FOXBORO, Mass. — As an undrafted rookie, cornerback D.J. Killings is inherently a long shot to make an NFL roster.
But undrafted cornerbacks have had an unusual amount of success in the past with the New England Patriots. Malcolm Butler is the most famous example, but Randall Gay and Kyle Arrington came before him, and Jonathan Jones made the team as a rookie free agent last season. So, in signing with the Patriots, Killings has a better chance to crack an NFL roster than most undrafted cornerbacks.
One anecdote Killings, 21, told Tuesday in his first meeting with the media gave a glimpse into why the Patriots brought him on and gave him $31,000 guaranteed at signing.
Shaquill Griffin, a teammate at Central Florida and a 2017 third-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks, called Killings a “genius” during the pre-draft process.
“It was a little overboard,” Killings said laughing. “But that was me at UCF. I was the one who had to make sure everyone was straight. I was the one that set the calls from the defense all the way from the corner side. Sometimes Shaquill would look at me from the other side of the field and look like, ‘What we doing?’ And I’d give him the hand signal or something. I just put that all on me. I knew I was very capable of doing it. Just rolling that on over to here. You’re learning more and more and more and more every day. All it takes is just extra work and then it will just come to me.”
Film study is important in New England. And to “do your job” with the Patriots, you obviously must know what your job is.
The Patriots also showed interest in Griffin during the pre-draft process. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio worked out both players at UCF.
“That was like me and Shaq’s third or fourth workout together during that whole process,” Killings said. “It went really good. He did a lot of unorthodox things. He did a lot of things that other teams didn’t do. Me and Shaquil were like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But I see why now that I’m here. This is way different.”
So, what exactly did the workout entail?
“Putting us in positions on the field to where it was like game situations,” Killings said. “It wasn’t just W drill, the regular T plant or anything like that. It was real game situations that I’m running with my back turned, and he’s telling me to break either way or put me at the slot position and doing the whip route, practicing from the slot. After that workout, we were like, ‘Yeah, that’s football right there.'”
That workout prepared the 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback for life as a Patriot. He said he hasn’t been surprised by anything since coming to New England. They even do the same grueling warmup that Caserio put him through at the workout.
“I’m not really a ‘get surprised’ type, ‘get excited’ type,” Killings said. “Just take it as it comes and just work.”
Killings said “taking coaching” and “playing man” are his biggest strengths as a player. His hard work already is paying off, making a multiple pass breakups during his first organized team activities session with the whole team.
Butler, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe are locks to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, leaving Killings competing with Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Kenny Moore and Dwayne Thomas for what’s likely just two more spots on the roster. Killings certainly fits the Patriots’ mold. Now he’ll try to follow in the footsteps of Gay, Arrington, Butler, Jones and more before him.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images