Minnesota Vikings' Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Kyle Fuller

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Minnesota Vikings' Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Kyle Fuller
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 NFL draft is going to come down to figuring out a way to address the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense from a season ago.

With needs at the quarterback position, linebacker and, of course, the secondary, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will be tasked with coming up with an effective strategy that will satisfy all of these glaring needs.

With just a few short weeks left before the draft finally commences, the purpose of this article is to make the case for an individual who be will be able to come in and help this roster improve right off the bat.

That player is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.

 

Getting to Know Kyle Fuller

Geoff Burke/Getty Images

For those who aren't familiar with Fuller, he's a 6'0", 190-pound cornerback who played his college ball at Virginia Tech.

Before committing to Virginia Tech in 2009, Fuller was a 3-star recruit out of Mount St. Joseph high school located in Baltimore.

According to Virginia Tech's official sports website, Fuller had a decorated high school career, finishing as "a member of the SuperPrep Mid-Atlantic Team."

When he finally got the chance to play in a Hokies uniform, Fuller gained a ton of experience taking reps at cornerback, safety and linebacker over the course of his collegiate career.

Paul Sancya
Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Fuller

He's a young man who comes from an NFL lineage. 

His brothers, Vincent and Corey Fuller, both spent time in the NFL as a safety and wide receiver, respectively—Corey Fuller is still active, playing for the Detroit Lions.

Now it's the younger Fuller who enters the 2014 draft as one of the top cornerback prospects in the entire class.

If you take a look at NFLDraftScout.com's (h/t CBSSports.com) rankings, the Virginia Tech standout is slotted as the No. 3 cornerback behind Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock sees the pecking order a little bit differently, as he ranks Fuller No. 2 overall behind only Dennard.

Suffice to say, Fuller has the skill set and physical tools needed to put himself in contention of being the first cornerback taken.

A notion the NFL clearly understands, considering Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported that Fuller has accepted an invitation to sit in Radio City Music Hall on draft weekend and hear his name get called at the podium.

 

Tale of the Tape

Draft season gives fans, pundits and media personalities a chance to go back and watch some of their favorite prospects put in work on tape.

While most people won't get access to the All-22 tape—also known as coaches film—websites like DraftBreakdown.com have become a great resource for watching cut-ups on some of these young men.

Fuller's tape is appealing in a variety of different ways.

Without using a ton of draft verbiage to try to describe his game, one thing that jumps off the screen is his overwhelming ability to play physical.

Whether he's coming up and making a tackle on a running back, or he's mixing it up with opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, Fuller's willingness to play with an edge on the field is an endearing quality that can't be overlooked.

DraftBreakdown.com
Kyle Fuller vs. Alabama

In the picture above, you'll see Fuller make a great play on 6'2", 218-pound Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon.

DraftBreakdown.com
Kyle Fuller vs. Alabama

Shedding his block, Fuller explodes toward Yeldon, lowers his shoulder and lays the boom on the bruising Alabama tailback.

Though it should be noted that he got dinged up on the play—and later returned to the game—that desire to lay his body on the line shows you the type of physicality Fuller is bringing with him to the next level.

The second thing that you notice when you get the chance to watch Fuller on tape is he has great ball skills that are complemented by his outstanding athleticism.

DraftBreakdown.com
Kyle Fuller vs. Alabama

In this example, Fuller is stationed in the middle of the field pre-snap as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron works out of the shotgun.

DraftBreakdown.com
Kyle Fuller vs. Alabama

Shadowing wide receiver Christion Jones, Fuller extends his arm and is able to swat the ball away, making one of the most dazzling plays of the game in the process.

There's a lot to like when you turn on the tape and watch Fuller operate. But his physical style of play stopping the run and his impressive athletic ability are two traits that really set him apart from most of his peers.

 

What the Experts Are Saying

The beauty of analyzing a prospect in today's day and age is that aside from your own view, you get a boatload of opinions from various people in the industry.

A great way to get a more in-depth look at Fuller's strengths and weaknesses is by checking out what some of the experts have to say about this young man.

Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) wrote a detailed piece talking about some of the best qualities Fuller has to offer:

Physical demeanor with good length. Excellent toughness and energy—plays like he's 25 pounds thicker. Good vertical leap and smooth hip action to flip-and-go. Good route recognition and outstanding read-and-react quickness to mirror or plant-and-drive to attack. Above-average anticipation and cover instincts. Studies receivers and does his homework to know what to look for without hesitation. Physical in run support and works hard to get off blocks. Closes in a flash with a fierce attitude. Heady and opportunistic player. Very good ball awareness and NFL ball skills. Good blitzer. Experience playing inside and outside and at safety, linebacker and special teams. 

Like any good prospect, Fuller comes with his fair share of flaws.

Brugler highlights a few things the Virginia Tech Hokie will need to work on as he makes the transition over to the NFL:

Very lean with limited muscle definition and overall growth potential. Overaggressive nature and he over-pursues in coverage and run support to compensate for lack of elite speed. Doesn't have gear to recover if he loses a step at the line. Too "hands on" and is susceptible to mental errors. Tends to freelance. Undisciplined making tackles in the open field. Strong durability concerns with his physical style and lean body type

Throwing in his two cents, NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki gave Fuller a 5.97 grade.

If you aren't clear on how his grading system works, a 5.97 grade puts Fuller right at the cusp of being considered an "instant starter."

Though he has him listed as either a Round 1 or Round 2 prospect, his outlook on Fuller wasn't overwhelmingly positive.

"Narrow-framed, confident, competitive off-man/zone corner with nice length, field speed and awareness. Is capable of contributing early on special teams and in sub packages," Nawrocki wrote.

In order to properly round out our look at what the experts think of Fuller, we have to go to the man himself, Bleacher Report's very own Matt Miller.

Ranking him as the No. 2 cornerback in this year's draft, Miller said:

Fuller is pro-ready, and now that he's fully recovered from a sports hernia that limited his offseason, he's in place to get stronger and start working on NFL-level technique that can take him over the top. Teams drafting in the middle of Round 1 will get a quality starter with Fuller.

Overall, the reviews are not only constructive but also generally pretty favorable when it comes to what this guy can do on the gridiron.

 

Fitting in with Coach Zimmer

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer's arrival in Minnesota signals a total overhaul when it comes to the defensive side of the football.

Al Behrman

That's why if you want to make the case for Fuller sporting a Vikings uniform, you first have to understand how Zimmer utilizes cornerbacks in his defensive scheme.

To get a better understanding of that, I got the chance to exchange emails with Cincinnati Bengals draft analyst Joe Goodberry.

"Zimmer took all kinds of cornerbacks in the Bengals defense. As long as they played hard and knew their assignments, he found a way to use them," Goodberry wrote.

"Scheme-wise, they do everything. They press and press-bail in blitzing situations. They also play a bunch of off coverages and zones when blitzing. I can honestly say Mike Zimmer doesn't rely on a single type of coverage."

When I asked Goodberry about how he feels Fuller would fit into Zimmer's scheme, he replied, "In Kyle Fuller, I bet Zimmer sees some Leon Hall. He's a fluid athlete that can mirror in man coverage, get physical in the run game, move inside and outside and has similar size and speed."

From all of the work he's put in on tape, to Goodberry's comments about how Zimmer uses his cornerbacks, it's clear that adding a piece like Fuller into the mix would be ideal for a secondary that surrendered a ridiculous 287.2 passing yards per game in 2013.

 

Conclusion

Shuffling through all of the film study and expert opinions on Fuller, you can easily make a case for him being the top cornerback in the 2014 class.

He's a smooth athlete with great range who can play zone or man coverage with a level of intensity you'd want in a football player.

Michael Conroy

But is he worth the eighth overall pick? The answer to that question is no.

Despite having fantastic traits to fall back on, the level of depth in this year's class makes it hard to pull the trigger on any cornerback prospect that high.

The ideal scenario for Fuller landing in Minnesota would come by way of a Spielman trade that involves moving back into the first round and adding more picks.

A scenario that actually is starting to make more sense each day we get closer to the draft.

For starters, Spielman has a history of finding ways to move around on draft weekend.

On top of that, the Vikings general manager recently explained his feelings on selecting a quarterback early in the process to Peter King of MMQB.com:

There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now

Fuller is definitely a guy who fits that "Day 1 starter" narrative.

No matter how you look at it, cornerback is still a huge position of need that this regime must find a way to address.

If Spielman were able to bounce around the board and accumulate more picks, adding a talented prospect like Fuller late in Round 1 or early Round 2 would be a great way to get this defense back on track.

 

All NFL stats courtesy of NFL.com, unless noted otherwise.

All 2014 draft projections provided by NFLDraftScout.com (viaCBSSports.com), unless noted otherwise.

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