Kendall Fuller is one of the top prospects at the cornerback position in the 2016 NFL Draft. The 6-foot 197-pound Junior declared himself for the draft and skipped his Senior season with Virginia Tech, despite suffering an injury that sidelined him for most of 2015.
Fuller's skill set focuses on his ball skills and overall football awareness as a player. He started all three of his years at Virginia Tech, recording eight interceptions, 25 passes defended, two forced fumbles and 119 tackles. His speed appears to be NFL-caliber as he proved to be able to run with most receivers he had to cover.
Fuller's highlight reel shows off his ability to not only react when the ball is in the air, but also to win jump balls and position himself so that he can deny his assignment the ball. The Steelers need a playmaker in their secondary that can create turnovers and deny passes to all-star wide receivers in the NFL. While William Gay has been a solid role player in Pittsburgh for years, he is still not the top of the line player at the position which the Steelers could use to be the staple of their secondary. Gay and safety Mike Mitchell are the two best players in the secondary at this point, but the infusion of more playmakers would make for a dangerous group.
Paired with Senquez Golson, Fuller could create a dynamic duo at the cornerback position which Pittsburgh needs to bolster their pass defense stats. Both players have to prove they can play at the NFL level, as Golson missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but should the Steelers be able to land two playmakers at the cornerback position, it could change a lot of trends that people have been talking about when referencing the Steelers.
We take a look at some of the bigger moments of his NCAA career to highlight his strong points for Steelers fans. Keep in mind, most of the film comes from 2014.
Pass Defense vs. Ohio State
Ohio State fans were upset when Fuller was not called for pass interference on this third down play, but he used his hands in a way that prevented the receiver from getting a push off that would have opened up a hook pattern for a first down and extend a drive in Virginia Tech territory. Fuller uses his hands well as a defender and often showcases his ability to find the ball quickly once he comes out of his breaks. This is important for defending against quick passing teams that will try to negate the Steelers' pass rush by getting rid of the ball on a three-step-drop or in less time.
Interception vs. Cincinnati
Fuller runs with his man 35-yards downfield and plays this ball perfectly. There are other examples of his ability to climb the staircase and make a catch but watch closely as he runs with his assignment down field. All while the ball is in the air, Fuller shows his ability to shift his position and move into the end zone all while he maintains the best position to box out the receiver. He also finishes the play with a spectacular catch with a snatch away from the taller wide receiver. His ball skills are there and his coaches have noted his ability to learn and his strong study habits in the sport. Fuller shows the potential to continue to learn how to improve his skills as he will face elite players once he is in the NFL.
Sack/fumble vs. Purdue
This play is to highlight Fuller's speed in pursuit and, again, highlight his football awareness. While the highlight appears to show the quarterback down, the play was ruled a fumble and confirmed as such upon review (it was also returned for a touchdown.) Fuller exploded into the backfield, wrapped up the quarterback before he could try to escape Fuller's pursuit, then managed to reach his hand around to strip the football from the quarterback. This is another example of Fuller's overall potential to be a playmaker in the NFL.
Tackle for loss vs. Pittsburgh
Fuller makes a crucial stop on third down for Virginia Tech against a running back in open space. Though he gets the job done, we can see his ultra-aggressiveness come into play here and not make a form tackle. Against an NCAA running back, a play like this would be satisfactory. But should this be against an NFL running back like Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte or Adrian Peterson, such an effort might not be effective. Fuller's tape often shows him being aggressive, a good trait to have when chasing the ball. But here it might prove better for him to break down and make a form tackle since he was already in position to make the stop and had help on the way. This play is not necessarily bad, as he makes a big play for his defense, but it highlights his aggressiveness for conversation.
Draft Stock for Pittsburgh
Fuller seems to be listed outside of the first round selections in many recent mocks from around the media, but that can all change with a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Keep an eye out for how he does in the 40-yard dash, as a leading time in that event could propel Fuller to first round consideration for many more teams and decrease the probability of Pittsburgh having a chance at selecting him even with their first round pick at the 25th selection.