It had all the makings of a breakout performance when cornerback DeAndre Baker – suiting up for his first defensive snaps as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs – tallied five tackles, a sack and a pass defensed in last year's regular-season finale against Los Angeles.
The 23-year-old Baker was out there reminding the world why the New York Giants spent a first-round pick on him only a year prior, but in the blink of an eye, his season came to an end when Baker injured his leg while sprinting down the sideline in coverage.
It was an awful case of bad luck for Baker, who signed with the Chiefs last November after being released by New York a few months prior. He spent the majority of his time with Kansas City on the practice squad – eventually playing a handful of special teams' snaps in Week 15 – all in an effort to shine when given his chance to play on defense.
That's why his opportunity to start at left outside cornerback against the Chargers was such a fascinating storyline to follow, and for those same reasons, why the season-ending leg injury that he went on to suffer in that game was so equally devastating.
The former No. 30 overall pick is now six months removed from that rollercoaster of a night, however, and when the introductory portion of training camp began on Saturday up in St. Joseph, Baker was back on the field ready to prove that he belonged.
"There were a few things that I could have done better, but overall, I felt that I played well," said Baker when asked about his performance prior to the injury back in Week 17. "I could have done a lot of things better though – some technique things that I need to clean up – and I actually worked on those today."
Baker – who said that he was "pretty close to 100 percent" following practice on Sunday – is certainly a name to follow at camp this year. A First-Team All-American and recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2018 at the University of Georgia, Baker allowed a grand total of one touchdown across 132 career targets while in school.
He was the first cornerback selected when the 2019 NFL Draft rolled around, and while he ended up playing just one season in New York and dealt with the injury late last year, Baker is still a young and talented player who has plenty of time to reach his full potential – something his teammates have already started to notice.
"I see a lot of myself in him, just because he struggled with an injury, and it took time. It looked like it was eating him alive just sitting there watching [practice during OTAs], but now watching him out here, he's been doing a heck of a job," said safety Juan Thornhill on Sunday. "He's been getting his legs moving and he looks pretty good to me."
Baker still has to earn a role in the Chiefs' secondary and will have his opportunity to do so over the next several weeks at training camp, but the first hurdle was simply getting healthy, and he appears to be ready to go as practices get underway up in St. Joseph. The next step will be about showing what he can do on the field, and if his performance prior to getting hurt last year was any indication, Baker is hungry to demonstrate that he can be a contributor in the NFL.
"I just want to help the team and show the guys that I want to be here," Baker said. "I want to come out here and show them that I deserve to be here."
The Kansas City Chiefs at training camp.