Rashad Fenton deserves more recognition and opportunity for Chiefs

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Rashad Fenton #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs on the field before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on October 19, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. Kansas City beats Buffalo 26 to 17. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Rashad Fenton #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs on the field before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on October 19, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. Kansas City beats Buffalo 26 to 17. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /
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Rashad Fenton’s development in 2020

During Fenton’s rookie season, he saw most of his time in the slot. The only time we saw him play the boundary with any consistency was in the season’s final game. With injuries to Ward and Sneed, we got to see him play more of the boundary corner position over the first four weeks of 2020.

Some of his best work comes when playing in press-man coverage on the boundary. Fenton plays with excellent patience and physicality in this type of coverage. He does a great job of staying square with the receiver forcing his opponent to make the first move, tipping off what he wants to do.

Fenton creeps up to the line of scrimmage before the snap. N’Keal Harry uses a stutter step to break the soft cushion before releasing to the outside. Notice how Fenton doesn’t react or lunge to allow for Harry to get leverage on his release. Once he releases to the outside, Fenton delivers a punch and squeezes the route to the sideline. He knows that the receiver wants to run a back-shoulder fade, and the second that Harry looks back for the ball, he positions himself to have leverage at the catch point.

One thing that is clear when comparing Fenton’s rookie season to 2020 is his diagnosing what the offense is trying to do. So much of his rookie season was learning the defense, but in his second year in Spagnuolo’s system, he’s clearly taken his game to the next level to understand how to attack the offense.

Understanding not only offensive tendencies, but individual player tendencies come from hours of studying film. Fenton lacks the athleticism that many teams covet from the cornerback position. To make up for that lack of athleticism, the second-year veteran displays excellent processing and knowledge of leverage to maintain leverage.

In the play above, wide receiver Damiere Byrd is lined up in a stacked or bunch formation. He releases outside and then breaks vertically. Fenton maintains his leverage over the top and inside to take away any in-breaking routes.

Byrd attempts to use a “stop-n-go” technique to gain separation vertically. Instead of fully committing when Byrd drops his hips looking to break, Fenton does an excellent job maintaining leverage and adjusting to a trail technique out of that second break to make a tough throw for the quarterback over the top.

Against the Patriots in Week 4, Fenton came away with four pass breakups and one interception. Ball skills are a must at the cornerback position. While Byrd gets separation at the top of his route by attacking Fenton before the break inside, the second-year cornerback recovers knowing that the quarterback is wanting to hit Byrd over the middle and undercuts the route to get his hand on the ball as it gets to the receiver.

Everyone remembers the strip-sack by Taco Charlton in the red-zone, but few people credit the coverage that allowed time for the sack. Brian Hoyer steps up into the pocket wanting to throw to Harry in the back of the endzone, but due to Fenton’s physical coverage and undercutting the route as Harry breaks inside, Hoyer is forced to hold onto the ball.

Once again, Fenton is not the most athletic cornerback. His physicality at the line of scrimmage knocking receivers off their route stems to disrupt timing, and remaining on their hip with leverage is how he wins these reps. His understanding of what receivers want to do in 2020 increases his success, which has been an improvement this season.

Even in zone coverage, you can see improvement with Fenton’s understanding of the offense. In Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers, he was exceptional in zone coverage. In this play, Carolina motions Robby Anderson into the bunch formation. Anderson will work vertically before breaking off into a corner route, while D.J. Moore runs a drag route across the middle of the field.

Knowing that the Chiefs are in zone coverage from the motion pre-snap, the objective is to get that third receiver open on a quick hitch route by clearing out the defense with the other two routes. Fenton does an excellent job of carrying Anderson through his zone and passing him off before breaking downhill on the hitch route.

Another example of Fenton showing a great understanding of what the offense is trying to do by reading the route patterns and leveraging himself to make a play. Fenton makes the open-field tackle shy of the first down forcing the Panthers to go for it on fourth down to finish the play.

Since moving back to the slot after Breeland’s return, Fenton has been asked to play the hybrid slot/safety role more in 2020. It’s the role that Kendall Fuller played in the second half of the 2019 season, where he would align in the slot before dropping to a deep zone post-snap. It seems as if Spagnuolo is looking to Fenton to replicate that role that Fuller played late last season to disguise coverages pre-snap.

One trait for cornerbacks that is largely debated is run support. If you want to play in Spagnuolo’s defense as a corner, you have to be physical against the run. Whether you’re lined up on the boundary where your job is to take away the outside and force the running back to break inside towards the defense. or play in the slot and expected to come down and make the tackle, physical play against the run is important.

Fenton brings his physicality to not only his pass coverage but the run as well. In the first play of the clip above, he quickly identifies the hole the Patriots are developing for the running back. The fullback leads the way through the hole only to meet Fenton, who works low, taking out the blocker and eliminating the run lane.

On the second play, Fenton shows his willingness not only to take on wide receivers or fullbacks but to go low on an offensive lineman. The left tackle pulls to the outside, acting as the lead blocker. Fenton not only takes out the blocker but the running back as well to create a tackle for a loss.