The Minnesota Vikings are looking for answers at the cornerback position. With the departure of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, they are left with very little experience. Third year players Holton Hill and Mike Hughes, who have both missed significant time due to suspension and injury respectively, and special teamer Kris Boyd are the only cornerbacks left on the roster with significant NFL action under their belt.
The team’s lack of cap space means that they likely won’t be able to make any plays for remaining free agents either. The team has about $11 million in space, and need to keep around $6 million to sign draft picks/undrafted free agents. They also need to keep probably about $3 million in the bank for regular season free agent pickups.
That leaves the team with the option of either picking the trash heap for cheap options, hoping that one of their inexperienced guys can step up big time, or they use one of their two first round picks on a top flight corner in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Jeff Okudah is the obvious number one option for cornerbacks in this year’s draft, but it is extremely unlikely that the Ohio State product falls to the Vikings at 22. That leaves CJ Henderson, Trevon Diggs, AJ Terrell, and Kristian Fulton as the top options following Okudah. I’ve already written about Diggs, before the team traded his brother and eliminated almost any chance that they target him, and I’ll get to Terrell and Henderson.
That leaves today’s prospect Kristian Fulton from Louisiana State University. Fulton played three seasons for the Fighting Tigers, but only played one full season. Luckily, his full season was this year when LSU went 15-0 and won a National Championship. Fulton was suspended for all of 2017 for tampering with a drug test sample.
With missing this time, Fulton played just 24 games in college. He recorded 56 total tackles (42 solo, 14 assisted), two interceptions, two sacks, and 20 passes defended. Fulton did take home second team AP All-SEC honors in 2019.
At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Fulton measured in at 6’0”, 197 lbs, and an arm length of 30 ⅝”. None of those numbers are eye popping, but none of them are red flags either. He also ran a 4.46 second 40-yard-dash which was tied for 14th best for defensive backs. Overall, Fulton’s measurables were pretty average, but his drills were strong and showed his fluid hips and footwork.
When you watch Fulton’s tape, you see how well he works as a press cover corner. He was asked to guard some of the best receivers in the country, in one of the strongest passing conferences in the country, and held his own with physicality to keep receivers from getting separation. Fulton’s fluid hips and footwork allowed him to be ready for receivers making breaks or for him to turn on the jets and keep up with vertical routes.
One of his games biggest hallmarks is his ability to play the receiver until the ball is in the air, get his head turned around, and swat the ball away. It’s a hard skill to master, and some guys never get the timing right. Fulton has the sixth sense to know exactly when to turn and avoid a penalty for not going for the ball, all while not turning too early and giving the receiver an extra step. That said, he did draw some penalties on those plays because of his willingness to wait until the last second to turn, coupled with his physicality at the line of scrimmage.
I would want to see some stronger technique in Fulton’s tackling. He’s not terrible, but he tends to grab ankles to trip guys instead of using sound technique to wrap guys up and drive them down. Usually, that’s not a problem, but when you face some of the bigger NFL receivers or slippier run after catch guys, it makes you a liability in space. Mike Zimmer’s defensive backs usually are pretty sound tacklers, so hopefully he can get Fulton up to speed on using his strength and aggressiveness to make himself a sure tackler.
A big red flag for Fulton was his tampering with a drug test sample in 2017. The test was for performance enhancing drugs, but Fulton was afraid he would fail the test because he had smoked marijuana two days earlier. Hopefully Fulton has put this moment behind him as he has a very bright future.
If the Vikings want to get Fulton, they would need to spend one of their two first round picks on him. Many experts, and myself, have Fulton as the number two overall corner in this year’s class. Luckily, the Vikings benefit from this being an extremely strong class in many areas. It’ll be important to see who falls. If a run on corners happens from 10-20, the Vikings will miss their chance to get Fulton, or indeed any of the other top-flight corners.
Fulton fits the Zimmer mold with his excellent man coverage skills, fluid hips, and solid footwork. That is both good and bad. Zimmer’s other prototypical players, Waynes, Rhodes, Alexander, have all taken a few years to adjust to the NFL game and the Vikings need help immediately. Unfortunately, the team’s cap situation makes this draft their only option to get a true number one or two corner.
Projected Draft Position: Middle first- Early Second Round
Best Traits: Man/Press Coverage, Reading the receiver, Physicality
Biggest Drawbacks: Tackling, Penalties, 2017 suspension for tampering with drug test