Deion Sanders has long been a fan of and believer in cornerback DeAndre Baker.
Before the legal mess that nearly derailed Baker’s pro football career and his life, Sanders spent enough time talking with Baker to believe the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award winner would make it as a pro.
“I told several teams when he came out of college, you better get that boy and they said, ‘Why do you say that?’ Because I sat down, I spoke to him,” said Sanders, who spoke to Yahoo Sports on behalf of Subway’s Contactless Curbside pick-up.
“He’s gonna be one of the best players in the game. I said that when he came out and several teams still passed up on him.”
Now, Sanders says he hasn’t spoken to Baker in a couple of years, which means Baker can’t fully explain everything that has happened to him following a difficult rookie season with the New York Giants, who released him in September after he was accused of robbing people at a Miami-area party in May. The charges were dropped last week.
Yet Sanders says he saw enough from Baker back then to remain bullish on the young corner’s prospects.
“Tremendous gifts coming out of Georgia, very aggressive, very forthcoming — he wanted action and he prepared,” Sanders said. “But the next level is the next level; you’ve got to be a professional not only on the field, but off the field. Oftentimes, people that migrate from certain areas don’t understand that command of being professional on the field and off the field, so I think he learned a valuable lesson. I can’t wait to see him over the next few years because I’m sure he’s going to get it together now, because he’s learned his lesson.”
And why is “Prime Time” so confident in that? Because he says he received a call from someone close to Baker recently — “It was somebody from his team that I know very closely, one of my boys,” he said — who asked Sanders for his thoughts on possible landing spots for the 23-year-old.
“They read off several teams to me that wanted his services, and my response was, ‘Why would you go to Houston, some of those other teams where a couple of them weren’t winning at all?’” Sanders said. “Why would you do that, when every play, every first down, is vital?’”
Sanders suggested, quite strongly, that Baker prioritize winning games and personal growth more than anything, which meant signing with one club in particular.
“Why wouldn’t you go to someone [that’s winning] like Kansas City ... where you get to really see and experience winning?” Sanders said. “You’ve just come off some bull-junk, losing psychologically and emotionally and personally, and you’ve got to have some winning in your life.
“So my recommendation was, ‘Hey man, tell the kid to go sign with Kansas City.’”
And perhaps not coincidentally, Sanders suspects, Baker eventually reached an agreement to join Kansas City’s practice squad last Tuesday.
For the Chiefs, who improved to 9-1 with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday night, the appeal is obvious. Baker is a physical press corner with ball skills, one who fits their defensive scheme. The club’s intent is to let him get comfortable in Kansas City and accustomed to the playbook before calling him up to the active roster for the stretch run, a source told Yahoo Sports.
Sanders says Baker will also benefit as much from being in the Chiefs’ orbit as the Chiefs will benefit from the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2019.
The internal support system in Kansas City is strong, as Baker will play for a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid and a proven general manager in Brett Veach, all while playing with the likes of Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Mahomes.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the latter. Sanders once parlayed a one-year deal in 1994 with Super Bowl hopeful San Francisco into a Defensive Player of the Year Award and a massive free agency contract the next offseason. So he recognizes how the opportunity to play with Mahomes will significantly help Baker’s career.
“Your best years for a defensive back, oftentimes, are going to be parallel with the offensive team that he has because you’re up by 14, you’re up by 20,” Sanders said. “When I was with ’Frisco, all [offenses] had to do was throw — they couldn’t be choosy about which side they threw to. And we dominated.
“The hardest matchups for me was when I played in Atlanta, and we were getting our butts kicked but you still had [to watch] the run, and the [offenses] had the luxury to do whatever they wanted to do to you and pick and choose. But they can’t pick and choose when you’re up.”
Where Baker’s career goes from here is completely up to him. Now that he is with an established winner, Sanders says the arrow is pointing up on his future.
“He has work to do but he’s willing to work,” Sanders said. “And as long as he’s in the locker room with Tyrann Mathieu, he’s in a good place.”
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