The New England Patriots find an undrafted player or two every year that makes the active roster and finds a way to contribute. Whether it’s P Ryan Allen in 2013, CB Malcolm Butler in 2014, C David Andrews and SS Brandon King in 2015, or CB Jonathan Jones in 2016, there’s always someone that slipped through the cracks of the draft.
The Patriots have invested a lot of money in LB Harvey Langi and TE Jacob Hollister, but they aren’t the only players the Patriots are giving the priority free agent treatment. Central Florida CB D.J. Killings received $31,000 guaranteed to sign with the Patriots, the fifth-most guaranteed to an undrafted free agent by the Patriots since 2012.
That’s more money than what the Patriots gave RB D.J. Foster and more than double what the Patriots gave RB Brandon Bolden, C David Andrews, and OG Josh Kline, and six-times more than what the Patriots gave WR Kenbrell Thompkins.
Killings appears to be a desirable undrafted free agent- so who is he, and what type of player are the Patriots getting?
Killings comes from a large family, with a father that “was a Hall of Fame running back at Howard University.” Killings has six brothers, two of whom have been murdered since 2013, and it’s his deceased brothers that Killings credits his passion for success.
“They were the ones who stayed on me, they were the ones who kept my drive going,” Killings said. “They were the ones who when I first got to college said it's your time. I'm the second to youngest and they messed up their chances to go to college and make it to the league, but they just kept me out of trouble and kept me going. It was a big impact to lose them.”
The 5’10 1/2, 187 pound Killings was a two-year starter in the Central Florida secondary, including the team’s 0-12 season in 2015. Killings was not invited to the NFL Combine, but ran a 4.48s 40 yard dash at his Pro Day, with an impressive 37.5” vertical, 10’4 broad jump, 4.21s shuttle, and 6.97s three cone. His 22 reps on the bench would have tied for the most at the combine by a defensive back, while his vertical and shuttle would have tied for sixth place.
Of course, Central Florida cornerbacks are known for their flashy athleticism, but they rarely pull it all together in the NFL. Former UCF CB Asante Samuel was the Patriots fourth round pick in 2003 and was incredibly successful, but the Knights didn’t have another successful cornerback in the NFL until A.J. Bouye emerged this past season.
Over his four years at UCF, Killings recorded 5 interceptions, 22 passes defended, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. He battled ankle injuries early in his career before a new coaching staff in 2016 implemented a post-practice recovery system, leading to Killings’ healthiest and most productive season.
When you watch Killings on the field, he’s always competitive and flashes versatility that could intrigue New England; in one game against South Florida, Killings lined up on the sideline, in the slot, at free safety, and in the box in coverage of a tight end.
Killings’ coaches and teammates point to the cornerback’s preparation off the field as a big reason for his success during the game. Shaquill Griffin, a 2017 third round selection by the Seattle Seahawks, called Killings the leader of the positional group.
“D.J. is a genius in the room,” Griffin said, via the Orlando Sentinel. “To me, that’s who led our room. That’s the person I went to. When I didn’t know something I’m going to D.J. first. And that’s what he brings to a team. Nobody knows just how smart he is and D.J. is going to work. He doesn't like getting beat and that’s the reason why I stuck with him since our freshman year.”
Despite the praise heaped upon Killings by his teammates and coaches, the cornerback gives those same people the credit for his success.
“It starts with the team and the guys that are on the field,” Killings said, via the Orlando Sentinel. “That's how I got those tackles from before. From those team guys. It all starts as a whole, with whatever I get on the field is what I get. But it is mainly because of my teammates, the place that they put me in, the job that they give me, us working together, to collect stats like that.”
Griffin turns to his faith and has created a support network to get him through the difficult times. An athlete that prepares as hard as Griffin and has a keen football intellect is likely to find a home in New England.