It can be difficult to recall, but there was a time when Kyle Fuller wasn’t even a lock to make the Bears’ season-opening roster in 2017.
Fuller’s first two years were inconsistent and his third season never got off the ground because he couldn’t recover from a knee injury. Vic Fangio openly questioned Fuller’s willingness to play the game.
And then the breakout season happened.
OK, so Fuller came away with just two interceptions. That’s not a great number for a cornerback who played 1,017 snaps and was second in the league with 22 passes defended. Still, Fuller played well enough to be ranked the 10th best outside cornerback by Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 scouting team.
“Fuller has developed a smooth backpedal that allows him to track receivers well, and he’s great at jumping routes to deflect passes,” writes NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar. “Less of an aggressive press cornerback than a technician in off and bail coverage, Fuller is an ideal zone cornerback who can stay with the game’s better receivers in tight man coverage when necessary.”
Fuller appeared in all 16 games and played on 96.1 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He started on both sides of the field, starting in place of Prince Amukamara in the first two weeks before supplanting Marcus Cooper as the starter opposite of Amukamara. Fuller truly seemed to get a full grasp of the defense and his responsibilities in the scheme in his second year playing under Fangio. The breakout 2017 from Fuller is what everyone was hoping they would see from the 2014 first-round pick in 2016 before a knee injury prevented his season from even getting off the ground.
The only thing missing from Fuller’s game is the necessary ability to catch the ball and turn some of those pass deflections into interceptions. It feels nit-picky to point that out, but it’s the kind of thing that separates the good defenders from the great ones. There were several times where a Fuller interception would have swung the field position battle into the Bears’ favor, only to see a batted ball lead to a punt, which ultimately led to a Bears punt a few plays later. If Fuller can come away with some more turnovers in 2018, it could push him further up the cornerback rankings.
Defensive Backs Scout Ian Wharton believes Fuller’s re-emergence into a legitimate NFL starting cornerback was one of the season’s biggest surprises and the Bears defense made major gains because of it. Wharton views Fuller as someone who “should be viewed as a premier free agent” after his monster season in a contract year. No argument here. Fuller parlayed a career year into what should be a handsome payday. As of now, the Bears are in a position where retaining Fuller should be their highest free agent priority. Because of the lack of depth and up-and-coming talent in house, it’s almost as if the Bears can’t afford to let Fuller walk away for nothing.