Editors’s note: First in a series of profiles of draft prospects that could interest the Broncos.
Kristian Fulton was lined up to follow in the tradition of terrific LSU defensive backs.
Eleven interceptions as a high school junior. Five-star recruit. Top-rated player in Louisiana. Top-5 cornerback nationally.
Fulton signed with in-state LSU intent on following Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Jalen Collins, Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White to the NFL.
But Fulton’s road to next month’s draft wasn’t easy.
Backup as a freshman. … Didn’t play as a sophomore because of an NCAA suspension. … Missed final three games of 2018 (ankle). … And finally, a full season for the national champions this past fall.
“He’s probably the most underrated cornerback in college football,” LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence said.
Underrated because Fulton didn’t play regularly until his junior year, a time when some Tigers are already in the NFL.
Underrated because Fulton played opposite true freshman cornerback Derek Stingley, who was first-team All-America.
And underrated because, well, the LSU defense was stacked with Stingley, safety Grant Delpit and linebackers Patrick Queen and K’Lavon Chaisson. Fulton won’t get lost in the shuffle during the draft, though.
“It’s a great cornerback class,” he said. “But I don’t feel like anybody’s technique is as sound as mine. I just got the job done every Saturday.”
Fulton had only two college interceptions, but 23 pass break-ups his final two years.
“Kristian is a great story,” coach Ed Orgeron told reporters last season. “(The family) fought the suspension. He came to practice every day. The suspension was let go and he could play. Great story. Outstanding player.”
Fulton’s trouble began in February 2017.
Fulton was witnessed by an NCAA drug-test administrator pouring another person’s urine into his test cup; he believed the test was for street drugs. The automatic penalty for that offense is a two-year suspension. His appeal denied in March 2017, Fulton sat out the season, but was allowed to practice.
“I was on the practice squad, getting reps against the starters so I’m getting really worked,” he said. “That’s how I feel like I stayed in shape and was able to stay on my game.”
A second appeal was successful … eventually. The appeal was filed with an argument that proper drug-testing protocol was not followed. The appeal was denied by a panel of NCAA officials on Aug. 9, 2018, but overturned 15 days later.
“So far, not many teams have asked me about it,” Fulton said at the recent NFL combine. “Everyone pretty much knows how that situation went. I’m comfortable explaining it to anybody.”
What doesn’t need explanation: Fulton didn’t get many chances to create takeaways last year. Auburn was 2-of-7 passing for 21 yards against Fulton, who played with solid technique in press and off-man coverage, but missed two tackles.
The seven chances was an outlier. According to LSU, Fulton was targeted four times against Texas A&M, twice by Alabama, once by Arkansas and none by Mississippi.
Practice was a different story. Fulton was challenged by elite receivers. And during pre- and post-practice meetings, he was reminded of the standard set by his predecessors.
“When we walk into our meeting room, we’ve got all of the defensive backs that came through — the greats — and their pictures are on the wall,” Fulton said. “It’s just motivation every day.”
Hometown: New Orleans.
Statistics: Two interceptions and 23 pass break-ups in two years as starter for LSU. … Ankle injury cost him final three games of 2018. … For national champion LSU in 2019, had 38 tackles and 14 pass break-ups in 15 games and was first-team All-SEC and second-team All-America. … Ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at combine.
Fit for Broncos: If general manager John Elway trades down from No. 15 and wants to take a cornerback to start opposite A.J. Bouye, Fulton could be an option.