He can play at a high level. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Patriots once again added a new defensive back to their secondary. For those of you who wanted Phillip Adams to return, he's signed with the Seattle Seahawks. This new defensive back is Vincent Fuller and you might be surprised with his potential as a defensive back. Fuller was a 4th round pick out of Virginia Tech and spent six years with the Tennessee Titans and was the key nickelback (slot corner) for his final five. However, the Lions were committed to other cornerbacks (Cortland Finnegan, Alterraun Verner, Jason McCourty), so Fuller was expendable. Fuller even renegotiated his contract from over $2 million to $750K to be a competitive player for a roster spot, but was unable to beat the younger corners. As a result, Fuller was released as Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions were looking to take on former Titans players.
Fuller played one game with the Lions before being placed in injured reserve with an elbow injury. As Mike Reiss has mentioned, Patriots football adviser Floyd Reese was the Titans GM when the Titans drafted Fuller out of college.
I watched six of Fuller's games (three from 2009, three from 2010) and had the following notes:
Played at Virginia Tech, played free safety as a freshman, cornerback as a sophomore and junior, and was back at free safety as a senior. Has versatility.
Special teams player.
Fuller ran the 40/3 cone/20 shuttle in 4.44s/6.53s/3.81s. Those times are blazing. Compare to top rookie Rahim Moore with 4.58s/6.98s/3.96s or noted veteran LaRon Landy with 4.35s/7.11s/4.36s. Those three times mean that Fuller can fly down the field extremely quickly. He can also turn on a dime and change direction extremely quickly. Film study confirms.
Noted for his range and his zone skills during the draft. Questions about his angles.
Watched him defend Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Demaryius Thomas, Steve Smith (NYG), Miles Austin, Davone Bess, Danny Amendola, and Donnie Avery. That's a mix of receiving tight end (Clark), slot receivers (Collie, Smith, Bess, Amendola), speedsters (Thomas, Avery), and big possession receivers (Austin). He fared well in all contests.
Physical off the snap and can engage and bump slot receivers off of their route.
Has elite reaction time which allows him to prevent any separation by a sudden change in motion by the slot receiver.
Has great instincts and can blow up screens and plays in the backfield.
Took fairly good angles from what I saw on tape.
Tremendous feel for zone coverage and is able to deter quarterbacks from throwing in his direction.
Doesn't bite on fakes by either the quarterback or the receiver.
Able to stick with his receiver through traffic and will usually stay engaged.
Always in position so if he does allow the reception, there will be no YAC.
Doesn't fully commit to a coverage direction until the receiver is committed. Allows him to stay in the receiver's hip.
Versatility as a safety and a nickel corner, plays well in the box.
Willing run defender.
Special Teams player.
Struggles to disengage from receiver and tight ends in run defense. If they get their hands on him, he tends to get blown backwards. He defends the run best when given space and is able to weave through traffic.
Needs to work on wrapping up running backs. Saw a few slip through because of poor form. Doesn't have bad form when tackling receivers.
Injury history. Fibula, Arm, Elbow, so could be injury prone but, more importantly, could be rusty as he's been released from IR.
Overall, Fuller looks like a great player. If he can figure out how to better defend the run (ie: become stronger), he can actually be a key player moving forward. Floyd Reese liked Fuller enough to draft him in Tennessee and to bring him to New England, which means that there's familiarity and continued interest. Fuller would become the best slot corner on the team and could potentially be the best free safety on the team, which is definitely added value. Hopefully he can knock off the rust and contribute quickly.