There’s a quite contentious debate over which school is actually deserving of the title DBU (defensive back university), but regardless of where you stand on that argument, it’s clear that LSU produces quality defensive backs. Patrick Peterson, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Tre’Davious White, and Jamal Adams are recent examples of exceptional secondary players to come from Baton Rouge, and Kristian Fulton aims to be the next.
Name: Kristian Fulton
School: Louisiana State
Weight: 200 lbs
2019 stat line: 15 games, 38 tackles, 1 interception, 14 passes defensed, 1 tackle for loss
The first thing that sticks out about Fulton is his skill in press man coverage. Fulton has a big, filled out frame that allows him to be physical and aggressive with his receivers. You’ll never mistake him for being friends with the receivers he covers, and Fulton lets them know that upfront. With Al Harris, de facto king of the bump and run coverage, coaching cornerbacks in Dallas now, Fulton’s skill set in this aspect of the game should be very appealing.
The way in which Fulton sticks with his man is even more impressive. His long arms help in confronting receivers and he’s effective with his hand placement and in knocking guys off their routes. More than that, though, Fulton has incredibly precise feet that help him in ways his hands and arms simply can’t. He does a good job of mirroring the receiver’s stride and using his feet to redirect the route when possible. In short, Fulton’s man coverage style is more sticky than grabby, which is a great trait to possess at the next level.
It’s when Fulton is put in zone coverage that you see a slight drop off. That’s not to say he is bad in zone, but it’s clear that he’s an excellent press man corner and only a serviceable zone corner. He’s good at taking away deep threats but Fulton tends to give up more short completions this way, whereas he approaches shutdown status in man.
But Fulton flashes good processing skills and is clearly very intelligent when reading the quarterback’s eyes and receivers’ routes. However, Fulton doesn’t flash world class athleticism on tape. He has the speed to match most receivers but it takes some time to reach his top gear. As a result, Fulton doesn’t seem to have too much explosiveness when breaking on the ball, hence why he’s so much better in press man.
When it comes to run support, Fulton is about as good as any other corner prospect in this draft. He’s not an elite tackler and doesn’t necessarily show an outright desire to hit the ballcarrier, but Fulton is willing and able. His size once again does him favors, as the tackle radius and weight gives good leverage when going in for the tackle. He often takes good angles but can get a little wacky in his approach at times; still, he’s a sure enough tackler to play corner in this league.
Fulton’s biggest downside, though, is his ball skills. The Cowboys have talked a lot about wanting ball hawks, and it’s assumed to be one of the reasons they’re willing to let Byron Jones go in free agency. If that’s the case, then Fulton might drop on their draft board considerably because he doesn’t have a ball hawk trait either.
Through 24 career games, Fulton only has two interceptions, one forced fumble, and zero fumble recoveries. Much like Jones, Fulton rarely goes for the pick and instead leverages his size to break up the completion at the catch point. To be clear, he’s very good at it, and his 14 passes defensed in 2019 are evidence of that. But Fulton clearly doesn’t have the instincts to take the ball away with much consistency, or at least he hasn’t shown that yet.
If the Cowboys are merely looking for a cheap way to replace Jones, Fulton would be the obvious candidate. He brings almost the same profile as Jones, except he’s not an otherworldly athlete. Fulton is sticky in press man, takes away big plays, doesn’t allow too many completions, and doesn’t take the ball away.
He’s a very good prospect and will be a very good player in the NFL. But if Dallas is serious about exclusively going after guys who can be ball hawks, then Fulton is not their guy in the same way that Jones isn’t.