicago was the lack of talent around him, which forced Fuller to match up against No. 1 receivers more often than not. Fuller struggled for sure, but it was also a horrible defense on the whole. While Fuller was on the roster, not one Bears defensive player made it to the Pro-Bowl. PFF ranked Fuller as the 22nd CB, which places him safely above average this year.
This play doesn’t have much to do with Fuller, as you can see him to the left side of the formation away from the play. He’s guarding Le’veon Bell and does a good job of attacking the running back off the line of scrimmage and stays with him, although it’s a half-hearted route. The reason it’s half-hearted is because Roethlisberger called an audible for the deep pass to Bryant at the line of scrimmage. The Bears have a cornerback, a safety, and two linebackers to cover three receiving options, one of whom is Antonio Brown. Notice the depth of these defenders because the linebackers are off the line to give free release, but obviously won’t be staying with Brown or Bryant. The defensive call here is to switch, which is exactly what Roethlisberger recognizes at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers won’t be able to stay with either of those two receivers, so it’s going to be a zone concept with them taking the underneath route, while the safety takes the deep route. If the middle linebacker runs back with Bryant, it’s an easy pass to Brown. If the linebacker lets Bryant run by and moves to the outside to protect against Brown, then Bryant has a one on one match up down the field. The Bears complicate things even further because cornerback Marcus Cooper doesn’t switch in time. At one point, the Bears have three defenders dedicated to Brown, which allows Bryant to run right by. The best-case scenario for the QB at the line of scrimmage was to have a one on one matchup for Bryant down the field, yet the Bears gift them a wide-open route. Roethlisberger misses the pass by inches (figures, I had him starting in fantasy that day) and it’s doesn’t come back to haunt them. I put this play here just to highlight why the Bears were a mess on the defensive side, and why Fuller might be a candidate to improve with better surrounding casts.
The play actually ends up with a penalty on Fuller, but I think he showed great reaction skills here for the route. He’s matched up with Bryant, with safety help in the middle (although, safeties are moving too far up the field against the run) and is giving the receiver a free release. Notice how fast he reacts to Bryant slowing down for the comeback route, and how he beats Bryant’s time to slow down and closes the gap. The play is a penalty because Roethlisberger threw this pass off his back foot, which caused it to float, and Fuller was called for the penalty as he fought for position. Overall, it’s a negative play for him, but I thought it showed an extremely good change of direction skill.
In this instance, he’s matched up with Antonio Brown – quite possibly the best receiver in the game. The initial play call on 3rd and 2 is a simple crossing route and Fuller is on an island. There is a deep safety down the field, but I’m pretty sure there are some fans that are closer to the Steelers’ receivers. Fuller does a great job of covering Brown as he stays with him across the field. Notice Eli Rogers on this play because he’s setting a pick on the tail end of this crossing route. As I’ve mentioned before in these articles, in 3rd down situations, you will see a lot of pick plays in the NFL because it’s nearly impossible to defend. Fuller recognizes the pick play, cuts behind Brown but also makes sure to attack the angle on the throw. He goes slightly in front of Brown (in relation to his position for the QB) which makes it a harder throw for Roethlisberger. It took about 3.5 to 4 seconds for this situation to occur and the Bears have absolutely no pressure on the QB, which allows him to stand in the pocket and wait for Brown to work himself open. The Steelers receiver breaks back inside, at which point Fuller can’t react fast enough and gets the first down. While the reception goes against Fuller, I think he played this extremely well, but the lack of pressure hurt him against Brown, because he’s on an island.
Once again, we see the futility from the Bears defense show up, and eventually get lucky. Fuller is matched up to the left side of the formation on Bryant. Notice how he attacks Bryant at the line of scrimmage, so the receiver doesn’t get a free release, and then stays step for step down the field. He has inside position, uses the sideline as another defender, and stays right there with a dangerous threat down the field. Furthermore, he doesn’t have any safety help down the field, because once again the Bears decided to play with 10 players. The safety is situated in the middle of the field, the Steelers run three deep routes, yet somehow the safety isn’t close to any one of them. While Fuller covers his person on an island, the other two defenders for the Bears both get burned and Roethlisberger has his choice of big plays. Notice how Brown gets Cooper to move out of the way off the line of scrimmage, which allows him free release down the field and runs right by the defender. Roethlisberger has an open Brown for a long pass play, possibly a TD, but under-throws this pass, which allows for Cooper to get back into the play. You can make an argument for pass interference on this play as well, but it isn’t called. This is just a terrible throw by Roethlisberger (Why? Because not only did I start him in my fantasy league, he was my main DFS QB as well that week) and saves the Bears once again. At this point, you should have an idea of the talent level around Fuller with the Bears.
On a side note, watch JuJu Smith-Schuster on this play down the middle. When he’s first running down the field, the defender has his hips turned to the middle of the field, which is also where the route is headed towards. Notice how Juju cuts to the outside, which causes the hips of the defender to turn, and then cuts back inside to continue the route. The Steelers are excellent at teaching route concepts to their young receivers, and he broke himself open on a play in which the defender is set to defend the exact route he’s running.
Once again, we see a play go against Fuller, and I’m not sure I can blame him for the catch. In this instance, Fuller essentially gets blocked by his own safety, who spends too much time reading Roethlisberger instead of covering Bell out of the backfield. While the safety is reading the QB, he essentially blocks the path of Fuller, who has to run behind him now, and allows Brown to be free. The play goes against Fuller since he was covering Brown, but how much can you blame him?
In this instance, he’s essentially acting as a safety because there aren’t any receivers to his side of the field. He shows good situational awareness by looking at the routes developing to his right, and then attacking the possible route. If this pass wasn’t over-thrown, there is a chance for an interception. The other thing to note is the timing of his movement, because if JuJu runs further on, he’ll be wide open in the end zone. Notice how Fuller lags a bit because his responsibility it to make sure JuJu doesn’t run behind him, but as soon as Roethlisberger goes into his throwing motion, Fuller attacks the passing lane. It shows excellent play recognition and timing in this case, even if it’s all for naught.
On this play, Fuller is matched up with Brown and Roethlisberger tries to attack deep (with a safety that can’t seem to affect any throw) down the field. Fuller does a good job of staying with Brown, although the All-Pro receiver does get a step eventually as they go past midfield. Fuller doesn’t fall behind, and because the ball hangs up there just a bit, he makes a play on the ball to bat it away. Once again, he holds his ground against a stud receiver, while the safety watches on from midfield.
In the third quarter, he’s playing off the line against Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger sees the option and makes a nice pass; which Brown hauls in for a first down. This isn’t great coverage, but Fuller does make a play on the ball, but Brown wrestles it away. One other thing to notice is the routes by the receivers on this play, between Brown and Bryant. They are running mirror routes, and breaking at the exact same time, so Roethlisberger just picks the side he’s most comfortable with. However, notice where the routes end up, with Brown making an exact cut on the 45-yard line. Bryant on the other hand goes about a yard or two past the 45 running the same exact route, starting their cut at the same exact time. Notice how much closer Bryant’s defender is too him, without moving up quite as much, because of the route. Bryant is essentially rounding out his cut, taking the turn on a curve, whereas Brown is much more direct. You will hear about route running during the draft process, and this is one of the main traits teams look for. Players that round off their cuts make it easier for defenders, while players that can cut at greater angles are harder to defend. So, if you are checking out the draft prospect videos, make sure to look for it.
On this play, Fuller is matched with Brown to the left side of the formation, without much help (One thing of note, the sun, the angle, and the Bears jersey makes it incredibly hard to decipher numbers) and holds his own in press man coverage near the end zone. Fuller jams Brown at the line to prevent a free release, and then pushes him to the outside. He’s using the sidelines as an extra defender and maintains inside leverage going down the field. The QB has to make a perfect fade pass to the end zone to beat Fuller on this play, which Roethlisberger decides against. Once again, he’s on an island with Brown and holds his own, and shows good skills in press man cover.
The Bears are in zone coverage on this play, and Fuller makes a play on the ball, but doesn’t come up with the interception. He’s matched up with Bell and Brown to the right side of the formation, with safety help over the top. The read on this play for Roethlisberger is Fuller, because if he’s close to Bell, then the pass goes to Brown, and if he stays with Brown, then pass to Bell on the linebacker. Fuller plays it extremely well by staying somewhat close to Bell but drifting back towards Brown, which allows him to make a play on the ball. Also, notice exactly how Fuller is drifting backwards here as he’s going towards the sideline to make sure he’s close enough to Bell and a possible pass to Brown. He’s drifting back at an angle in the exact pass route to Brown, while mirroring Bell, which allows him to play the passing lane to Brown and still maintain an angle of attack if the ball is throw to Bell.
In this case, we’re looking at play recognition with an audible. Roethlisberger notices a mismatch with the receivers, and calls for a wide receiver screen. The Steelers have three receivers lined up with two defenders nearby, plus a linebacker positioned well inside. The only other defender is deep safety down the field. The play is a perfect set up for a WR screen, because the two receivers can block the two defenders, at which point Brown should be running down the field against the safety. However, Fuller recognizes the audible and moves up towards Brown. Notice the positioning, because Fuller gets in a stance to drive up the field to prevent a WR screen, and get in position to wiggle away from the possible block. He effectively blocks any chance of a WR screen with his recognition, and Roethlisberger is forced to improvise the other way.
The Bears have one of the worst supporting casts in terms of defense for any cornerback, so I believe Fuller will thrive on a team with better players. Adoree’ Jackson and Byard alone should provide much better support for Fuller, especially if the team can sign or draft an effective linebacker. Fuller displays a good ability to play man cover or zone defense with good football IQ, which should fit in extremely well with a Dean Pees defense. I’m not saying Fuller is a lock-down No. 1 cornerback, because he would be paid handsomely, if that were the case, and the Bears would most likely franchise tag him. However, he’s a young cornerback that shows very good potential, and his contract isn’t going to be a back-breaker for the Tennessee Titans. I picked the Steelers game because he’s matched up against an elite QB with elite WR options, because I’d rather see someone face top competition and struggle at times than see them shut down the Browns.
There are a few levels to note, depending on the market. Bearsbarroom estimates the high end to be similar to AJ Bouye’s contract last year, which might be too high in for my liking. However, the same article does mention Darius Slay’s contract, which came in at 4 years and $48 million. He should make more money than Logan Ryan’s 3 year, $30 million contract. I would say 4 years at $48 million as the relative target for him in free agency.
Non-Football Related Note: Kyle and Kendall Fuller, Kylie and Kendall Jenner. Why is that even a combination?
Thanks for checking in with us today, please visit us for more off-season targets and draft scouting profiles as well. I’ll be at the combine this Saturday to look at receivers and quarterbacks, so I’ll post my thought afterwards in a post, albeit QB shouldn’t be a concern for the Tennessee Titans. If you have suggestions for players, please let me know. Other than that, share on social media please and subscribe to get email updates on every post. I will be posting a bunch of film reviews from the past year soon, while intermingling off-season targets and draft scouting reports.
Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
Keller Williams Realty
9175 Carothers Parkway,
Franklin, TN 37067
Office: 615 – 778 – 1818
Fax: 615 – 778 – 8898
Mobile: 347 -249 -8442
License Number: 342828