NASHVILLE – At this rate, Mike Vrabel’s refrain could take on the qualities of a Christmas carol.
It’s something you hear only at a certain time of year. But you hear it every year.
“It’s always the same for me,” the Tennessee Titans coach conceded Friday night. “I think there’s two types of people. There’s bad people and there’s good people that make mistakes.”
Vrabel said the same thing a year ago when the Titans drafted defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons out of Mississippi State.
This time it came up in relation to LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, Tennessee’s second-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Fulton (6-0, 200 pounds) sat out his entire sophomore season in college due to a suspension for a tainted drug test. It was determined that he provided someone else’s urine sample when he was selected for a performance-enhancing drug screening at the end of his freshman year.
Simmons, a first-round choice (No. 19 overall) in 2019, had a physical encounter with a female prior to the start of his college career. His actions were in defense of his sister, a primary participant in the fracas, but the incident was caught on video tape, which did not cast him in a good light. Ultimately, it cost him just one game at Mississippi State but his enrollment and continued presence on campus came with conditions, all of which he met.
After a year, there has been nothing to indicate the Titans made a bad choice with Simmons. They are equally confident about Fulton, a Louisiana native who was that state’s top-ranked college prospect as a high school senior, just as Simmons was in Mississippi.
“It’s no different than any other player that had something in college,” Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson said. “You talk to the player about it and understand the situation. You talk to sources at LSU who spoke highly of (Fulton). I know a guy that was on the staff that coached him in high school who spoke highly of his character. He sent me a message tonight and said, ‘You’ve got a great player, but you’ve got an even better person.’”
Many draft analysts considered Fulton a first-round talent. He was No. 19 on SI.com’s final pre-draft ranking of the top 255 players available this year. The Titans got him four picks before the end of the second round, at No. 63.
How much the suspension – originally two years but later reduced following a review – impacted when he was selected is unclear. For his part, Fulton doesn’t duck the issue. He made it known during the pre-draft process that he had used marijuana and tampered with the test in an attempt to keep from getting caught.
The final two years of his college career were uneventful in terms of off-the-field issues. On the field, he developed into one of the country’s top pass defenders and a starter for the 2019 CFB national champions.
“(The Titans) just mainly wanted my perspective on it, the situation, and I was comfortable explaining that situation with them,” Fulton said. “It wasn’t too big of a deal that they were worried about it. You know, they understand that I was young, and I made a mistake, and they understand that I learned from that mistake also.
“It made me extremely mentally tough dealing with that situation – that was the main thing –and holding myself accountable. Also just learning through the resources around me.”
And Tennessee’s personnel department believes it knows all it needs to about Fulton, who figures to immediately rank as one of the team’s top three cornerbacks.
“I trust our scouts to get all the information and the background on these players, and we talked to them and felt good about adding (Fulton) to our football and our community,” Robinson said.
Just as they did a year ago with Simmons.