For late draft picks, versatility (or lack thereof) is often the difference between long and short NFL careers. Many of those taken in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds have to earn their keep by prospering on special teams; some need to change positions, or alter their playing styles, or bounce around the league until the right opportunities present themselves.
Rookie defensive back Akeem King, selected by the Falcons at 249th overall, understands nothing is guaranteed. And with a chance to help a franchise in transition, the San Jose State alum is prepared to take on whatever role he can.
"This last season, I played the full year at safety, and I was mainly the down safety in the box and stuff, so definitely already accustomed to all that stuff," said King, who was drafted by Atlanta as a CB. "So if they want me at corner, nickel or safety, I could play either one of those."
Given the Falcons' current depth chart, such a mindset may be necessary for King to make an appreciable difference. Cornerback is already log-jammed, especially with the addition of second-rounder Jalen Collins; the safety picture is somewhat blurry, however that doesn't mean there's a lack of competition.
Understandably, King will shuffle around to multiple spots while the coaches attempt to optimize their lineup. If he can adjust to different roles, some of which he may be foreign to him, it could make a lasting impression on the man in charge of setting Atlanta's 53-man roster.
The Falcons' 2016 roster is constantly evolving and we've amassed all the players in one gallery that will be updated throughout the year
"We got a number of guys this spring that we're kind of finding and seeing all the value that a guy can have," head coach Dan Quinn said of his secondary. "We're trying to use that versatility: who can play corner, who can play safety, who can play nickel. That's really what this time of the year is going to be about to try and find out more information."
Although he moved to safety during his final year at San Jose State, King's skill set makes him a logical fit at corner. With a 6-foot-1 frame and a physical playing style, he has the tools needed to thrive in man coverage.
Nonetheless, his most important assignment is clear regardless of the position he assumes.
"Definitely eliminating the big play. That's what they harp on the most," King said. "Don't get beat deep … I'm just trying to work on the step kick out of our press release right now, so that's probably the biggest thing I'm trying to work on right now is just getting my steps right out of press technique.
"But as far as getting, staying over the top, I mean, I can run, so it's not a problem for me."
Indeed, King can run: He turned in a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at his pro day — better than all but three DB performances at the Combine. He also owns the Nipomo High School record for the 100-meter dash (10.74 seconds) and used his speed to convert from wide receiver to defense.
So the raw talent is there. Now, it's about fine-tuning his mechanics and learning a new playbook. That's where secondary coach Marquand Manuel comes in.
Manuel, who previously worked as a Seahawks assistant, enjoyed an eight-year NFL career at safety. Selected by the Bengals in the sixth round of the 2002 Draft, he understands what's required to make it as a late pick.
"He's hard on you sometimes, but he means no harm by it," King said of Manuel. "He just wants to get you further every day. That's all he's here to do is just get everybody better every day. I couldn't have asked for a better coach than Coach M."
It's not difficult to find similarities between King and many of the defensive backs Manuel trained in Seattle. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were taken in the fifth round of their respective drafts; Byron Maxwell was acquired in the sixth.
These four entered the pro ranks with a few important traits in common: size, athleticism and speed. King has a long way to go before he can be deemed a worthwhile addition, but the groundwork is certainly there.