Desmond King might have secretly been the most exciting and valuable IDP in the 2017 draft. This seems crazy for a relatively unheralded slot corner, but to understand his real impact, we need to look at how well he performed against historic benchmarks.
I tend to be of the opinion that cornerbacks are pretty interchangeable. However, I believe that King may have shown enough to be an elite option at the position.
Desmond King grew up in Detroit. He played running back and defensive back in high school and managed to put up stellar numbers as a stand-out athlete.
After graduating from that level, he committed to Iowa University and managed to start games as a true freshman. He was a top college player and finished his time at college as a hotly-touted recruit.
His measurables were sound but no spectacular. He is only 5’10” – which is a problem for some teams. King’s jumps were poor too, as his vertical was only 34” (29th percentile) and his broad jump just 119” (also 29th percentile). In fact, the only really good number he had was his 6.67 three-cone drill. Athletically, he’s small and not explosive – but he is quick.
He was ultimately drafted in the fifth round as the 151st pick in the draft.
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As a rookie, King managed 716 snaps. His teammates on the outside, Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams, lined up for 1,003 and 1,006 snaps this season as a comparison. King (like most slot corners) is not a full-time player but he was reliable. He played only three snaps in the season opener but averaged 48 per game after that and never saw fewer than 30 in any week.
It sounds a little like he’s in a bad situation for playing time but that’s not really the case. Over the last five seasons, just six other rookie corners have managed to play more snaps. The slot isn’t a position that creates production through volume. Because they’re (by definition) often not used on base downs, they need to make the playing time they do ultimately get count.
The fact that King didn’t play huge volume did not hinder him given his amazingly high tackle efficiency rating. King managed a tackle on around 9.9% of his total snaps for 71 total tackles. Only five corners beat that number. Only two corners who saw 500-plus snaps managed the same or a better efficiency stat than that in 2017. Those players were Ryan Smith (who was flat out bad and bullied as a result) and Brian Poole (who played well but was clearly the most attackable option in the Falcons secondary).
As a comparison, Adoree’ Jackson managed a tackle on 6.8% of his snaps. Darius Slay managed 5.7%. Kyle Fuller 6.7%. Tre’Davious White 6.4%. King did significantly better with his playing time than any of the other top IDP corners in 2017.
The player often held up as the great example of efficiency in the slot is Tyrann Mathieu. In his legendary 2015 season when Mathieu was a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate, he managed a tackle on 10.1% of his snaps – slightly above King’s benchmark but only by a tiny amount. Any time a rookie can be compared to one of the greatest IDP seasons ever it’s a good indication.
The other amazing stat that King recorded as a rookie was his four sacks. That’s the same number that Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Vic Beasley, Markus Golden, Bud Dupree, Shane Ray, Kony Ealy and Matt Judon managed in their rookie season. That is a very impressive list of pass rushers to add King onto.
I’d love to say that Desmond King is going to be an amazing hybrid slot corner/pass rusher but it’s not true I’m afraid. King only had seven pressures for the entire season so his conversion rate was astronomical. Admittedly only two corners (Mike Hilton and Mathieu) had more pressure than King but it’s simply not something you can count on in the future.
I am full of hope for Desmond King. As a rookie, he was already a top-end corner and I see no reason he can’t stay at that sort of level. Normally with young corners, the danger for IDP purposes is that they improve dramatically and therefore see fewer targets. With that change, their ability to record PDs and tackles goes down and they score far less. Daryl Worley, James Bradberry and Bradley Roby are all recent examples of corners with excellent rookie seasons who dropped value dramatically in their second years as they upped their game.
That’s unlikely to be the case with King as his production is not created by targets. He was only targeted 59 times last season. 61 other corners were targeted more than him. His productivity comes from his role and his nose for a tackle. Neither of those are going to change.
That doesn’t mean there is no risk though. The specter of injury is always present in the NFL. It’s uncommon for a player to go a full season with no bumps and bruises. Assuming King will remain fit is likely foolish. Also because his efficiency rates were so high it’s likely they’ll see some regression. Given that he’s unlikely to play significantly more this will probably drop his tackle numbers down a bit.
I also worry that NFL offenses will learn how to create mismatches against him. It certainly seems that big slot receivers and tight ends could be a tough matchup for him and I expect to see that schemed more.
All that being said, I value very few cornerbacks more highly than I do King. He should hold value very nicely going forward and should be valued as a reliable and consistent CB1 candidate. I’ll always recommend selling corners if possible because they’re so replaceable. If you can throw him in as a corner upgrade to get a deal done it’s very good use of him in the off-season.
Thanks for reading.