Kevin King impacts games. He’ll give up touchdowns or first downs and he’ll leap up to intercept or knock down a critical pass in a big spot. If he were a rookie, we’d call it growing pains or the learning curve of the NFL, but because this is technically Year 3—and because the Green Bay Packers could have drafted hometown favorite T.J. Watt instead—King’s play draws only criticism for his mistakes.
The four interceptions, just one off the league lead, go unnoticed by fans. His 13 PBU’s, the same combined numbers as Stephon Gilmore, apparently don’t count. For those who say they aren’t seeing the flashes, they’re stuck in the confirmation bias, only remembering the bad. And in fairness, there’s plenty of bad. According to Pro Football Focus, King’s 790 yards allowed are the most by a cornerback this season. His 96.6 passer rating allowed is below average (though not terrible overall) and his four touchdowns allowed are tied for ninth most in the league.
For the Packers’ part, they’ve stuck with him, showing no signs of a competition for King’s starting spot, whether it’s Tramon Williams, Tony Brown or anyone else. They’ve put their faith in the former second-round pick. It’s time for him to repay that faith.
Plenty of plays where King draws the ire of fans don’t fall on his shoulders. The touchdown in Week 2 against the Vikings where he appeared to give up a long score actually falls on Jaire Alexander, who couldn’t quite get back to the middle of the field, his responsibility, to help King. A similar issue led to the George Kittle touchdown. King technically was the closest defender, but it wasn’t solely his responsibility to man up with Kittle in coverage. In fact he should have had help to the middle on both plays.
In real time, particularly watching live on television, those types of intricacies often go unnoticed, as do his big plays. King thrived in his matchup with Alshon Jeffery in a game Green Bay lost. Interceptions against the Cowboys and Vikings essentially sealed those games and his pick of Daniel Jones on Sunday came on the very next drive after allowing a touchdown.
These are real, tangible signs of progress. Between Alexander and King, no tandem in the league has disrupted more passes. What’s more, Alexander’s rating when targeted isn’t significantly better (93.2) but he gets the bigger benefit of the doubt for myriad reasons.
Why do we treat King as if he’s significantly more experienced than Alexander when talking about their development? Alexander started as many games last year, 11, as King did in his first two seasons combined due to injury. In other words, they came into the season with the exact same number of starts under their belt.
Yet, we dismiss Alexander’s missteps because of age, and of course his demeanor overall, but we don’t with King. But in terms of splash plays, King has his running mate beat this season even if Alexander’s “almost” plays are also pretty spectacular.
All of that said, King’s inconsistencies hurt the team more often and in more impactful ways. Too often, he’s playing soft, off coverage. It’s easier for the twitchy, lightning quick Alexander to get away with that when Mike Pettine dials up a zone defense. But in King, where is the dog we saw in training camp last season who wanted to battle Davante Adams every rep? The guy who presses and plays physically?
For the Packers to reach the heights they seek, this is the player they’ll require. And we have seen it in flashes over the last few years even going back to his rookie year. He’s still a little too content to play off, despite his length and size serving as key assets. They can’t be assets if he doesn’t use them.
None of this excuses the inconsistent play, but it serves as an explanation for some of it. King is still a young player figuring the NFL out, just like Alexander (and Josh Jackson for that matter). But now he’s 22 starts into his career. He’s a veteran now and his team has a chance to compete for a Super Bowl. For the Packers defense to handle playoff level offenses, King needs to be the guy we have only seen in flashes, but on a more regular basis.
It’s not time to give up on King. But it is time for him to prove himself and elevate this defense the way his talent hints he can.