A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2015 seventh-round pick: San Jose State cornerback Akeem King.
BIO & VITALS
College: San Jose State
40 Speed: 4.41 (Campus)
3-Cone: 7.08 (Campus)
He was born on August 29, 1992 in Visalia, CA. He attended Nipomo (CA) High, where he played a multitude of positions, but was a productive wide receiver as a senior. He also was a sprinter and jumper on Nipomo’s track team, setting a school record in the 100 meters with a time of 10.74 seconds. He was recruited to San Jose State at wide receiver, but made the move to defense after his initial redshirt season.
During his first two seasons in San Jose he played exclusively on special teams, appearing in 10 combined games. He saw his first action on defense as a junior with 11 total appearances. He played both cornerback and safety, tallying 15 tackles and two pass breakups. Made permanent move to safety as a senior, starting all 12 games he played in. He finished the season with 71 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pair of pass breakups.
King was a three-time academic all-conference honoree, earning those honors once in the WAC as a sophomore and twice in the Mountain West as a junior and senior.
2014 GAMES WATCHED
|Sep 6||at Auburn||2||1||15||6||0||0||0||1||0||0||2||0|
|Sep 20||at Minnesota||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||3||1||0|
|Nov 1||COLORADO ST.||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||1|
|Nov 29||at San Diego St.||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||3||0|
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Speed (7.0) – King’s track past is indicative with his play speed. At times will show good range and the ability to cover when asked to play centerfield. Shows some burst upfield when he can run in a straight-line and make stops on screens or sweeps in the flat. Can run with most receivers he faced and shouldn’t have a major problem defending the deep ball at the next level. But despite very good timing speed, he doesn’t fly around the field and play like a blazer on a consistent basis. That lack of speed may be due to subpar instincts which prevent him from reacting as quickly as others.
Man Coverage (4.0) – Has the size and athleticism to potentially get better, but is very raw in his man coverage skills. When he’s allowed to play press and get his hands on a receiver or tight end, he’s far more effective. But lacks the polish, technique and footwork to really be trusted right now. Gives up too much cushion at times and doesn’t have smooth hips you look for in a guy that is going to mirror top NFL receivers. Has room to grow, but is still very raw.
Zone Coverage (3.0) – Too often looks lost in zone, spending too much time covering grass. Doesn’t take good angles to the ball after the catch and misses too many tackles. Overpursues and is susceptible to the cutback or juke move from the ballcarrier when coming up from the secondary to defend the run. Late reacting to the ball in the air even when he’s keying on the quarterback, showing a lack of awareness and instincts to really make plays in zone. Will get caught peeking in the backfield too often and lose track of his assignments.
Tackling (5.0) – Is a subpar tackler for a safety, but when projecting to cornerback he becomes above average. Will get sloppy and lazy with his technique at times, ducking his head and not breaking down properly, but for the most part can get the ballcarrier down. Does better when he’s not forced to take on ballcarrier at the point of attack, as he has a tendency to shy away from contact and doesn’t wrap up properly. Is much more consistent wrapping up when he can work in pursuit and make the stop from behind. Has good closing burst on the ball to suggest that he could become an effective hitter, but at this point isn’t one.
Ball Skills (3.0) – When in coverage, does a poor job of turning to locate the throw in the air. Will do so at times but usually at the last moment, preventing him from breaking up the pass even when he’s in good position. His past experience as a receiver suggests he has good hands, but his lack of interceptions says otherwise.
Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Undrafted Prospect (2.2) – A player that his ability to make an NFL roster and/or stick in the league beyond a summer or two is tied exclusively to his special teams contributions. Has some developmental upside to stick as a reserve in time, but is too raw and/or athletically limited to think he’ll ever be a starter at the next level even if given time. A player that should not be drafted, although worth a look in training camp.
King is a project that will be making the transition from college safety to NFL cornerback. While he possesses the physical dimensions that Falcons head coach Dan Quinn looks for in cornerbacks in his defensive scheme, his skill set is extremely raw. He flashes potential as a press-man corner due to his size and length to jam tight ends and receivers at the line of scrimmage, but the rest of his game as a corner is underdeveloped and/or non-existent.
He has some developmental upside as a reserve, but essentially his ability to stick in the NFL will be exclusively tied to his ability to impact early on special teams.
If King was going to stay at safety, then it’s debatable whether or not he would be even worth a look in an NFL training camp. His lack of awareness in coverage and subpar abilities in run support essentially make him a guy only worth a tryout in a rookie minicamp, and that’s only because he’s a “plus” athlete.
As a senior, he played exclusively as a safety, being asked to play up in the box quite a bit where he was middling. But he was even more underwhelming when he was put deep in the secondary and asked to play single-high safety, consistently taking poor angles to the ball and missing too many stops in the open field as running backs were easily able to side-step him. Frankly, he’s barely worth a second glance as a safety prospect.
But King does have the sort of size, length and frame that could make him a good fit as a press corner as there were flashes here and there suggesting there is some developmental upside. When asked to cover tight ends and slot receivers, he flashed some ability to jam them and redirect them off the line of scrimmage. But in the games I watched, these opportunities were relatively scarce. It appears his most extensive action as a cornerback came against Fresno State during his junior year to less than positive results.
Early in that game, King was matched up on the outside against eventual Green Bay Packers second-round pick Davante Adams. Frankly, Adams abused him. There were a couple of times where King was able to stay in step with Adams, but even when he did he showed either poor ball skills or would whiff on a tackle after the catch. The Spartans then moved him to the other side of the field after a couple of series, where King faced lesser Fresno State receivers and fared better. Eventually, they tried to move King back to face Adams in the second half, resulting in a horrible whiff on a tackle which essentially got King pulled from the game. By game’s end, King had given up four completions on seven targets for 91 yards and two scores, with 40 yards coming after the catch, meaning Derek Carr had a passer rating of 141.4 when throwing at him.
This first GIF is the infamous whiffed tackle (Note: if the GIFs are weirdly zoomed, just double click on them).
This next GIF one shows poor technique on a fade route:
Even in that game there were still a handful of instances where you saw King’s cornerback potential. The following shows one of the plays he made in coverage, helping to break up a slant over the middle:
King was asked to play off coverage in that game quite a bit, and his undeveloped footwork and technique were exposed too often. King is essentially a corner that needs to put his hands on a receiver to be effective because he lacks the quick feet and hips to think he’ll ever be great mirroring them.
Perhaps with better coaching and time he can improve the technical aspects of playing the position, but it’s unrealistic to expect world-changing improvement there. Development in the NFL is really about refining techniques, not teaching them and King is essentially starting from scratch.
At the end of the day, King’s ability to stick in the NFL will be tied almost exclusively to how quickly he can prove himself an asset on special teams. If he can, then he’ll buy himself a few years to get that development that his game needs.
King can help out on special teams thanks to his experience at San Jose State, where he played predominantly in that role his first three years. He projects as a player that can be a “core four” special teams player, meaning he plays on kickoffs and punt coverage, as well as both return units. King has experience as a gunner on punt coverage, and his experience at wide receiver coupled with his speed mean that is probably the role he projects best to.
But even if King was able to endear himself to a special teams coach, he’s probably destined to be a practice squad player at least initially in his NFL career. He’s simply not ready to be the fourth or fifth corner on an active NFL roster, at least not yet. He’s not someone you want to be one busted shoulder or twisted ankle away from potentially having to play on Sundays in 2015.
Ideally, he’s a player that is kept on the practice squad for one or two years and you hope by his third summer, things have really started to click so that he now can potentially be that valuable reserve.
If King develops and reaches his full potential, then he might turn into a functional fourth corner. He’ll be someone like Tharold Simon was for the Seahawks this past year. Simon was decent for the most part when forced to play down the stretch due to injuries, but his limitations where exposed mightily in the Super Bowl.But I should emphasize that Simon is a second-year player with room to improve and grow. King’s max potential three or four years down the road is probably the player that Simon is today.
If he gets extended reps against premium competition, King is also going to get exposed. But for a couple of series here and there sprinkled through the regular season, he has the capabilities of getting by.
The positive for King as he projects to the Falcons specifically is that he could make this team as a rookie since the Falcons have very little proven cornerback depth. Phillip Adams is a journeyman that struggled mightily last season with the New York Jets when pressed for extended reps and he’s the most proven option after you get past Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Jalen Collins.
Essentially Adams is the sort of player that the Falcons probably hope King can be three or four years down the road.The Falcons represent the sixth team that Adams has played for since entering the league in 2010. Adams has stuck in the NFL largely because of his special teams ability, not only his ability to cover kicks but also return them.
Adams was able to quickly impact on special teams, recording a career-high nine stops there as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers. That ability has helped continue to get him work in the NFL over the years. King will need to take a similar path in Atlanta, and quickly endear himself to special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong if he wants to last more than one or two summers.
I don’t think King will be competing directly with Adams for snaps. Instead, it’ll be other undrafted rookies and Dezmen Southward that are King’s primary competition, most likely for the fifth cornerback spot. The battle between King and Southward is the most compelling of the group because both players essentially fill the same niche, meaning there may only be room for one on the roster.
Both are safety converts with good size and speed to potentially be effective press corners. Despite King’s very limited experience at cornerback, he’s about even with Southward in that same arena, if not slightly ahead.
But Southward has the edge because of his more extensive experience at safety and the year he spent working on special teams as a rookie. Southward doesn’t project to be a starter at safety in Quinn’s scheme, but could make a competent backup as a fourth or fifth safety. That is not really the case with King, which of course would give Southward another edge in a head-to-head roster battle.
King is probably a long shot to make the Falcons roster as a rookie, but is a good candidate to make the practice squad. If he does make the team this year, it’ll almost certainly be because he shows himself to be a maven on special teams. He could potentially win the gunner spot opposite Antone Smith, a role that Southward filled for much of last year in the absence of Drew Davis.
Unless King can prove himself to be the second or third-best gunner on the roster right away, there’s just really no reason why the Falcons would keep him beyond a year or two on the practice squad. Simply put, the Falcons can easily find a better cornerback on the street that can also be a functional special teams player. Thus, King’s only real value is if he’s beyond functional and becomes an outstanding special teams player. If he’s less than that, then he’s really just a body that gives the Falcons little incentive to keep beyond one or two summers.
This is not meant to suggest that King cannot contribute to the Falcons over the next few seasons. While I do not put too much stock in his defensive upside, it will be indicative of the coaching ability of Quinn and his staff if the Falcons are able to develop him into a competent cornerback. If they can make King into a competent reserve, then there is every reason to believe that the Falcons’ secondary will be among the league’s best in very short order since they clearly know how to coach up subpar talent.
Despite my pessimism about King’s future, he does have some tools that this coaching staff can work with. If they are successful at unlocking those tools and making him into a valuable reserve on defense, it’s going to be a strong litmus test that the Falcons are in very good hands moving forward.