ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Kyle Fuller was at his best, so was Vic Fangio's defense.
After his first three seasons in Chicago as the team's defensive coordinator, Fangio put together his magnum opus in 2018 as he helped lead the Bears to 12 wins, a division title and the league's top scoring defense.
Fuller, who signed a one-year deal with the Broncos last week, was one of three first-team All-Pros on the Bears' defense that year and arguably its best defensive player. His seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed led the team — and the rest of the NFL.
"The last year we were together there, he had a Pro Bowl season, where he was up there in interceptions, leading the league," Fangio said after Fuller signed his deal. "He had a bunch of [passes defensed] that year. The combination of both led the league in 2018. He is a guy that will tackle and will hit from the corner position. We're going to do everything we can to get Kyle back to that 2018 form."
While at his best that season, Fuller made game-changing plays for the Bears. Rather than always tailing the receiver for which he was responsible, he showed a knack for understanding when to play the ball. That trait allowed him to undercut some routes and fall off of the receiver in others in order to snag interceptions.
Once Fuller secured the interception, he showed a natural ability and quickness that let him turn the takeaways into positive yardage for Chicago. In a Week 6 game against Miami that season, Fuller added 35 yards to go with his pair of interceptions.
Fuller, who added another Pro Bowl berth in 2019 after Fangio became the head coach in Denver, also did most of his work while matched up against teams' top receivers. A 2018 interception against the Giants came in coverage against Odell Beckham Jr., while he secured a red-zone interception in 2019 against the Broncos in coverage of Emmanuel Sanders. The 5-foot-11 player's ability to cover receivers with a variety of body types should bode well for his ability to help Denver's secondary.
That help should come in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the Broncos surely hope Fuller can bring his ball production with him from the Windy City. As we wrote earlier this week, Ronald Darby has strong coverage skills and an ability to knock passes away, but he hasn't racked up interceptions during his career. Fuller, meanwhile, has recorded at least three interceptions in three of his first six seasons. His 2020 campaign remains his only season with as few as one interception.
The Broncos, to put it mildly, have lacked in their ability to take the ball away from the other team. Denver's 10 interceptions in 2020 were tied for 23rdin the league, and five of those picks came via Justin Simmons. Bryce Callahan added a pair — including a well-timed snag against the Chargers at home — but no other player had more than one interception.
If Fuller could post a 2021 season similar to his 2018 campaign, it would be unparalleled in more than a decade of Broncos football. Simmons' five interceptions were the most in a season by a Bronco since 2009, when Andre' Goodman also snagged five picks. Champ Bailey's 10 interceptions in 2006 and eight interceptions in 2005 represent the last time a Bronco has surpassed Fuller's seven picks from 2018. Even a more moderate output would likely be welcome, assuming Simmons continues his strong play. If both Simmons and Fuller could reach the three interception mark, they would be the first set of Broncos teammates to do so since Simmons and Chris Harris Jr. hit the mark in 2018. Aqib Talib and Darian Stewart previously accomplished the feat in 2016. Not since 2014 — Talib and Rahim Moore — have a pair of Broncos each recorded four picks in a season.
The addition of Fuller should do more than just bolster Denver's takeaway numbers; It will also give the team some assurance. Denver's secondary was battered in 2020, as top cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan missed 15 combined games. Fuller, meanwhile, has largely managed to stay healthy during his NFL career. Save for the 2016 season, which he missed due to injury, Fuller has appeared in all 96 of his other games — starting the last 94 — since entering the league as the 14th-overall pick in 2014.
His transition into Denver's defense should be smooth, as he's reunited with Fangio's scheme.
"He has familiarity with the scheme from his days in Chicago," Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker said. "He's a fast processor on the field. He really thinks things through."
Perhaps the biggest question will be if Fuller remains in Denver longer than one year. He said during his introductory press conference that the 2021 season would "tell a lot" in regards to the direction his career takes.
For at least 2021, though, Fuller will patrol the sideline looking to make the same game-changing plays that he did just three years ago.
"I'm going to always try to go out there and be my best," Fuller said. "That's something I can shoot for. [My goal is] really to just go out there and be my best."