The 2017 cornerback draft class featured studs like Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, Adoree’ Jackson, Gareon Conley and Marlon Humphrey, all of whom were taken in the first round. The Los Angeles Chargers opted to go wide receiver with their ninth overall pick — the loaded cornerback class meant they would be able to address the need later. And in the fifth round, they snagged PFF’s fifth-highest graded (90.1) cornerback in 2016: Iowa’s Desmond King II, who currently owns a better passer rating allowed than three of those first five corners.
King has adopted a sort of “bend, don’t break” mantra this season— he’s allowed the sixth-most receptions among cornerbacks (48) but allowed a fourth-best passer rating in slot coverage (69.6) and a 20th-best 79.7 passer rating in all coverage. Just once in his career has he allowed more than 70 yards in a game, and he’s also one of five cornerbacks in 2018 with 59 or more targets to allow one touchdown or less. It’s a pass-happy league, and King has clearly figured out how to hold targets against him for minimal gains. In fact, 38 of King’s 48 allowed receptions had been targeted at a depth of five yards or fewer, which leads all cornerbacks.
Seriously, how many NFL players can allow the sixth-most receptions (48) while giving up the 49th-most yards (404)? If King were to finish the season allowing more than 80% of his targets to be caught and a passer rating under 80.0, he would be the first cornerback to do so since at least 2006. It’s admittedly a strange combination — fans would rather see no passes completed, but King has adjusted to the 2018 passing influx. He’s played press coverage on just 18.6% of his targets, minimizing the risk of being burned deep.
King also rarely played in press coverage at Iowa, and it’s apparent that the same playstyle — while risky — can yield positive results. In Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemingly wouldn’t leave King alone. He targeted him 11 times (three more than King’s previous career-high) and completed eight of them. However, those completions went for a measly 59 yards, and King added two pass breakups as well. King's deepest target in coverage last night was just 10 yards downfield — and it fell incomplete.
This continued the theme of King's year. This season, quarterbacks have yet to test the second-year cornerback on deep throws. He’s faced just two passes targeted 20 or more yards downfield, and neither were completed (nor were they catchable).
When he’s at his very best, King is covering in the slot. He has the fourth-most snaps (322) from the slot and has picked off more passes (3) from the position than any other cornerback — not to mention; he’s the only player at the position with 300 or more snaps from the slot without surrendering a touchdown. That dominance marks him and Logan Ryan as the only two cornerbacks who have five interceptions from the slot in the past two seasons.
What King has been able to accomplish this season is nothing short of remarkable. From 2006 to 2017, there were 25 qualifying cornerbacks who, through 13 weeks, allowed a catch rate of 80 percent or higher. Only three of them had a passer rating below 100.0 — again, King’s is 79.7.
In a postgame interview after the Chargers’ narrow 33-30 victory — one in which the versatile King returned a punt for a touchdown — quarterback Philip Rivers gave him a glowing endorsement he’s mentioned before. “It’s the ultimate compliment if my dad calls you a heck of a football player.” The former fifth-round pick is certainly that, and potentially a lot more.