Kendall Fuller by no means had a poor 2018 season, his first with the Chiefs. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded “Above Average” in coverage, obviously the most important metric for a cornerback. He finished with an overall defensive grade of “Above Average,” which would have been sufficient if not for the lack of talent in the cornerback unit. So, given he had a solid season should we expect more from Kendall Fuller in 2019?
The answer is yes, and there are several reasons why. Just like Hitchens and Ragland, it’s likely that Fuller will see a decent bump by playing in a better scheme. While the Chiefs didn’t hire as high profile of a name at the cornerback coaching position, there will undoubtedly be more accountability in that room than there has been in the last several seasons.
What’s more, assuming Charvarius Ward continues to be a reliably productive corner on the outside, look for Fuller to return to playing most of his snaps in the slot as the Chiefs will likely run with three corners the vast majority of the time.
Why does this make a difference? In 2017, Fuller’s best year as a pro where he graded “Elite” overall on defense according to Pro Football Focus, he only played 43 snaps on the outside. With the Chiefs in 2018, that number ballooned to 241 snaps. While part of this is because the Chiefs’ relied on Fuller as arguably their best corner, it was more because the Chiefs couldn’t rely on Orlando Scandrick. Again, assuming that Ward can handle the outside on a consistent basis, Fuller should return to his expertise of slot corner and could see a significant bump in his overall play.
Last but not least, the safety group has improved dramatically. Over the last couple seasons, the Chiefs haven’t had a player over the top who could consistently clean up any runaway receivers. When this is the case, most defensive coordinators tend to play conservative and instruct their corners to give receivers more of a cushion. Simply put, give up the small play to not give up the big play. This seemed to be the mentality all last season.
Yes, Juan Thornhill is a completely unproven product at the NFL level. However, as I’ve written in a couple pieces before this, there are a number of reasons to expect he will have a productive year. He’s in the type of system that caters to safeties, and he has the speed to track down any runaway receiver.
Given the improved safety play, watch for the cornerback group in general to make a significant leap. Expect those aforementioned cushions to nearly disappear, which should go a long way to prevent the types of plays that likely cost the Chiefs a trip to the Super Bowl. There is still a lot of uncertainty with this group, but it is undoubtedly one to watch heading into training camp.