Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 23: LSU CB Kristian Fulton

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

23. LSU CB Kristian Fulton

6-foot, 197 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Versatile cover man with inside-outside capabilities, but a few warts that could prevent him from being a great pro.

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (and top 75 nationally), Fulton — who started receiving offers when he was a freshman in high school — signed with the Tigers over Arkansas, Florida and Alabama (his supposed dream school). As a true freshman in 2016, Fulton played in three games (13 snaps) and made two tackles, waiting his turn behind Tre’Davious White, Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver.

In 2017, Fulton was preparing to vie for a starting role when he was suspended for two years for falsifying a drug test (it later was reduced to a one-year ban). He spent that season on the practice squad.

Fulton started 10 games in 2018 before missing the remainder of the season with a foot injury that required surgery. He made 25 tackles, one interception and nine pass breakups. In 2019, Fulton was one of eight seniors in the country to receive a first-round grade from National Football Scouting entering the season. He started all 15 games for the national champs, making 38 tackles (one for a loss), one interception and a team-best 14 pass breakups but was not named to first- or second-team all-SEC.

Fulton, who turns 22 years old in September, pulled out of the Senior Bowl after initially agreeing to attend (LSU’s season ended less than a week before the start of the event). He attended the NFL scouting combine and participated in all the drills (except the bench press) and positional work.

Upside: Good instincts, intelligence and toughness. Nice musculature for his frame. Can and has played in multiple coverages effectively. Faced top-shelf WR talent the past two seasons in the SEC and in last season’s playoffs. Allowed only 43.6 percent completions past two seasons combined.

Alabama might have been his best game last season — especially had some nice one-on-one reps against WR Henry Ruggs III in man coverage. Stayed on top well. Crimson Tide decided their best chance was to go away from Fulton in a game stocked with NFL talent. Allowed one catch and had one pass broken up in the crucial game.

Extensive press-man experience — few teams did it more last season than LSU. Varies his press technique and doesn’t give receivers the same looks each time. Technique issues of the past appeared more ironed out (coached by LSU DB coach Corey Raymond, a former NFL player).

Takes a patience approach to coverage — has a good feel for reading route development and waits for his moment to close. Pretty fluid movement skills and can turn and run well. Good enough speed to handle matchups vs. vertical threats.

Florida WR Van Jefferson called Fulton the best cornerback he faced in college. The Gators moved Jefferson to the other side of the field to get him away from Fulton eventually in the 2019 game. But before they did, this was an example of textbook coverage, with Fulton staying in Jefferson’s hip on the vertical sideline route, batting the pass away beautifully:

Fulton stays in the receiver's hip pocket for the duration of this route.
Fulton stays in the receiver's hip pocket for the duration of this route.

Gets his hands on a fair number of passes his direction. Uses sideline as extra defender well. Strong combine performance — needed to run sub-4.5-second 40 (4.46) and sub-7-second 3-cone drill (6.94) and did so. Good positional work, too.

Lined up outside mostly but also has experience in the slot. Tape showed an active communicator who made checks with fellow defenders and tried to get people lined up properly. Staff praised his personal and football character despite missteps and immaturity with NCAA issue early on. Considered reliable and accountable.

Downside: Not a dynamic athlete. So-so 10-yard split (1.56 seconds) and slow shuttle time (4.36) at combine. Size is fine but not special — arms on the shorter side (30 5/8 inches) for NFL press corner. Can't mirror vs. quickness as well as you’d like to see for a potential slot corner.

Lacks top-end recovery speed when beat deep. Gives too much ground in off-coverage — tends to sag too much. Trouble with double moves — as one scout noted to us, especially on in-breaking routes

Here’s a play against Oklahoma where Fulton (No. 1, at the top of your screen, lined up pre-snap at about the 29-yard line) gives too much space and loses track of WR CeeDee Lamb. Fulton is lined up with outside technique, as he should in cover-1 with Lamb aligned close to the formation. But Fulton opens up quickly and is giving a huge cushion, which seemingly leaves him vulnerable both outside and inside. Lamb uncovers rather easily and even makes Fulton miss after the catch:

Fulton gives too much cushion on this reception and then can't make the tackle.
Fulton gives too much cushion on this reception and then can't make the tackle.

Tackling concerns can be seen on Vanderbilt, Auburn tapes. Ankle diver who lacks the raw strength to consistently make those plays. Will be broken down by shifty playmakers. Angles to the ball are hit or miss. Can be tested on quick screens and horizontal throws — making one-on-one tackles in open space has been an issue at times. Fine but hardly great in run support.

Texas, Oklahoma and Clemson went after Fulton — and got him a few times downfield. Had a few rough reps in national-title game vs. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross (pass interference when beat deep, poor effort and tackle on Higgins end-around).

Can stand to be more physical at the line of scrimmage. Footwork and body control at the catch point can be wild and undisciplined. Not a true playmaker — only two interceptions on 110 career targets. Not much experience blitzing. Injury history — two season-ending injuries (foot and hand) — must be vetted. Had a screw put in his left foot.

Best-suited destination: Fulton profiles best as an interchangeable corner — inside or out, man or zone — but might never reach Pro Bowl level. With more time and seasoning, however, he could be a valuable and competitive piece of a secondary.

Among the teams we believe could be interested in Fulton’s services include the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Minnesota Vikings.

Did you know: Following his freshman season, Fulton was suspended by the NCAA for two full years after it was discovered he had tampered with a drug test for performance-enhancing drugs. Fulton appealed the decision, claiming he thought it was for recreational drugs.

The initial appeal was denied — as was the second appeal a year later. At one point during the ordeal, Fulton even reportedly explored the idea of playing in the CFL.

But two weeks after the second appeal was denied, that decision was overturned. Ten days later, he was in the Tigers’ starting lineup in a win over Miami (Fla.), making three tackles and breaking up two passes.

During the 2017 season, Fulton was not allowed to play in games but was allowed to practice with the team. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva sent a four-page letter to the NCAA in support of Fulton, and head coach Ed Orgeron echoed his AD’s sentiments by praising Fulton.

“He got a suspension,” Alleva said. “Never missed any classes. Really good GPA. Never missed weight lifting. A lot of kids would have packed it in. The kid was so engaged. That's part of the reason I fought so hard for him.”

And last December, Fulton graduated with a degree in sports administration.

They said it: “I practiced every day. I missed not one practice so I was still getting work in. I was on the practice squad, getting reps against the [starters], so I'm getting really worked. So that's how I feel like I stayed in shape and I was able to stay on my game.”

— Fulton at the combine, on his suspension season in 2017

Player comp: Slightly bigger, slightly less athletic Denzel Ward.

Expected draft range: Second round

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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