At pick number 61, the Tennessee Titans drafted cornerback Kristian Fulton out of Louisiana State University. Cornerback was an obvious need for the Titans after veterans Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims and Tramaine Brock departed in free agency. Many thought the team would select one with their first pick. Instead, General Manager Jon Robinson was patient, passing on a strong grouping of corners at pick 29, and it paid off when Fulton was still on the board in the second round.
To many draft pundits, Fulton was a first-round talent. Pro Football Focus actually ranked him as the 12th-best prospect in the entire class. For most of the draft process, he was in the top three corner conversation with Jeffrey Okudah and C.J. Henderson, until late April when he began to “slide” to the second-round conversation. In January, Matt Miller had Fulton as his 23rd overall player, but by April 22nd, he had slid to 48th overall, perhaps reflecting what he’d heard from league scouts.
Regardless, the Titans got a talented player at a position of need and an incredible value when they took Kristian Fulton at 61.
“K-Baby,” as his LSU teammates called him, was a heavily recruited defensive back out of Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, Louisiana, where he was named the New Orleans Advocate’s Defensive Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015, his junior and senior seasons. He left high school as a five-star prospect and the number 1 defensive player in the state of Louisiana according to 247Sports, accepting his offer to home-town LSU over 25 other schools.
Despite his lofty recruiting status, Fulton appeared in just 3 games as a true freshman in 2016 due to a fractured right index finger. Then, the following February, a well-publicized incident cost Fulton his entire sophomore season: the 18-year-old was caught tampering with a urine sample.
Fulton has said he feared he was going to fail the drug test because he had smoked marijuana two days prior, unaware that the test was only for performance-enhancing drugs. He tried to switch out his urine sample with another person’s and was caught in the process. The NCAA has a mandatory 730-day ban from competition for any player who tampers with a drug test, so even though he passed the test with his own original sample, he was still hit with the two-year suspension.
After sitting out all of 2017, LSU’s athletic director, Joe Alleva, fought to get Fulton reinstated. On August 9th, Fulton’s appeal was denied. But Alleva continued to argue on his behalf, and on August 23rd, just one week before the season opener, Fulton was reinstated.
#LSU AD Joe Alleva sent to the NCAA a 4-page letter outlining reasons for reinstating Kristian Fulton.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 23, 2018
The biggest: The NCAA charged Fulton with "tampering" (2 year penalty) & he should have been charged with "urine substitution" (1-year penalty). Interpretation committee agreed
Per Ross Dellenger, Alleva said about Fulton: “He’s a really good kid. He made a mistake. I’m glad we were able to get the appeal through. He got a suspension. Never missed any classes. Really good GPA. Never missed weight lifting. A lot of kids would have packed it in. This kid was so engaged. That’s part of the reason I fought so hard for him.”
“He practiced every day like he was a starter,” his head coach, Ed Orgeron, said when Fulton was reinstated. “He never blinked. I’m so proud of the young man. It’s the ultimate story of competing.”
Throughout the draft process, Fulton spoke a lot about the incident and what he learned from the experience. He told Brooke Cersosimo on April 14:
“Just seeing what I went through, when I was suspended for a year in college, I know how bad things can get, I use that for motivation. Being away from football for a long time, I learned to lean on the people around me. I didn’t always do that. My family helped me a lot, people at LSU, my teammates. All of those people played a part in getting me through those times. I learned to open up more and that not everybody around me has my best interest in mind. And to hold myself accountable, using how to deal with adversity and apply it on the field.”
On his call with Nashville media after being drafted, he said:
“It taught me a lot about accountability. Mental toughness, I thought I had it going into my — I was a freshman at the time, so going into my sophomore year, I thought I had it. But I learned that I didn’t. There was another level that I could elevate myself to.”
Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel both mentioned their comfort with Kristian as a person in their post-draft conference call with the press. Said Vrabel, “I think we’re all positive that Kristian is a good person that made a mistake. Feel strongly about his character. [He’s one of] these guys that own up to it and want to be honest about it.”
Fulton by all accounts is a fierce competitor and a quiet leader. As the senior in the room for his final season, Fulton took on a leadership role. He told MCM’s Justin Melo during the draft process:
“My goal was to make everybody in that secondary a better player. That was my job as a leader, that’s the role I happily took on. I wanted to make sure that we did our part on the back-end. I can learn from the role that I took on this past year and bring that experience with me to the next level. I know that I’m going to be a rookie and I have to earn my stripes but I’m gonna bring that winner’s mentality with me wherever I go.”
Fulton will hope to continue in a long line of LSU defensive backs who have made a successful transition to the NFL. From Corey Webster and Patrick Peterson to Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, from Jamal Adams to Jalen Mills and Tre’Davious White to Greedy Williams, few schools (if any) have a better track record for secondary talent than LSU.
"You tell me who has put up numbers on me"— PFF (@PFF) February 28, 2020
️LSU CB Kristian Fulton pic.twitter.com/u8zkv0WnAS
In addition to squaring off against the talented receivers in the SEC on a weekly basis, Fulton spent lots of practice time honing his skills against some of the best receivers in the nation, Justin Jefferson (the 22nd overall pick of the Minnesota Vikings) and Ja’Marr Chase, who some have already projected to be next year’s Number 2 overall pick.
Fulton’s relationship with Chase actually dates back to high school, where Fulton was a junior when Chase arrived on campus as a freshman. Rumors are that Fulton has a slight lead over Chase in their 6-year practice history of one-on-ones.
Fulton has been training with former LSU star and NFL Pro Bowler (and Super Bowl Champion) Ryan Clark away from the LSU facility since the time of his suspension. He calls Clark a mentor who finds little things in his game to critique. “There’s a lot to learn from him,” Fulton said.
Kristian Fulton is by no means a “freak” athlete, but he has good size, average length, and above average athleticism and explosion. He passes the baselines with more than enough speed and quickness to succeed at the NFL level.
The Relative Athletic Score metric is much kinder to Fulton than raw combine percentiles, where he checks in as a “good” but not “elite” athlete. That’s largely due to his 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash, which was 97th percentile, demonstrating that incredible short-area burst that allows him to close on the ball so quickly—more on that when we get to the film.
Kristian Fulton is a CB prospect in the 2020 draft class out of Louisiana State.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 23, 2020
He posted a great #RAS with good size, good speed, good explosiveness, okay agility at the CB position.https://t.co/HFLHsgEFgm pic.twitter.com/o5wp1naDq6
For cornerbacks, as long as you aren’t too slow, the combine testing isn’t the most important. Sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash and sub-7.0 in the 3-cone drill for a 6-foot corner are great results.
In 2018, Kristian Fulton returned from his suspension and immediately stepped into the starting lineup on the outside, across from eventual 2nd-round pick and highly-touted player Greedy Williams. In the 2018 season, Fulton was targeted just 41 times in 10 games and allowed 17 receptions, good for 41.5%. He had 6 pass deflections, one interception, and one forced fumble that year, with another interception called back for roughing the passer.
Kristian Fulton allowed a MERE 6 total first downs plus touchdowns in coverage ALL SEASON. pic.twitter.com/IiLjbmmvp8— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) June 12, 2019
In 2019, Fulton played across from another star cornerback, true freshman sensation Derek Stingley Jr. But quarterbacks were less willing to throw in Fulton’s direction; heading into the College Football Playoff, Fulton had been targeted 47 times compared to 85 targets for Stingley.
With the historically high-powered offense captained by 1st overall pick Joe Burrow building big leads, LSU’s opponents were often playing catch-up through the air. As a result, Fulton played over 200 more coverage snaps in 2019 than 2018 (537 to 317, per Pro Football Focus).
He finished the year with 31 catches allowed on 70 total targets (44.3%). For whatever PFF grades mean to you, it’s worth noting that Fulton was their highest graded outside corner over the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined. In fact, Fulton’s combined statistics over that timeframe are quite impressive.
Kristian Fulton forced an incompletion on 29% of the passes thrown into his coverage since 2018— PFF (@PFF) April 25, 2020
Best in college football pic.twitter.com/fJT5wke864
This nugget from Pro Football Focus is particularly eye-popping: “When lined up on the outside over the last two years (as opposed to the slot), Fulton forced an incompletion on 30.5% of his targets, a figure that was over four percentage points higher than any other outside corner.”
Kristian Fulton LSU career:— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 18, 2020
26 First downs allowed
34 Forced incompletions pic.twitter.com/1qvGmVPsbe
In Fulton’s career against Henry Ruggs III (the 12th overall pick), Jerry Jeudy (the 15th overall pick), and Tee Higgins (the 33rd overall pick), Fulton was targeted 11 times in total and allowed just three catches for 39 yards and zero touchdowns, with three pass breakups. Elite performance against the best competition.
Kristian Fulton forced incompletions at a higher rate than any other top CB. pic.twitter.com/5L8X5i5GqP— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 16, 2020
Perhaps the craziest stat I saw on Fulton is one that you may or may not care for: Pro Football Focus’s wins above average metric. In this category, Fulton is by far the most valuable defensive back of the past two seasons, posting a WAA of 0.95 compared to other, lower numbers (I honestly don’t know what this stat is or means).
#Titans Kristian Fulton— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) April 25, 2020
% Snaps as primary def
Avg: 12.6 Fulton: 12.2
PBU as primary def
Avg. 5.7 Fulton: 13
PBU % as primary
Avg. 12.9 Fulton: 21.3
Comp % allowed as primary
Avg: 51.4 Fulton: 39.3
Snaps in press
Avg: 61.6 Fulton 307
Att while in press
Avg: 10.4 Fulton: 39
Kristian Fulton is a true disruptor in the classic Jon Robinson mold. In 2019, he defended 15 passes and recorded one interception (with two others called back for penalty).
Fulton is the only draft-eligible CB who didn’t allow more first downs (20) than he had forced incompletions (20), according to PFF.
Note that Fulton wore #22 as a junior and #1 as a senior.
I watched every snap Kristian Fulton played in 2018 and 2019 to get a full understanding of his strengths and weaknesses.
The first thing that jumped out to me was Fulton’s ability to mirror and match in man coverage.
According to PFF, Fulton has played 502 press man coverage snaps over the past two seasons, fourth-most in the country, and his forced incompletion rate in press man (37.5%) was the best rate among all cornerbacks.
His ability to match vertically with receivers is exceptional. The below video shows three different reps played with three different man coverage techniques.
In the first play, Fulton plays a soft press technique, patient on the release and then forcing his opponent to the sideline before turning his head to knock the ball away. In the second clip, he is playing a bail technique off the snap and plays the ball once it’s in the air. In the final clip, Fulton allows his man to have inside leverage and trails expertly in the hip pocket before breaking up the pass when it arrives.
These are three unique coverage techniques executed at a high level, each ending in a pass break-up, as Fulton is always playing through the hands.
It’s one thing to defend college-level receivers vertically, and another thing entirely to match the speed of, say, a Tyreek Hill. Luckily for us, Fulton played a lot of snaps against Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, drafted No. 12 overall by the Las Vegas Raiders, in 2018 and 2019. Ruggs ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any prospect at the 2020 NFL combine at 4.27 seconds.
Here’s four snaps of Fulton lined up against Ruggs, matching his speed downfield.
Fulton is confident in his ability to step up and press Ruggs at the line without getting beat. He plays physically in the route stem, using his inside hand without drawing a penalty, which allows him to run with Ruggs step-for-step.
This next clip again finds Fulton playing a soft press look and deftly defending a back-shoulder throw, one of the hardest plays to stop when executed properly. Here, Fulton reacts instantly when the receiver comes back for the ball and swings his arm up between the receiver’s hands to force the incompletion.
Against a similar route, this one more of a hook than a back-shoulder, Fulton is able to fight through the receiver’s push-off and undercut the pass, somehow coming from behind the receiver to break up the play. This is common for Fulton when the ball is in the air; he has a special ability to close to the catch point.
Here’s a closer look at the “soft press” technique, where Fulton patiently waits for the receiver to declare in his stem before throwing his punch. On this play against Ruggs, Fulton’s patience and footwork are on full display. Ruggs is shimmying and shaking so much off the line that he ends up missing the whole play; by the time he makes his break, the ball has already been thrown.
I love how Fulton doesn’t fall for anything Ruggs tries here. When Ruggs is finally ready to break inside, Fulton throws his hands without lunging to disrupt Ruggs’ inside arm and stays in perfect position.
Here’s another example, this time against Jerry Jeudy. You can really see Fulton using his hands to disrupt Jeudy’s inside arm. He smartly disengages as the ball closes in so as to avoid the flag, despite Jeudy asking for a penalty.
Fulton’s feet are so smooth as he waits for Jeudy, maintaining a wide base so he can quickly break inside or out. He then willingly gives up inside leverage and plays aggressively over the top. That’s common for Dave Aranda’s defense; the outside corners often play with outside leverage when they have safety help deep.
Here’s what a more “traditional” man coverage rep looks like down the field against 57th overall pick Van Jefferson. As Jefferson starts to run vertically, Fulton flips his hips and falls into a trail technique, squeezing the receiver towards the sidelines and not allowing himself to be stacked. When Jefferson goes up, Fulton plays through the hands to bat down the pass.
Compare that to the technique in these four plays below (the first against Jaguars’ 5th-round pick Collin Johnson and the last against Tee Higgins), where Fulton purposely gives up inside position and prefers to run with outside leverage before playing the ball at the catch point.
Make no mistake, this is a choice. When LSU has deep safety help to the inside, they prefer their corners play with outside leverage to take away the deep fade and corner routes. It can be tricky for a receiver and quarterback to connect against this technique, as well, as the receiver is forced to stack to the inside while the quarterback is used to throwing outside the numbers. You can see that in the Collin Johnson clip especially, where Fulton’s positioning prevents Johnson from bending his route back outside to get underneath the throw.
In the second play above (against Texas’ Brennan Eagles), you can clearly see how Fulton is committed to maintaining that outside position when Eagles feints the outside move. And again it is clear how much the outside leverage disrupts the receiver’s ability to play the ball.
This can be a difficult technique to execute, as it really opens up the in-breaking routes. That’s why it’s so important when playing this technique to disrupt that inside arm of the receiver if he breaks inside, like on the play against Jeudy above, or this next one below.
Watch how Fulton stays centered with a low, wide base, again ready to break any direction. His footwork is excellent, mirroring the receiver’s release and not falling for the outside jab. Once the receiver declares inside, Fulton uses his inside arm to subtly disrupt the receiver’s inside hand. This is perfect technique and results in the pass break-up.
Here’s another example of Fulton winning with outside leverage. The offense is trying to take advantage of the receiver’s inside position, but Fulton is able to dive in front of the pass and knock it down.
Of course, it’s not always so perfect. Occasionally, playing with outside leverage will get you beat inside. But LSU’s defense is content to give up a play like this one below every once in a while in exchange for taking away the big plays downfield.
Fulton gets his feet moving outside and fails to make contact with his inside hand. He wasn’t as patient as he typically is and the result is an open completion.
Here’s a better rep from Fulton. He does fall for the outside jab again, but this play shows the beauty of a well-executed soft press technique. By waiting for the receiver to declare, Fulton is able to recover from his misstep by using his inside hand to jab the receiver’s shoulder and regain control.
Fulton again plays through the hands of the receiver to disrupt the catch.
Here’s a much more aggressive press man rep from Fulton against Henry Ruggs. This time, Fulton isn’t waiting for Ruggs to declare, instead pressing him right off the ball. At first glance, it looks like Fulton plays this poorly, as he “opens the gate” for Ruggs almost immediately. But Fulton is able to stay in phase because again, he’s intentionally giving up inside leverage. He isn’t caught off guard by Ruggs’ inside release, rather, he’s baiting it.
So Fulton is ready to turn and run overtop with Ruggs, and he again uses his inside arm to maintain legal contact with the receiver before knocking down the quick slant — a route that Henry Ruggs can easily take to the house if he gets a step.
Here’s another rep in press man, this one against rising star DeVonta Smith. As soon as Smith turns his route upfield, Fulton presses him to the sideline. Smith’s route is so disrupted by the contact that he never recovers, and Tua Tagovailoa has no choice but to sail the ball over their heads.
Fulton plays physical in coverage and rarely allows receivers to gain separation by pushing off against him. Those subtle DeAndre Hopkins-type moves are met with a counter; when Fulton is pushed, he grabs to prevent the receiver from separating. Watch how he snaps back to the receiver like a rubber band as the receiver tries to push off before he dives in front of the pass:
Most of the time, when both sides are initiating contact like this, officials will let them play through the contact. But occasionally, there is the risk of a holding or pass interference penalty—more on that in a bit.
Here’s another play against Clemson’s Tee Higgins from the National Championship game. Higgins tries to cross Fulton on the pivot route and actually does a great job extending to make the catch and then turning away to shield the ball from the defender, but Fulton’s physical style of play results in a remarkable incompletion.
After initially ruling this a catch, video review overturned the play, as Fulton was actually able to push Higgins all the way to the sideline and prevent his foot from touching down in bounds.
Let’s take a quick breath. That was a lot of press man, because Fulton played a lot of press man at LSU. He estimated when speaking with Justin Melo that LSU played man coverage on 90% of their snaps last season, and LSU’s CB coach Corey Raymond said the same.
In addition to press man, a lot of those man coverage snaps came in “off man” coverage. I mentioned earlier that Fulton has an uncanny ability to close on the ball. Let’s take a look at that skill in action.
This is off-man coverage, with Fulton reading the receiver in front of him. The amount of ground Fulton is able to cover to not only make contact with the receiver but actually get his hand in to break up this pass is astounding. Fulton knocks the ball away here.
Let’s look at three plays back-to-back-to-back featuring Fulton’s incredible closing speed. Only the second clip is actually off-man coverage, but the ability to close out in a zone requires similar traits and will be necessary at the next level. Fulton is a good 3-5 yards away from the intended target on each of these snaps when the ball is released and manages to make a play on all three.
In the first, he comes flying in from out of frame to stop the receiver for a minimal gain. In the second clip, he breaks from about 4 yards off his man and forces a wide throw (if that second pass was on target, Fulton would’ve had the interception). The third play is zone coverage and Fulton is able to break up the pass. His ability to read and react—click and close—is top notch.
Part of this ability is thanks to natural athleticism, but Fulton is able to take full advantage of his short-area burst in these situations because he plays with great technique. It’s especially apparent in play #2 (against Auburn) of the above video. Fulton stays low in his back pedal, ready to drive forward without any wasted motion. He’s not only in position to make a play, he actually manages to get in front of the pass. This is common for him, and we’ll see it again as we move on to the next play.
Here Fulton has deep third responsibility in this modified Cover 3. Somehow, whether through instinct or film study, he anticipates the receiver’s route and stays perfectly in phase as the receiver stops and comes back to the ball. Fulton is able to break downhill quickly enough to get in front of the receiver to take the ball away.
Unfortunately, the above interception did not count due to a roughing the passer penalty. But the ability is clear, and fortunately, the next interception did count.
It’s a similar play. Again, Fulton has the deep third responsibility. As the receiver breaks inside, Fulton breaks with him and anticipates the throw. Again, Fulton is not just in a position to break up the pass, he actually takes the ball away somehow.
Fulton is an ideal fit for any scheme because he has the click and close ability to excel in a zone and the mirror and match ability to thrive in man.
Kristian Fulton was asked what separates a good corner from a great corner from an elite corner in a virtual meeting with Cowboys’ staff, and he responded, “His technique and his eyes.” Here’s an example of what happens when a cornerback plays with perfect technique and great eyes.
Fulton patiently waits for the receiver to make the first move. As the receiver comes inside, Fulton slides with him, mirroring the route perfectly. Feeling the outside move coming, he peeks in the backfield and sees the quarterback winding up to throw, so Fulton breaks in front to intercept the pass. Unfortunately, this interception was also negated by a roughing the passer penalty, but this anticipation ability is exciting to watch.
Even when Fulton does allow a completion, rarely is there much separation between he and the receiver. Van Jefferson gets him on the comeback below, and Justyn Ross is able to make a contested downfield catch (again with Fulton giving up that inside leverage), but every corner is going to give up completions. Sometimes, the offense makes a play.
Aside from his sticky coverage ability, Fulton also plays with intelligence. You can see that in these four snaps:
In the first play, Fulton actually peels off his man when he notices the play developing in front of him and makes the stop on 3rd down. In the second play, Fulton has zone coverage and notices the running back leaking out. Rather than be distracted by routes developing beyond his zone, he comes up to make the tackle and another 3rd down stop. In the last two clips, he recognizes a screen setting up and comes downhill to make a play.
Granted, he doesn’t make the tackle on either of those screens, but, at least in the play against Clemson he’s there to hold up the ball carrier until his teammates can rally.
That play recognition also extends to route concepts. In his interception against Florida above, he almost seems to know the outside break is coming. In this next play, he clearly recognizes the Ohio route combination (outside receiver runs a go while the inside receiver runs an out), and instead of dropping with the go like the quarterback is expecting, Fulton reads the play and darts in front of the receiver to snag the interception.
Fulton only tallied two interceptions (that actually counted) in his college career, but he clearly displays the ability to take the ball away when put in more favorable situations. In his last two years of high school, Fulton totaled 17 interceptions. Any cornerback will tell you it’s much more difficult to rack up interceptions in man coverage than it is when you’re reading the quarterbacks eyes in zone. Even if the Titans play more man coverage in 2020 than they did in 2019, they won’t come anywhere close to the whopping 90% man coverage rate that LSU ran last season, so Fulton should have plenty more opportunities to take the ball away.
While studying Fulton’s tape, I was looking particularly for traits that would translate to the slot corner role given the Titans’ hole at that position. There were some reps where Fulton would align in the nickel corner position, and others where his coverage is similar to the requirements of a nickel role. Here’s four reps that show why I think Fulton can play nickel at the next level.
In the first two clips, Fulton is matched up on Henry Ruggs and is able to stay with him stride for stride all the way across the field. The first clip isn’t from a slot alignment, but it’s similar to the type of coverage a nickel corner would have to execute. In the third play, Fulton does a nice job navigating traffic to stay with DeVonta Smith across the field. And in the last clip, Fulton is matched up with Jerry Jeudy out of the slot and breaks downhill nicely to make a tackle on the quick pass for minimal gain.
Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson recently talked about the changing responsibilities for slot cornerbacks in today’s NFL, mainly about how the vertical game is a huge part of defending from the slot more-so than it used to be. So I scoured the tape and found some plays of Fulton defending vertically from a slot alignment.
He isn’t targeted on either of these reps, but he displays the traits necessary to defend a two-way go and stick with a receiver down the field.
The other part of playing nickel back is defending the run. This is where I have some questions about Fulton’s ability to excel as a slot corner. While Fulton has great instincts when it comes to diagnosing plays and defending the run, he isn’t the most consistent tackler.
You can see how he is able to slow down the runner while his teammates rally to the ball on multiple occasions, which is really all you can ask of a corner in some situations, but he also fails to consistently break down and wrap up when making a tackle.
He’s also fairly easy to block; he doesn’t disengage well and sometimes, like in the third clip above, he’ll come up quickly to make the tackle but then allow himself to be easily blocked out of the play. He simply needs to tackle better at times.
Speaking of tackling better, let’s discuss why, after everything I’ve just said, Kristian Fulton wasn’t a highly drafted player in the 2020 class. After all, he is not a perfect prospect.
One of his flaws, as I’m in the midst of explaining, is his inconsistent tackling. Below, I present to you the second-worst play of Kristian Fulton’s career at LSU. He is all over Kalija Lipscomb on this play, but Lipscomb quickly sheds Fulton’s tackle attempt (and evades two more tacklers on his way to the end zone). You have to make this tackle.
It’s not that he can’t tackle, he just needs to be more consistent in his form. Here’s two plays where he does a great job breaking down and wrapping up the ankles to make a tackle in the open field (the second play is against Clemson’s Travis Etienne, one of the most talented runners in the nation).
One other weakness I noticed is this interesting susceptibility to the post-corner route. Henry Ruggs was able to burn Fulton with a deep post-corner, first faking the post route before breaking back outside, but Tua missed him on the play.
Trevor Lawrence did not make the same mistake when Justyn Ross absolutely roasted Fulton with a similar route in the National Championship game.
Outside of very rare miscommunications in the secondary, this play by Ross above is possibly the most wide open catch any receiver made against Fulton all season.
Alright, because this report is titled “Everything you need to know about Kristian Fulton,” and not “Only what I’d like to tell you about Kristian Fulton,” I am obligated to show you this next play, the single worst play of Fulton’s entire career.
I honestly don’t know what happened here. It looks like he stumbles a bit as he tries to play the ball, as he’s in good position up to that point, but he might have just mistimed his jump or misread the path of the ball. But while this play is awful, it truly was one of a kind. I, too, had Blidi-Wreh-Wilson-against-Andy-Dalton flashbacks when I first saw this play, but having now studied Fulton’s entire body of work, I’m confident that this was a one-off bad read and not an indicator of poor ball skills.
An article in The Athletic by Brody Miller touches on Kristian Fulton’s mental state after the Texas game, the second game of the 2019 season, when Fulton gave up this 55-yard touchdown:
[Dave] Aranda’s preseason All-SEC cornerback wasn’t quite himself. The LSU defensive coordinator tried to get to the bottom of it. Fulton allowed a 55-yard touchdown catch against Texas. He had some iffy practices early in the year. “It was kind of a downward pointing vibe,” Aranda said. He tried pulling Fulton aside after games and practices to talk.
Looking back now, Aranda understands it more. Fulton wasn’t 100 percent healthy. Therefore he wasn’t 100 percent in shape. And that meant he wasn’t 100 percent confident. Then came the criticism. That didn’t help, either.
Soon Fulton got healthy. He got in better shape. He regained some confidence. Coaches like Aranda and cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond helped along the way. He was back to being Kristian Fulton, a consensus first-round caliber NFL draft prospect.
Fulton’s 2018 season had ended with a foot injury against Arkansas that required surgery to insert a permanent screw in his left foot, after this play:
After the Texas game (and a talk with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda), Fulton bounced back strong to put together his excellent senior campaign, helping the Tigers win the National Championship to cap off an undefeated season.
My last, final concern about Fulton is his occasional propensity to get a little too grabby. Now, I personally don’t even really think either of these two plays warranted pass interference penalties, but both were flagged (one negating an interception).
In the first play, Fulton appears to stumble right as he’s reaching for the pass break-up. There’s a slight amount of contact, but nothing that disrupts Eagles’ path to the ball; I think it’s a weak call (and I’m a Texas fan). The second play is an example of something I mentioned earlier; Justyn Ross tries to push off with his inside arm to create separation over the middle of the field. Fulton counters the push off by grabbing Ross’s shoulder. Ross sells the grab to draw the flag, but in my opinion, this is equal back-and-forth contact that should not have been flagged.
I’ll finish my review by showing a bit of Kristian Fulton’s heart. Here’s two plays of him stripping the ball from the offense. In the first, he comes from behind to rip it out. In the second clip, despite holding a 56-21 lead in the fourth quarter and being on the opposite side of the play, Fulton comes over and does his best to retake possession at the goal line. Sadly, the runner’s knee was down at the 1, but you love to see the hustle.
Ultimately, I have a hard time understanding why Fulton slipped down draft boards to the end of the second round. While he has some questions about his tackling consistency and isn’t perfect in coverage, and he did have a questionable off-field incident, he’s a player the Titans should be able to rely on to hold his own in the secondary, even against the NFL’s best receivers.
The presence of Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler, as well as the addition of Jonathan Joseph, should ease the pressure on Fulton to perform right away. At the end of the season, we could be looking at Fulton the way we did AJ Brown last year: an absolute steal in the second round.