It was the definition of a breakout season for then-Washington Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller in 2017, as the 22-year-old made the leap from a third-round pick ripe with potential to one of the best defensive backs in the NFL during his sophomore campaign as a professional.
The traditional stats tell part of the story – Fuller tallied a team-leading four interceptions, 10 passes defensed and a forced fumble while primarily guarding the slot for Washington – but it was the advanced metrics that truly demonstrated Fuller's value.
In fact, according to the folks over at Pro Football Focus, Fuller wasn't just one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league last season, he was the best.
The Virginia Tech product allowed a 55.0 passer rating while covering the slot – the lowest mark among all inside corners – while yielding just 0.74 yards per snap. And even when compared to all cornerbacks across the league, Fuller still ranked as the sixth-best at his craft in the NFL last season based on the metrics utilized by PFF.
It was simply an outstanding season – prompting Kansas City to trade for him in March - and one that stemmed from Fuller's excellence at the fundamentals.
"Kendall is a student of the game," said fellow cornerback David Amerson, who is also entering his first season in Kansas City. "He's fundamentally sound – you can definitely tell that he was coached well, both at Virginia Tech and with the 'Skins. I think it shows in his play. He's just a fundamental cornerback."
Fuller will look to utilize that grasp of the fundamentals this upcoming season as he takes on a major role in Kansas City's defense.
The predominant storyline surrounding Kansas City's acquisition of Fuller was whether he was going to continue primarily guarding the slot or if the Chiefs planned to bounce him outside.
Head Coach Andy Reid suggested that Fuller will do a bit of both at the annual league meetings earlier this offseason, and through Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and Minicamp, the Chiefs made a point of playing Fuller all over the place.
"I'm just doing a little bit of everything. I think that's one thing the scheme kind of does - everybody has to do everything," Fuller explained during OTAs. "You don't go in there trying to learn one position. You go in there and learn what the corner is doing, what the nickel is doing, what the safety is doing, the dime and the backers. You have to learn how to do everything."
Three Storylines to Follow for Fuller at Camp:
- Some of the top competition that he'll face all year will occur in practice. As Fuller moves around in the secondary throughout training camp, it will serve him well that he'll be facing one of the league's top pass-catching units on a daily basis in practice. Lining up against the likes of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and the rest of the Chiefs' weapons can only help his development as the season inches closer.
- How do all the new faces work together? The Chiefs' secondary will have a different look this season with the signings of Fuller and Amerson, the return of safety Eric Berry and the draft selections of defensive backs Armani Watts and Tremon Smith. Fuller discussed the Chiefs' remade secondary during OTAs, suggesting that he's liked what he's seen from the group so far.
"I don't think we have anybody in our secondary that's comfortable…everybody is hungry," Fuller explained. "Coming in here, the best thing we can do is compete against each other. We're working to get each other better - there's nothing selfish about it - because we're going to need each other on Sundays."
- How does he follow such a strong 2017? It's important to remember that Fuller is just 23 years of age and entering his third season in the league. His ability to continue improving after a breakthrough season will be something to watch, and it begins on the practice fields in St. Joseph.
Fuller is undoubtedly one of the Chiefs' most compelling players heading into 2018, and when coupled with Berry in the secondary, the duo has an opportunity to make Kansas City's passing defense – which struggled at times in 2017 - significantly better heading into this season.