When I first popped in the tape of LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, I expected good things, hearing high praise of him throughout the summer as one of the best prospects in the class and likely the draft’s top cornerback. I liked what I saw. Williams had length, he had recovery speed, he had the long arms. He could do it all. Knowing that, I totally expected LSU’s other cornerbacks to get exposed. I thought teams would just give Williams the Revis treatment and go after the poor, unsuspecting corner on the opposite side of the field all day long. I figured I see a lot of tape of the ball being completed the other way.
You know why? Kristian Fulton.
It’s true that Williams gets all the national hype, but Fulton seems to be the forgotten man on the other side — or at least he was until this season. So why was there so much hype for Williams when Fulton was on the same game tape right next to him? Well, the truth is, he wasn’t, and there’s a whole story behind that.
Fulton was the No. 3 cornerback in the nation in the 2016 recruiting class. He was the top prospect coming out of Louisiana that year, was ranked No. 22 nationally, and was only one of three five-star cornerbacks to sign that year. At 6-foot, 177 pounds coming out of high school, Fulton had both the frame and the athleticism to match his highly regarded recruiting ranking. As a freshman at LSU, he played in three games as he sat behind the likes of Kevin Toliver, Tre’Davious White and Donte Jackson.
Fulton’s sophomore season was poised to be his breakout year. That was until he got caught.
In February of 2017, Fulton was scheduled to take a standard drug test to test for PEDs. Fulton thought the test was for street drugs, and knowing he was going to be over the NCAA limit, Fulton tried to use someone else’s sample in his test. When the administrator of the test noticed Fulton pouring something into the bottle that wasn’t his own urine, he quickly ran over but Fulton dumped the substance in the urinal. This report went back to the NCAA and Fulton received a two-year ban for tampering with a drug test.
After trying to immediately appeal, the NCAA swiftly denied Fulton. Then, one month later, the results of his test came back and though he did test positive for THC, he did not test positive for PEDs, which was what the test was there to monitor. One year after that, now with a full season gone, Fulton and his family took action saying the proper protocol was not taken during the test, trying to get Fulton’s suspension lifted or lessened. Their first appeal was denied, but after taking new action saying the NCAA charged Fulton with “tampering” (2 year penalty) when he should have been charged with “urine substitution” (1-year penalty), the NCAA agreed and Fulton was made eligible immediately.
So here we are in 2018. Fulton is coming off a full year of not playing football, and in his first season he barely saw any action. His junior year (right now) is truly his first year as a starter, and his job has been to play opposite Greedy Williams, which is no easy task. But Fulton has been up to it. In fact, he’s thrived.
Let’s look at five or so of Fulton’s plays this season to see what we’re getting in this young man, and if all things considered, we should be talking about Fulton as a Top 50 player.
Play No. 1: Mirror Match
Fulton (bottom of the screen) is a man coverage corner. Not that he doesn’t know how to play zone (we’ll get there), but his strengths are when he can line up in close coverage at the line of scrimmage, stare the wide receiver in the eyes, maybe even whisper a little “ain’t no way you’re getting open on me,” and let the best man win — Fulton often does.
Fulton is good at using physicality in subtle ways down the line of scrimmage that both infuriates wide receivers and yet doesn’t draw flags. He was quite physical with receivers in his tape, but it was never obvious like with a hand around the arm or shoulder or grabbing the jersey. It’s just a gradual bump the whole time or a swing of his arm as the ball comes in with the right timing.
Fulton (at the top of the screen) is so good at mirroring receivers, which is a necessary skillset for players in man coverage, especially when it’s close at the line of scrimmage.
In the play above, he was lined up against Ole Miss’ DaMarkus Lodge, who is no easy assignment down the sideline. Though Lodge did make the catch, albeit out of bounds, Fulton played that as perfectly as you could want. The hand up to the chest right away to get the bump to dictate the route to the sideline, the quick hips to flip and run, the straight line speed, the reading of the eyes for when the ball was coming in and the awareness to get the hand up and disrupt. That’s the total package for a mirror man coverage assignment. He matched Lodge’s every move.
Play No. 2: Lower Body Quickness
As noted in the previous section, Fulton’s lower body mechanics are pretty dang good. The new clip directly above just emphasizes that even more.
Fulton’s feet off the release of the snap (top of the screen) are so quick and explosive in his backpedal. This gives him the ability to stop and change direction at any time, and that includes flipping his hips to run down field. I don’t see any limitations there from Fulton.
Play No. 3: Another Ankle Biter
Where I do see limitations with Fulton, however, is in tackling. Fulton can be physical, but he is very much an “ankle biter” tackler, much like Byron Murphy is for Washington. Tacking isn’t that big of a deal for coverage corners, but you just don’t want them to become a liability. It can’t be so bad that the other team says “hey, let’s run to the outside to this guy’s side because even if we leave him unblocked he’s not making the tackle.”
As long as you’re not a liability, it’s a small concern for a coverage guy. Fulton doesn’t have great technique/desire to tackle, but he’s not a liability.
Play No. 4: Instincts & Awareness
This is actually one of my favorite plays from Fulton, and it’s one that barely even had any impact.
Fulton plays in man coverage most of the time. He’s used to watching receivers and using his instincts and abilities to keep up and mirror them to win his reps. But, in the play above (bottom of the screen), he wasn’t in man coverage, he was in a Cover 3 look. As Fulton was covering the man in front of him nearest the sideline, he followed and mirrored from a few yards off, but when that receiver broke to the middle and another receiver came into his zone, Fulton baited the throw, recovered to his zone and his new assignment and almost came up with the interception.
That’s fantastic awareness and overall knowledge of his responsibilities on that play that also showed he can process things at a high speed.
Play No. 5: “Who Put This S*** Together, I’m The Glue”
Fulton really can stick with you, and to wrap things up, that’s his best style of play, and it’s a style that has a lot of value in the NFL.
In the play above, Fulton (bottom of the screen), shuffled his feet and flipped his hips quickly right at the snap. That allowed him to keep pace with the receiver, who then began flying down the sideline. Fulton then used that subtle physicality with his body all the way to when the ball was coming in to disrupt the catch.
Fulton didn’t touch that ball, but it was absolutely a rep that he won.
The rep above was against Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf, who would have likely been the top wide receiver in this class if he didn’t get hurt.
Fulton (bottom of the screen), kept up with the big, speedy Metcalf all the way down the field, and when the pass arrived, he was even with the receiver, stayed physical and that ball had no chance of being caught. He was right on Metcalf’s hip the entire time. An impressive rep against a top wide out.
We already saw Fulton deal with the quickness of DaMarkus Lidge, the size of D.K. Metcalf, and above he completely covered the speed of Henry Ruggs.
Ruggs is one of the fastest players in all of college football, and Alabama asked Fulton to cover Ruggs for 10 seconds. I don’t think you all understand how hard that is. That’s Henry freaking Ruggs, and Fulton played man coverage on him for 10 seconds. It doesn’t matter if you win with speed, slickness or size, Fulton’s game can play you well. He has the skillset to match and stick with any receiver.
Overall I was very impressed with Fulton. I still think Greedy Williams is the better prospect, but Fulton is a top cornerback in this class, and any team who plays their cornerbacks in man coverage will love this guy at the next level. He could be the Day 2 steal of the draft, depending on where he ends up getting drafted.
If he flies at the Combine, he could go even higher than that.