One of the top deep coverage cornerbacks in college football, King has also demonstrated outstanding skills performing on offense as a split end and on special teams as a gunner and returner. He has also shown the same accomplishments in the classroom, having graduated in December 2007 with a 3.0 grade point average, earning Dean's List and Academic All-Big Ten Conference accolades.
After playing on offense and defense as a true freshman, he went on to start every game at right cornerback the last two seasons. During that time, he deflected 21 passes and intercepted three others. After a stellar performance at the 2008 NFL Combine, King proved that athletically, he is more than ready to take on the daunting task of playing professional football at the young age of 20.
Playing for Penn State seemed to be a natural thing to do for King, whose step-father, Terry Smith, played as a wide receiver for head coach Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions for 1988-91. Smith would coach King during his playing days at Gateway High School. The youngster announced on the night of Nov. 15, 2004 that he would enroll at Penn State, arriving on campus in January 2005.
Shortly thereafter, King began contacting other premier players across the nation who were considering Penn State, asking them to join him to help PSU win Big Ten Conference and national championships. Within days of King's announcement, other top prep players began giving Paterno their commitments, including Derrick Williams, the nation's top-rated player. Before he finished "campaigning," King and fellow Gateway High tight end Jon Ditto were joined by 13 other prep prospects from Western Pennsylvania to wear a Nittany Lions uniform.
King was rated the nation's top cornerback and the top player in Pennsylvania at Gateway High School. He played in the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, was the 2004 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player-of-the-Year and a first-team All-State selection by numerous media outlets. He shared the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Player-of-the-Year honor and was a member of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 and the Harrisburg Patriot-News Platinum 33 squads. He was co-winner of the Mercury Award, presented annually to the top player in Western Pennsylvania, and was a Parade All-American.
King led the team to an 11-2 mark in his senior season and the Western Pennsylvania District 7 Class AAAA title game. He rushed for 1,902 yards and 33 touchdowns on 208 attempts, and also had nine receptions for 180 yards and three scores. Defensively, he collected 25 tackles and an interception. As a junior, King rushed for 1,763 yards and 29 touchdowns. For his career, he carried the ball 544 times for 4,519 yards, the third-highest total in District 7 Class AAAA history, and scored 59 touchdowns. King also was an accomplished sprinter on the track-and-field team for two years.
A Freshman All-American selection by The Sporting News as a multiple-position true freshman in 2005, King started five of 12 games as a slot receiver/split end, in addition to seeing reserve duty at right cornerback. He delivered 11 tackles (9 solos) with two pass deflections. He gained 227 yards on 18 carries (12.6 avg), 126 yards with a pair of touchdowns on 10 receptions and 40 yards on three kickoff returns (13.3 avg).
With the graduation of Anwar Phillips, King concentrated on right cornerback duties in 2006. He totaled 30 tackles (22 solos) with six pass deflections and an interception. He earned Academic All-Big Ten Conference and second-team All-Big Ten accolades.
King's 2007 season was actually two-phased, as the first-team All-Big Ten Conference pick started the year showing excellent coverage skills, allowing 18 catches for 227 yards (12.6 avg) with no touchdowns through the first six games. He did not allow any receptions vs. Illinois and Wisconsin. The second half of the campaign saw him struggle considerably, as he was charged with 490 yards and six touchdowns on 32 grabs (15.3 avg). He finished the year with 49 tackles (36 solos), 15 pass deflections, two interceptions and a fumble recovery while starting all 13 games.
King is the last Nittany Lion to play on both sides of the ball in a game (2005)...Started 31 of 38 games at Penn State, including 26 at right cornerback...Recorded 90 tackles (67 solos) with a fumble recovery, 23 pass deflections and three interceptions for 6 yards in returns...Rushed 18 times for 227 yards (12.6 avg), caught 10 passes for 126 yards (12.6 avg), including two touchdowns and returned three kickoffs for 40 yards (13.3 avg).
Attended Gateway (Pittsburgh, Pa.) High School, playing football for his step-father, former Penn State wide receiver Terry Smith...Smith also serves as the school's athletic director...Rated the nation's top cornerback and the top player in Pennsylvania...Played in the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, was the 2004 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player-of-the-Year and a first-team All-State selection by numerous media outlets...Shared the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Player-of-the-Year honor and was a member of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 and the Harrisburg Patriot-News Platinum 33 squads...Co-winner of the Mercury Award, presented annually to the top player in Western Pennsylvania, and was a Parade All-American...Led the team to an 11-2 mark in his senior season and the Western Pennsylvania District 7 Class AAAA title game...Rushed for 1,902 yards and 33 touchdowns on 208 attempts, and also had nine receptions for 180 yards and three scores. Defensively, he collected 25 tackles and an interception...As a junior, he rushed for 1,763 yards and 29 touchdowns...For his career, he carried the ball 544 times for 4,519 yards, the third-highest total in District 7 Class AAAA history, and scored 59 touchdowns...Also was an accomplished sprinter on the track-and-field team for two years.
Positives: Has a tight waist and hips, with good leaping ability and a smooth running stride...Shows proper timing moves to make plays on the ball in flight, doing a good job of extending and riding up the receiver to reach around and deflect the pass... Fluid in his backpedal, showing quickness, control and proper pad level on his breaks...Smooth turning in transition and flashes suddenness when closing...Maintains position on the receiver in man coverage, whether playing, trailing, covering or allowing cushion on the pass...Has better ball reaction skills to the thrown ball than vs. the run, showing the timing and a break on the play, with excellent hand/eye coordination to disrupt receivers in their routes...When he sees the play develop, he shows good urgency getting to the thrown ball (too reluctant to attack vs. the run, though)...Lacks the strength to be effective in press coverage, but has the speed to stay with the receiver throughout the deep patterns (needs to not allow so much cushion, though, as he is better playing off the hip of his man rather than challenging them with room)...There is almost no wasted motion in his backpedal, thanks mostly to his loose hips...Has the burst to close on plays in a hurry and gets his hands on a lot of throws due to good timing...Snatches the ball naturally as a receiver and could see playing time on offense (tends to trap the ball when going for the interception, though)...Shows good acceleration staying with receivers on deep routes...Has good hip swerve in his change of direction during man coverage and eats up a lot of ground tracking the ball in flight...Displays a better feel and awareness to instinctively react to throws in his zone than when asked to play near the line of scrimmage (gets lost in trash)...Has good suddenness in his plant-and-drive to transition quickly...Shows very good elevation when going for the high point on the thrown ball...Has the sudden closing burst to prevent long gains on throws underneath...His hip agility is evident in how quickly he can change direction without having to throttle down...Might get out-jumped by bigger receivers, but will do whatever he can to ride up on the opponent to deflect the pass.... Must develop wrap-up tackling skills, but is a decent hitter working in space...On offense, he hit the seam quickly as a receiver and has the lateral quickness to make the initial tackler miss.
Negatives: Has just adequate upper body muscle definition and while he could use more bulk on his frame, the additional weight could affect his timed speed...Has marginal strength and seems to shy away from contact when asked to provide run support...More of an ankle biter as a tackler, as he does not get in good position to wrap and secure...Takes too much chances with his cushion (too confident in his closing speed) and the bigger receivers had great success in gobbling up that cushion, getting behind him and making plays in the end zone on him in 2007...Must show better concentration on the field, as he tends to throttle down when not involved in the action and it is rare to see him search out hats working near the line of scrimmage...Must develop thicker skin, as he lets one bad play affect him throughout the game...Not a natural hands catcher and could have some vision issues, as he struggles to get in position and turn around to look the ball in on deep routes...Lacks pop on contact and is more of a drag-down type of tackling, hoping to hold on until help arrives (will let others make plays near the X's, as he refuses to get near offensive linemen)...Gets caught out of position often, especially when he eyeballs the quarterback for as long as he does...Susceptible to play-action, pump fakes and double moves (not the most instinctive guy on the field)...Makes plays on the ball rather than staying with his pass coverage assignment and while he has good timed speed, the explosive recovery burst is very inconsistent...Marginal playing in press coverage, as he will get his hands placed properly to mirror, but does not generate the punch to reroute...On the rare chances of playing in run support, blockers easily engulf him, as he does not have the upper body strength to shed or slip under blocks...Has good leaping ability, but will lose more than a fair share of jump ball battles vs. bigger receivers...Good at reaching around to deflect the pass, but a lot of those deflections could have been interceptions if he did not try to trap or body catch the ball...Questions arise about his courage, as he does not like contact, especially vs. the running game.
Compares To: ANWAR PHILLIPS-New Orleans...Like the player he replaced in the Penn State lineup, King lacks aggression in his game and does everything he can to shy away from contact or lend support to the running game. He has great timed speed, but gets overconfident with it and allows too much of a cushion. Just look at what big receivers like Ohio State's Brian Robiskie, Indiana's James Hardy and Michigan State's Devin Thomas did to him in 2007. Like Phillips and Alan Zemaitis, King has gotten great publicity at PSU, but he has to show better courage, instincts and production on the field. Honestly, with his speed and past experience, it might be wise just to convert him to receiver.
Head Coach Scott Linehan and Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Billy Devaney
Press Conference No. 2
April 27, 2008
(On fourth-round choice Justin King)
Billy Devaney: We selected Justin King, a corner from Penn State. Keeping with the theme that we set early in this process, he is a smart character guy. He is passionate and productive. This guy is a guy that meets all those requirements. Justin has good size and is a big time speed guy in the 4.37s. He’s got man cover skills. He is a smart guy. He graduated from Penn State this past December with about a 3.0 GPA. He has been a Dean’s List guy and a good character guy. We thought, especially in this point of the draft, to get a good sized corner, who can run and with that kind of smarts and character, obviously we feel really good about it.
(On King being raw)
BD: He was a wide receiver his freshman year and he went back and forth between DB and wide out. So, I wouldn’t say that he is raw, he has started every game his last two years at corner, but his background is on offense. So that’s the only thing we could think of and obviously we don’t view that as a negative because the way we look at it, he will only get better, the more he plays at corner.
(On how he compares to Jonathan Wade)
Scott Linehan: I think he made the move a little sooner than Jonathan (Wade). He has been playing corner since the end of his freshman year. He played a little bit his first year, but the last few years he has pretty much primarily been a corner. He has great speed and has got the size requirements you need for the position. The great thing about this guy is that he is making those steps that you want to see him make as far as improvement from his position in college. He is an early up player that’s all part of it, that probably it more than anything. The guy already graduated from the Dean’s List which shows you that he has got a lot on the ball as far as that goes. He is a very very top notch guy with talent. I think the biggest thing is that we are adding speed to our football team at the skill positions and really it is going to be vital to our ability to win. We’ve drafted two skill guys that can flat fly now.
(On King’s return ability because of his speed)
SL: He has done some returning. I think that he has a chance, but he has done some. It’s not going to be his primary position but he will definitely get a chance there, just like I think Donnie (Avery) will get some shots in there returning too, maybe kickoff returning.
(On King’s ability to play inside)
BD: He has been on the outside, but there is no reason he couldn’t. He is a tough guy and is smart and that is part of the requirements playing inside, so there is no reason, that if we lined him up in there, that he shouldn’t be able to play inside.
(On his physicality and his tackling ability)
SL: That is a big part of what we do. We use our corners in the run support part of things and he is a very willing tackler. He played at Penn State, so the first day of practice he was probably going through the West Point drill. He understands what’s required of corners. He is a sure tackler and he gets guys on the ground. The other thing is that I think last year he had 15 pass deflections which is a high number, which is good. He is a sticky coverage guy and is around the ball and that is a big part of his evaluation was that he had nice coverage skills.
(On how King’s speed ranked compared to other corners)
SL: He was one of the top speed guys at the position. I think he ran in the mid 4.3s in the combine. He’s got some.
(On King’s off-the-field character)
SL: These guys are all the top character grade you can get. All of them. Stay with that theme and I think we can win with that.
BD: We have been emphatic about that. When we started this process, we’ve had sort of a zero tolerance policy if you will, regardless of the level of ability. High-round guys, late-round guys, free agents, we aren’t compromising on that.
(On the King playing in the Big Ten)
SL: It always helps. The level of competition, fairly or unfairly, is always a big part of it. This guy has been playing in one of the best conferences in football and is playing at a high level. We just really think a lot of him.
(On the rest of the draft, addressing needs or best player available)
BD: It is a little bit of both. You want to stick to your board as much as possible now because it starts really falling apart and if you have a guy graded at a certain position even if it’s not a primary need position right now, the gap now becomes so big that you can really violate the process if you start drafting just need specific. We’re going to stick to the board as much as possible hoping that there’s options there of course, but we will stick to the board as much as we can.
(On why they chose a corner)
SL: I just think corners are a position that you really need to put yourself in good position with. You got to have four. You really have to feel good about having four corners going into each game, if there is such a thing. Sometimes you have to go with three but you’d like to start the year with five if you could. Corners are a commodity. We have a division that is challenging match up wise. You get guys that can that have good coverage skills and can do all the other things and can play, then that definitely helps us.
(On King being ready right away)
SL: I think that it is going to be a while. We will see. I always go back to other players. I thought Jonathan (Wade) started off very well last year and then took some development and came on to play better at the end of the year and really contributed on special teams. You don’t really set a time table for these young, skilled athletes. I think you’ve got to have a little bit of patience. It is unrealistic to think that he is going to do anything right away. I promise you that he will be starting off on core special teams and learning the position and when he is ready, we’ll put him out there. We have a little bit of depth there on the roster so we can be a little smart and patient with the guy. I think that is a luxury we have right now.
(On cornerback competition)
SL: There is going to be great competition. That’s the one comment I made upstairs. This is a great pick and we’ve got some great competition at corner. That’s never a bad thing, seeing your abilities when the competition heats up.