Defensive back Kyle Fuller speaks to the media during the 2014… (Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports )
INDIANAPOLIS — Tavon Austin accelerated to the top of the St. Louis Rams' draft board a year ago when the former Dunbar star emerged as the eighth overall pick of the first round.
Now, another former Baltimore high school football standout is in the conversation as one the better NFL draft prospects and hopes to follow a similar path to Austin.
Virginia Tech cornerback and Mount St. Joseph graduate Kyle Fuller has been projected as high as the Pittsburgh Steelers' 15th overall pick of the first round by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. If Fuller isn't selected in the first round, draft analysts don't expect Fuller to be available after the second round.
Fuller is generally ranked third at his position behind Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with Mayock grading him ahead of Texas Christian cornerback Jason Verrett and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby.
"I would love to go in the first round, that's one of my goals," Fuller said Sunday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine. "All I can do is show what I can do. I can believe that I'm a first-round pick or whatever, but I'm not focused on that.
"I just have to do what I have to do. Whatever team takes me, I'll be happy to be with them. Just to continue to be one of those guys who's successful from Baltimore, it means a lot. All I can do is stay focused."
Fuller was a four-year starter for the Hokies and was named a Walter Camp second-team All-American and a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as a senior last season.
At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Fuller is aggressive and fast. He's also versatile, having lined up at several positions for Virginia Tech where he was utilized in deep coverage, blitzing and run support.
"Kyle can do it all," said former Tennessee Titans safety Vincent Fuller, Kyle's older brother, in a telephone interview. "He has such a gifted skill set. He can play multiple positions. More important, he's so instinctive.
"When you watch him play, you wonder, 'How did you know this play was about to happen.' He combines the film study and God-given instincts to know where the ball is. We're excited."
Mayock regards Fuller as a first-round talent and a lock to be drafted in the first round with the caveat that he needs to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range.
"The Fuller kid, I really like, I think he can flat-out play," Mayock said. "I just want to see what he runs. I think he's long. He tackles. He's got ball skills."
Former Dallas Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt said he considers Fuller to be a second-round pick. And former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, a draft analyst for NFL Network, had a similar take.
"I don't think he's a first-round talent, I think Fuller's a really good player," Brooks said. "I see him as a player who's long and rangy. There are some guys on the board who are a little more versatile and polished than he is."
Fuller is planning on conducting a full workout, including running the 40-yard dash, after being forced to miss the Senior Bowl while he recuperated from sports hernia surgery.
Healthy again, Fuller says he plans on running under 4.37 seconds to top the time his older brother, Detroit Lions wide receiver and Woodlawn graduate Corey Fuller, recorded last year at the combine.
"I'm very competitive, especially with my brothers," Kyle Fuller said. "That's helped me to get to where I am now. We always want to be better than the next guy, no matter how fast we are or how many plays we make. All the way back to when I was eight years old, we always loved football, going in the backyard and always wanting to play."
Growing up in a football family that includes Virginia Tech star freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller, Fuller constantly challenged himself to maintain the high standard established by his older brothers.
"It definitely makes you want to get to that level," Kyle Fuller said. "It definitely keeps you humble to continue to work hard. I believe it just shows all the hard work all of my brothers have had to get to this point, and we're just thankful and blessed for that."
That has led to strong production from Fuller.
Although he was limited to 24 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass deflections during an injury-plagued senior year, Fuller registered 52 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. He was even more active as a sophomore with 65 tackles, 14.5 for losses, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Fuller can cement his status as a potential high draft pick if he proves that he has the requisite speed.
That's a question that NFL teams want answered, according to former NFL scout Russ Lande.