‘Roughrider’ Kyle Fuller is the NFL’s most dangerous CB

Khalil Mack is one of the baddest men on the planet. Akiem Hicks is a top-five interior defensive lineman, and Eddie Jackson is a top-three safety. But no one sets the tone of the Bears’ defense like cornerback Kyle Fuller.

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Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller has turned into one of the NFL’s most violent hitters.

AP Photos

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack is one of the baddest men on the planet. Akiem Hicks is a top-five interior defensive lineman and Eddie Jackson a top-three safety.

But no one sets the tone of the Bears’ defense like cornerback Kyle Fuller, who’s proving to be one of the most violent hitters, pound-for-pound, in the NFL.

“I’ve never seen a corner with that type of mindset,” safety Tashaun Gipson, a nine-year veteran, said Friday. “It’s refreshing to know that, one, your corner’s not scared to tackle, but your corner’s laying boom-sticks, hit-sticks on people.”

Fuller does it with all the emotion of a shark.

“He’ll knock a guy out and just walk off,” Gipson said. “I’ve never seen a dude lay boom-hits and he doesn’t have any reaction after that. It’s kind of like, ‘It’s normal.’ ”

Some cornerbacks, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said, “make business decisions when it comes to tackling.” Others, he said, play “cat coverage — I’ve got that cat, and you guys handle the rest of the stuff.”

Fuller does neither.

“You’ve got to be a rough rider,” Pagano said. “He’s a rough rider.”

Fuller will never say so himself. Since the start of summer camp, he has granted one interview, a four-minute conference call last month in which he seemed to try melting into the floor to escape questioning.

“The more you’re around Kyle, you just real-ize that his personality, he’s always at a 2 [out of 10],” Gipson said. “His intensity might never get past a 4. A 4 is pushing it, man. But the man can flat-out ball. And when you’re talking about physical cornerbacks, he’s never shied away from contact.”

It’s cliché to say Fuller’s play does the talking for him, but he’s chattier on the field than he is off it. As the defense’s de facto captain, he has long conversations with officials between plays — particularly when a call has gone against him.

In the second quarter Sunday against the Panthers, Fuller lowered his shoulder to hit receiver Keith Kirkwood and force an incompletion at the 27-yard line. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness, even though replay showed shoulder-to-shoulder contact. He got a similar penalty in Week 1 — and a fine — for hitting the Lions’ T.J. Hockenson.

He thought he was the victim of another flag in Week 5 when he lowered his shoulder into Buccaneers running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s chest after Vaughn caught a pass, forcing a game-changing fumble that was recovered by linebacker Robert Quinn. After officials huddled, they picked up the flag.

That probably should have happened Sunday, too, on the latest of Fuller’s soul-crushing hits on Kirkwood.

“They’re textbook when you slow them down,” Pagano said. “I think it’s impossible to officiate.”

The next opponent knows what’s coming.

“[Fuller has] made a lot of plays where teams are running these crossing routes, and he’s able to kind of get the perfect target and really blow those things up,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He’s a complete player. . . . You can see this guy studies, understands exactly what to expect. Has great short space quickness, great ball skills. There’s nothing he can’t do.”

The Bears drafted Fuller 14th overall in 2014, one spot behind the player they coveted, Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Fuller seemed headed toward a career like that of another current Ram, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, a 2016 first-rounder whom the Bears cast off after four disappointing seasons. After three underwhelming years from Fuller, the Bears declined his fifth-year option. But he pulled out of his tailspin in time and was a star in 2017. The Bears gave him the transition tag the following March, matching a lucrative offer from the rival Packers.

Fuller has only gotten better since getting a big second contract — a rarity in the NFL. In 2018, he tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. This year, he’s stating his case as the NFL’s most dangerous cornerback.

Pagano is just as impressed by what Fuller did five plays after his big hit on Kirkwood on Sunday — toppling quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on a second-and-goal zone read in which Fuller was the only player standing between Bridgewater and the end zone. The Panthers eventually settled for a field goal.

The play reminded Pagano of one during the Thanksgiving game last year, when Fuller tripped up Lions running back J.D. McKissic on third-and-one from the 4 in a tied game. The Lions kicked a field goal; the Bears scored a touchdown and left Detroit 24-20 winners.

“That was a game-changer,” Pagano said. “Who knows what if you don’t make that?”

The Bears will never find out.

“You are what you put on film,” rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “I feel like that’s what he’s been putting out there — that he’s going to hit you. People definitely think twice coming across the middle or coming across on his side when they can’t necessarily see him. It definitely puts a little thought into their mind.”

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