About a week ago, a good friend and I got in a, shall we say, spirited argument. He and I are both avid NFL fans, and we often engage in topical discussions about the league.
While I am a die-hard Bears fan, he is a loyal Arizona Cardinals fan, and our arguments always start when we compare our respective teams, weighing what positions and players are better on each side.

It’s always a hard-fought battle, filled with passionate deliberation, hastily added jokes to ease the growing tension, and begrudged agreement. While I feel I am well prepared to defend my Chicago heroes, my friend is a heavy hitter in his own right, throwing statistics and strong opinions on the playing field that make me reconsider. In the end, we always come to a standstill with reluctant admittance on both sides.

He will admit that the Bears defense is vastly superior to his Cardinals, yet I murmur a word of agreement when he insists that Chandler Jones had a better year than Khalil Mack. He is a formidable opponent, and the debates make us both smarter football fans by the end of it. However, when it comes to one particular player, both of refuse to give up any ground.

The topic of discussion is Bears All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, and where his place among the NFL’s elite lies.

You have me, in one corner, defending him with my hometown bias and his elite and underrated play that only a Bears fan could truly understand; in the other corner, my friend is void of these Windy City biases and tells it exactly how he sees it.

He tells me, with the straightest face you can imagine, that Kyle Fuller is not even a top-10 corner. If you had seen my face when he made those claims, you would have thought I saw a ghost.

We continue to banter back and forth, back and forth, volleying this metaphorical Kyle Fuller-shaped ball, neither of us giving an inch. And in the end… it ends in a stalemate. We simply cannot agree on this one topic.

Early Years

In order to understand why Fuller had not received respect from fans and players over the past couple of years, it’s imperative to look back at Fuller’s career as a whole. And as soon as Fuller was inserted into the outside cornerback spot, he immediately caught fire and put the league on notice.

After Bears legend Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury during an early 2014 season game against the San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Fuller was forced to fill a Peanut-sized hole at the outside cornerback position. He was pitted against rising star Colin Kaepernick, who was helming an offensive machine in the 49ers offense.

Fuller made his presence known in only his second professional game, recording two interceptions. He didn’t end his impressive play there, immediately following up his performance with another interception and two forced fumbles in a Week 3 win against the New York Jets, earning himself a Defensive Player of the Month award. By season’s end, he was regarded as one of the true young talents at the cornerback position, having four INT’s, 10 passes defended, and three forced fumbles.

After his promising rookie campaign, the sky was the limit for the young corner. He had excellent ball skills, technique, and intelligence that were translating to turnovers for a Bears defense that was in severe need of young talent at the time. Unfortunately, his next two seasons would be two of the lowest points of his career.

Sophomore Year

In his sophomore season, fresh off an impressive rookie debut, Kyle Fuller did not display the same knack for the football and talent he did the year before. Fuller finished his 2015 season with a disappointing two INT’s, and only nine passes defended. To amplify the frustration Bears fans had felt at the time, Fuller didn’t even get the chance to see the field for the 2016 season, being placed on injured reserve for the season’s entirety. This was where the murmurs of an overrated corner began to emerge, with only one truly stellar rookie campaign to his name.

After a severe sophomore slump and a complete inability to stay on the field in his third season, a lot of Bears and NFL fans began to feel that Fuller was on his last legs with the organization. Evidently, the Bears organization felt the same way. To the surprise of no one, the Bears decided to not pick up Kyle Fuller’s 5th-year option for the 2018 season, making the gravity of the situation very clear for Fuller: produce, or you’re out.

It seemed that Fuller had his bags packed and at the door, considering his track record of poor play or serious injury. It was improbable that he could put together a magnificent season that could force the Bears’ hand to sign him another contract. Improbable, yes. But not impossible.

2018 Season

Fuller managed to finally reach his full potential in a stellar 2018 season, becoming a cornerstone of what turned out to be a historic Chicago Bears defense, leading them to a dominant 12-4 record. Fuller played like a man possessed, finishing with a staggering seven interceptions, and a breathtaking 21 passes defended. Fuller played with a calm yet dangerously confident demeanor, reading passing and receiving routes with the precision of a surgeon.

Kyle Fuller’s incredible 2018 season was crowned with his first Pro Bowl and, most importantly, All-Pro selection of his career.

Kyle Fuller didn’t just force the Bears to resign him; he figuratively put the pen in their hand and ordered them to sign it. And yes, after a tense and nerve-racking offseason for Bears fans, including a fear-inducing period where Fuller nearly signed with the long-time Chicago Bears rival, the Green Bay Packers, he resigned with a two year, 27 million dollar deal, becoming the 8th highest-paid corner at the time. Fuller finally reached his highest peak, and he has only the stars to shoot for now.

Present Day

Now, the timeline reaches the present day. After yet another solid season, even if the team had regressed as a whole last year, he is still a corner that quarterbacks try to avoid throwing towards at all costs. He finished with three INT’s and 12 passes defended, but the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Fuller was the top five in cornerbacks targeted and finished 4th in receptions allowed, which speaks immensely to Fuller’s technique and intelligence.

Bears fans almost unanimously agree Fuller is the league’s most underrated corner and absolutely deserves to be within the top ten. So, to firmly put this debate to rest, let’s take a look at how Kyle Fuller ranks statistically over his career versus other corners.

As stated previously, Kyle Fuller ranked 5th in corners targeted and 4th in receptions allowed, but he also ranked 2nd among NFL corners in tackles, with 71. Not only is Fuller a cornerback that is immensely skilled in coverage, but he’s also superb in tackling. These statistics translate over his career as well. In his All-Pro 2018 season, he was NUMBER ONE in INT’s with 7, third in targets, and still ranked 5th in receptions allowed with 63. Even in his disappointing 2017 campaign, he was 6th in tackles, number one in corners targeted and still managed to be 6th in receptions allowed. So even if the argument is made that he didn’t put up elite corner statistics, through advanced stats he still is well within the ranks of his elite peers.

For perspective against other elite corner rankings, Fuller had better overall rankings in 2019 than Darius Slay, Casey Hayward, Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, Jalen Ramsey, and even my good friend’s beloved Arizona Cardinals future Hall of Fame CB, Patrick Peterson.

In conclusion, I’d like to say I’m sorry to my good friend who so vehemently disregarded my arguments for Kyle Fuller. You put my research and writing skills to use, and this is what happens. But in all seriousness, the elite play of Kyle Fuller over the years shocked even me.

Through the eye exam, fans knew there was something special, but it’s not until you dive deep into rabbit hole do you see how he’s one of the NFL’s best.

So, dear reader, the next time you see a fan on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram proclaim their top corners, feel free to throw Fuller’s name into the fray.
You now have the knowledge to back it up.

Feature Image: Chicago Tribune
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