Let’s revisit what draft scouts and analysts were saying about Deandre Baker around the NFL Draft.
Approximately 18 months or so ago, Deandre Baker was a popular name among fans for any NFL team in search of help at the cornerback position. Baker, at the time, was a pro-ready prospect from the University of Georgia on the verge of making his dreams come true. Draft analysts pegged him as one of the best overall defensive prospects available and seemed assured he would go in the first round or two when all was said and done.
The New York Giants confirmed those suspicions when they traded back into the first round to select Baker. Even after already picking quarterback Daniel Jones and defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence among the first 17 picks, the Giants still sent extra fourth and fifth round picks to Seattle to move up from the draft’s second round to grab Baker at No. 30.
A year-and-a-half later, the Giants decided they were done with Baker—even after he was recently exonerated of all charges or wrongdoing in an offseason incident that placed him on the NFL Commissioner’s Exempt List.
These days, Baker is the newest member of the Kansas City Chiefs. The young cornerback—he just turned 23—signed with K.C. over other interested teams after the Giants spurned Baker’s interest in re-signing. At one point, Baker had been blacklisted from the league for charges of armed robbery stemming from a private party in Miami. Once the script flipped on the incident, and his accusers were then charged with extortion, Baker wanted to try again. New York did not.
The Chiefs now find themselves benefitting from the Giants decision to move on from a prospect who wasn’t the character concern they believed him to be. Instead of a PR nightmare, the Giants just allowed a first-round investment as old as BoPete Keyes to leave for nothing. It raises questions to be sure.
What we know at this point is that the Chiefs have a motivated player in Baker hoping to make good with a Super Bowl contender and get back on the field doing what he does best. It seemed only right to go back and remind ourselves of what Baker was believed to be capable of, at least coming into the draft.
Baker entered the NFL after a nice career at Georgia where he won the Jim Thorpe award as college football’s best defensive back. Baker had 40 tackles, 10 pass deflections and 2 interceptions during his final season for the Bulldogs and ended up a first-team All-American. While he wasn’t the first or even second defensive back taken (Darnell Savage, Jon Abram), Baker was the first cornerback off the draft board overall.
If you’re wondering about measurables, here’s an interesting way to look at it. (Yes I’m quoting my own tweet here and no I don’t like the look, but it was easy to just punch this in.)
NFL writer Lance Zierlein compared Baker to Asante Samuel in his pre-draft profile and wrote:
"Pesky press corner who has proven he can thrive against man-to-man challenges in a competitive conference. Baker isn’t a burner, but has good play speed and the foot quickness and pattern recognition to stay tight in his coverage. The biggest issue teams might have with Baker is determining whether or not he can give up 30-plus pounds against bigger, outside receivers and still hold up. While there might be some matchup concerns at times, his ball skills, talent and competitive nature should overcome his smaller frame."
Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network labeled him with a 2nd round grade and wrote, “If you’re looking for a press man corner, there are none more pro-ready than Baker in this class.”
"Baker’s tape is some of the best from the 2019 cornerback class, but average testing and poor interviews seem to have affected his stock. He’s a potential rookie starter if teams are able to vet his character and dial in on who he is as a player and person."
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports had the most favorable professional comparison of all in Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White (the prospect who was taken in the Chiefs original first round spot in the Patrick Mahomes trade). Trapasso makes his case here:
"Like White, Baker isn’t a size/speed/athleticism specimen. And he isn’t a big outside cornerback at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds. Also like White, Baker simply does everything you ask of him as a corner. Play press man and battle with a bigger receiver? Sure thing. Sit in zone and spring forward to make plays on the football on comebacks and in-breaking routes? No problem. Both White and Baker were super productive with pass breakups and interceptions in the SEC and are as savvy as it comes with their mirroring abilities."
The character concerns came up a bit now at this point, and the Chiefs will undoubtedly need to feel good about their homework here.
As for size, it feels like much ado about nothing. Does every team want their corners to have incredible length? Sure. But Fenton is the same height as Baker, who is also the same height as Bashaud Breeland. In addition, the Chiefs have other corners who are either injured (as in Alex Brown) or lingering on the practice squad (Lavert Hill, Chris Lammons) who are all 5’10” or 5’11”. In short (pun intended), it’s not as if Baker is some outlier on the roster.
It’s hard not to get excited when reading up about Baker and realizing the potential here for the Chiefs, for a player signed off the street in the midst of a season in which they’re already expected to make a Super Bowl run. Baker has some work ahead of him to shake both rust and reputation, but the Chiefs are going to give him an ideal environment to do just that.