Cornerback Kendall Fuller, the Redskins’ third-round pick in 2016, came in with high expectations. Some in the organization believed he was a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to concerns over a knee injury.
However, as a rookie he fell short of those expectations. Fuller played some slot cornerback but he was inactive early in the season and did not play a defensive snap in three of the Redskins’ last four games.
According to Pro Football Focus, opponents had a passer rating of 120 when targeting his coverage. Those numbers should be taken as more of an estimate of his performance than an exact stat but the bottom line is that Fuller did have problems in coverage as a rookie.
NFL scouts had their eyes on Fuller as he entered his junior season at Virginia Tech. But th knee injury ended his season after three games. While he perhaps could have used another year with the Hokies to let his knee get fully healthy and to refine his game, he decided to go pro.
The Redskins believe that Fuller will be much better this year. For one thing, he will be fully healthy.
“I think last year he was probably about 85-90 percent,” said coach Jay Gruden. “You know, he fought through his rehab to get himself ready to play. He played some significant playing time for us, did some good things for us. But I think now, I think his body is a lot better, in a lot better shape. He is quicker, he is faster, he is more confident in what we are doing out here. I said yesterday I think it was that you will see a better Kendall this year.”
A rookie playing one of the toughest positions on the field has a big hill to climb even if he’s fully healthy. Regardless, the Redskins need a better performance from Fuller in 2017. He is their best hope at slot corner. Bashaud Breeland can play there but he is a starter on the outside. Dashaun Phillips was as shaky as Fuller last year, and Josh Holsey is a seventh-round rookie.
The person on the Redskins’ coaching staff who knows Fuller best is defensive backs coach Torrian Gray. He was the secondary coach for the Hokies when Fuller was playing well enough to pop up on the NFL’s radar. He has seen Fuller at his best.
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“Unfortunately, he had the injury at Virginia Tech,” said Gray, who was hired in January. “Last year, from what I saw on film, it’s going to be a much different Kendall Fuller this year. It’s fun to see him healthy and getting back to see the guy he can be.”
Fuller looked fine during the offseason practices that were open to the media. He didn’t make any big plays but there were no obvious errors on his part, either. Most will be happy if he plays well enough this year to keep the opposing slot receiver from having a big day. If he can also become a playmaker, like he was when he intercepted six passes as a true freshman in college, that will be a big bonus.