Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears will be showcasing two young rookies who are likely to be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation for the remainder of the year – Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr and the Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Both of them have had great starts to their young careers. Barr is currently leading all rookies with four sacks and is third among rookies in tackles with 58. Fuller is leading all rookies with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, and he is the leading vote-getter among cornerbacks in the early stages of Pro Bowl voting.
Antone Exum Jr. is a rookie on the Minnesota Vikings – along with Barr – but before he was drafted he played alongside Fuller in the defensive backfield at Virginia Tech. The two were very close friends when they were playing together, and still remain close to this day.
“Me and Kyle are really close,” Exum said. “We talk almost everyday, so I’m very aware of what he is capable of on the field and he’s done a really good job this season, as well as Anthony Barr. Both of them are outstanding rookies that have taken their role and maximized it this year.”
Their roles are now filling in as playmakers for their defenses, but they did not start out that way. Both were considered to be some of the top players at their given positions coming out of college, but their playing times differed at the start of the season.
Barr, from the very start, was playing in almost all the Vikings’ defensive snaps, but Fuller started out as the third cornerback on the Bears so he would primarily play only during nickel situations. That changed in Week 2 as Charles Tillman was injured against the San Francisco 49ers and would be out for the remainder of the year.
Exum always knew that Fuller had the ability to succeed in the NFL, and when asked if he was surprised by Fuller’s success he just laughed and said he expected it the whole time. The Bears cornerback has all the strengths to make it in this league.
“I would say aggressive in the run and the pass game,” Exum said when asked to describe Fuller’s game. “Very smart and intelligent player, he uses his speed well, uses his hands well, really good with preparation – knowing what he’s going to get – playing anticipated football, things like that. Those are some of the positives about his game.”
He also has noted that Barr has all the skills that are needed for a young guy to succeed in the NFL.
“(He is) a great tackler,” Exum said of Barr. “Great balance, always around the ball, a very good pass rusher, aggressive. He’s a natural at making the big plays, so he’s a really good player.”
Those two rookies have been gaining respect from veteran players all year. And even the veteran receivers on the Vikings have seen what Fuller has been able to do, and have respect for what the rookie has been able to accomplish so far.
“He is a very good young corner,” said Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright. “I think it will be a little harder for him to catch the ball with a broken hand, but he’s definitely a good corner.”
Even with a broken hand, Fuller went out and played against the Green Bay Packers and that did not surprise Exum at all because he knows that Fuller is a tough guy. Even though he is tough, Exum is not sure how much it will affect his college teammate in the game on Sunday.
“(His broken hand) didn’t seem like it affected him at all versus Green Bay,” Exum said. “So we will just have to see. I mean he is a pretty tough guy, but I have to imagine that it would be kind of hard to catch a ball or to shed off a block, so we will see how he looks on Sunday.”
With the way Barr and Fuller have performed so far into their young careers, you can be sure that they are going to be staying in the NFC North for years to come.
Exum knows the strengths of Fuller, Barr
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