GREEN BAY - Players can often disagree with outside perceptions and observations about performance or statistics. With film clips, they’ll point out nuances of calls, techniques and how they fit into the larger design of a particular play
But there is one number no one can quibble with: availability.
Either someone plays, or they don’t.
Kevin King did not shy away from that at the end of 2018, his second straight campaign that concluded on injured reserve. He didn’t hide from it personally, internally on the team or publicly with the media.
“One of his goals, like everybody else writing down their goals, his goal was to play,” Packers secondary coach Jason Simmons said. “He wanted to play all 16 and then what happens after that.”
A career-high 15 games later — the exact number King played his previous two years combined — and with the playoffs looming, the 24-year-old cornerback and the Packers can say that ownership he took in the offseason and throughout the regular season returned a high yield.
“It definitely had paid off just in terms of that, in terms of being healthy throughout the year, being available for my team in that aspect,” King said. “With that being said, I still have a ways to go. Still have things in your routine that you try to refine each and every year. You just gotta stay on it. Sometimes when you see a result people tend to say OK, that’s it. Just gotta keep adding to it, keep building.”
Teammate Jaire Alexander trained with King in the offseason, seeing first hand the foundational work King put into a body that had been beaten up in 685 defensive snaps over 2017 and 2018.
This year? King played 805, according to the Pro Football Focus analytics service .
“Kev has been real focused, real determined to go out there and make a name for himself,” Alexander said. “I think he’s done a real good job, for real. Just to see his availability last year, the year before, and for him to come out and play as much as he did and making a big impact for our defense and our secondary, that’s exciting to see. But he put in a lot of work.”
The work translated to game days, during which he had a career-high five interceptions. That total tied him (with eight other players) for fourth in the NFL, one shy of the league lead (shared by three players). He also finished with 56 tackles and a team-high 15 pass breakups (tied for ninth in the league).
“The Kevin King kid, he’s a good player,” said an opposing offensive coach who game-planned for the Packers in 2019. “He’s not someone we were scared of or anything like that, but we definitely had respect for him. He’s a good, high-level corner in the league.”
Pro Football Focus graded King out essentially in the middle of all cornerbacks in 2019, his 62.5 rating checking at No. 68 of 125 graded players at his position. The grade was a career-high, however, and his completion percentage allowed and quarterback rating in his direction compared favorably with Alexander's.
But, King and Simmons were quick to acknowledge it wasn’t the steadiest of seasons.
“I think it showed flashes,” King said of his play. “I definitely showed flashes. Now I gotta be more consistent.”
According to PFF, King’s coverage had its peaks and valleys with just a handful of steady games in-between.
His highest grades were:
Minnesota in Week 16 (83.7)
Los Angeles Chargers (75.7)
Minnesota in Week 2 (74.5)
His lowest were:
Detroit in Week 6 (27.9)
San Francisco (36.3)
Kansas City (43.4)
That's to be expected to a degree, considering how infrequently King played his first two years.
“He’s got some ups, he’s got some downs, but the deal is though, we’re a better football team when Kevin King dresses,” Simmons said. “So we’re happy to see it.”
After injuring his right hamstring in early August, King essentially missed a month before returning to practice a few days before the opener in Chicago on Sept. 5.
Since then he has been listed with hamstring, chest, groin, knee and shoulder injuries and an illness. He missed only three practices, however, and was limited only 16 times. In four weeks he did not appear on the injury report at all. He was doubtful with a groin injury before the game in Dallas but played and was held out of the Washington game for precautionary reasons.
Now, as he prepares for his first playoff game in the NFC divisional round Jan. 12 — and the most football he has played in one season in his life — he feels like the start of 2020 will be his best to date.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I definitely feel good,” King said. “I feel I’m healthy. No major issues. And got time to take care of the minor things. But yeah, I feel good. The past few weeks I’ve felt very comfortable and that’s huge going into this playoff run. Just that mental stability. That’s a big part of playing corner, is confidence and just believing in yourself. Even if a guy beats you one time, just sticking to your technique. Things like that are huge. The mentality is huge.”