MOBILE, Ala. — Desmond King could have turned pro last year. In many ways, he was ready.
An Iowa cornerback who played his prep football at East English Village Academy, King led the Big Ten with eight interceptions in 2015 and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.
But when King sat down after the season to consider his options, he decided to return for his senior year for one particular reason: to get the degree he promised his mother he’d finish when he left home three years earlier.
“Getting my degree was my first priority and that’s something I really take pride in,” King said this week at the Senior Bowl. “Just being the first out of my family to go to college and graduate, and also I have two degrees. I was a double major and I just graduated this past December, so that’s something I really felt that I needed to have.”
King finished degrees in African-American studies and broadcast journalism and said he hopes to land an analyst job one day down the road.
For now, that dream will have to wait so he can pursue another one — the NFL.
At the Senior Bowl this week, King reaffirmed his place as one of the better defensive back prospects in the country.
Most analysts predict King will go somewhere in the first three rounds of April’s draft, though there is some debate over whether he’ll play cornerback or move to safety as a pro.
“My thoughts on playing the safety at the next level, it’s going to be tough,” King said. “That’s a part of it. But it’s going to be tough at every position, and it gives you a sort of accountability for the defense, whether putting people in different coverages and different positions. So it’s basically going to be on you. You’re like a quarterback in the back end. Playing safety is a real good task, and I don’t mind playing it.”
King spent the week in Mobile playing right cornerback, typically with the starting defense on the North team, where he played opposite Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, his former Detroit Police Athletic League teammate with the Westside Cubs.
“He’s going to be a playmaker,” Lewis said of King. “He’s going to get that ball. He’s a ball hawk. He’s always been a ball hawk. Even in high school he had 10 picks a season. I think he leads the state in picks, of all time, I think, probably for the record. Definitely he’s going to be a playmaker wherever he goes. He’s going to make a difference immediately.”
Though King lacks ideal measurables — he checked in at a shade over 5-feet-10 and 206 pounds at Senior Bowl weigh-ins — he has more toughness and better ball skills than most cornerbacks.
As a prep, King set a Michigan High School Athletic Association record with 29 career interceptions. At Iowa, he had 14 interceptions in four seasons as a starter.
At the Senior Bowl this week, King showed off some of his instincts and physical play. According to Pro Football Focus, he forced three incomplete passes in 10 one-on-one snaps during the first two practices (while allowing five catches) and graded out as the second-best North team cornerback behind Lewis in 11-on-11 drills.
“Just having a knack for the ball and being in the right position, that’s something that I really worked on,” King said. “Ball skills, instincts, things like that that help me on the field and in the classroom.”
King said he’s open to playing either cornerback or safety in the NFL, and he said it’d be “really awesome” to play for a Detroit Lions team that he grew up rooting for.
“The more you can do, the better,” King said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re at on the field. As long as you can come in and contribute as soon as possible and contribute to the team’s success, that’s what counts.”