NASHVILLE – Kristian Fulton knows how to be patient.
As a sophomore at LSU in 2017, he sat out the entire season due to an NCAA suspension for an irregular drug test (it was determined he used someone else’s urine sample). He came back and started 10 games in 2018 as a junior but did not rush off to the NFL. By the time he capped his career with a spectacular senior season (38 tackles, 15 passes defensed, one interception) for the CFP national champions he was considered one of the top prospects at his position in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Fulton waited nearly two full rounds, but the Tennessee Titan selected him with the No. 61 overall pick on Friday.
“It was extremely tough to wait,” Fulton said. “But I know my family and I had to keep reminding myself that the perfect fit will come to me. Of course, I didn’t want to go to a team that was not 100 percent confident in me. It was definitely worth the wait when I got that call.”
It is likely the 6-foot, 200-pounder won’t have to wait long to make an impact with Tennessee.
In the minds of many observers, cornerback was the Titans’ most pressing need. With Logan Ryan, a starter for the past three years still available as a free agent, and a primary backup, LeShaun Sims, having signed with Cincinnati, the roster includes only two proven players at that position, Malcom Butler and Adoreé Jackson.
Depth at that spot got a boost earlier in the week when veteran Tye Smith re-signed. But a more capable and consistent pass defender remained a must.
Tennessee finished 24 in the NFL in pass defense in 2019 with an average of 255 yards allowed per game and opponents completed 64.6 percent of their passes. Only once in the previous 15 years had that unit allowed more yards and only twice had it allowed a higher completion percentage.
Fulton is the type of defender who can stick with receivers in man-to-man situations, which will make him an obvious choice to be one of the team’s top three cornerbacks this fall. It is likely he will begin in the slot and work into a larger role after a year or two.
“He’s got good quickness,” general manager Jon Robinson said. “He’s got good awareness and instincts in there. He’s got some patience to match routes and know when to trigger and get his hands on the ball and when to just let the route develop a little more.
“And he’s got some toughness to him. I think he’ll tackle. He’s a good tackler, which is important for that position.”
In 28 career games at LSU (25 starts) Fulton registered 65 tackles, 25 passes defensed and two interceptions. He was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2019 but graded out as one of the country’s best cornerbacks.
In his final college game, the Tigers’ CFP championship victory over Clemson, he notched a career-high six tackles, plus one tackle for loss. In the SEC Championship victory over Georgia he allowed one reception on five passes that were thrown to the receiver he covered.
“By going through that [suspension], it taught me a lot about accountability and mental toughness,” Fulton said. “You know, I thought I had it going into my sophomore year. I learned that I didn’t and there was another level I had to elevate myself to. … I learned about myself and I learned about the people around me – not everybody had my best interests at heart.
“… I feel like all that I went through helped get me here and prepare myself.”