The Michigan State Spartans and head coach Mel Tucker have been busy in the transfer portal throughout the offseason, and one of the latest incoming additions is former Florida cornerback Chester Kimbrough. Kimbrough committed to the Spartans earlier this month and is expected to join the program in the summer.
In an effort to get a better idea of what the former Florida Gator is bringing with him to East Lansing, I reached out to Zach Goodall, publisher and beat reporter for Sports Illustrated-FanNation’s AllGators, and good buddy of mine from our time together at Big Cat Country.
Zach is one of the brightest up-and-comers on the Florida and college football beats, and I truly value his analysis and opinions. So what are his thoughts on Kimbrough? Let’s dive in.
1. Chester Kimbrough earned immediate playing time as a true freshman at Florida in 2019, but seemed to fall out of the defensive back rotation a bit for the Gators in 2020. While he did appear in nine games total in 2020, why did he seemingly fall out of favor with Florida head coach Dan Mullen, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and company?
Zach: I can’t speak to Kimbrough’s lack of usage specifically — perhaps it was due to his size — but he did take nine fewer defensive snaps this past season (118) than his flashy true freshman year (127). Pro Football Focus tabbed Kimbrough for allowing just five receptions on 12 targets for 65 yards in 2019, and he particularly made his mark by allowing two receptions for 14 yards on five targets in the Orange Bowl.
Florida was reluctant to make personnel changes in its lackluster secondary and across its entire defense throughout the season, and he might have simply fallen victim to that. That could be seen as fellow sophomore Jaydon Hill couldn’t hang onto a starting role despite outperforming redshirt junior Marco Wilson at cornerback. I can think of two times where Kimbrough struggled: He allowed an 82-yard touchdown in press coverage, where he stumbled, against Arkansas in garbage time, and he missed two tackles against Texas A&M. Kimbrough had recorded a pass breakup against South Carolina the week before facing the Aggies, so maybe Florida was disappointed in how he responded to expanded opportunities. The sample size is far too little for all hope to be lost, though.
2. Kimbrough has experience playing both on the outside and in the slot, but given his smaller frame at 5-foot-11, 167 pounds, do you think his role is best suited in the nickel/slot position, or can he hold his own outside, similar to what former Michigan State cornerback, and current Jacksonville Jaguar, Josiah Scott did as a smaller defensive back?
Zach: I’ve thought Kimbrough’s size made him a better fit to play slot cornerback for Florida, but he only obtained 12 snaps in the nickel over the past two years. I think he’s nimble enough to hang with shifty slot receivers and has the speed to keep up, but he obviously would struggle with setting the edge against the run and covering larger-framed receivers and tight ends, if he were put in those situations. Ideally, he needs to add some weight regardless of where he plays.
3. What traits does Kimbrough possess that you like? What areas do you think he needs to work on?
Zach: I will say, despite his size, Kimbrough is a physical football player. He likes to use his hands in coverage, in moderation to avoid penalties, to throw his opposition at receiver off of his route and slow the play down, forcing the quarterback elsewhere. That could explain minimal targets being thrown his way when he did play throughout the 2020 season, as quarterbacks threw at Kimbrough just four times compared to 12 in 2019. Beyond the Texas A&M game, Kimbrough wasn’t a liability as a tackler and found himself as the first tackler in a gang of defenders with a good approach to form tackling. I truly think it all comes down to whether or not he’s capable of putting on another 10 pounds or so, because the technique, athleticism, and willingness to be physical traits are all there.
4. Given the attrition in the secondary for Michigan State this offseason, Kimbrough will likely find an immediate role as a starter or heavy rotation player. While you may not be too familiar with Michigan State, do you think Kimbrough is a good fit in East Lansing, both on the field and in the locker room?
Zach: I can’t speak to Kimbrough’s locker room character as the media never got to speak with him during his time at Florida. There were never any causes for concern throughout his two seasons with the Gators that were of public knowledge or made known to us from team sources. Kimbrough and his fellow defensive backs at Florida appeared to get along well on social media.
5. Anything else of note Michigan State fans should know regarding Kimbrough?
Zach: Kimbrough has a higher vertical jump on record (36.5 inches) than the average NFL cornerback (35.8 inches), a testament to his athleticism. His 20-yard shuttle time (4.2 seconds) is right on par with the average NFL cornerback (4.18 seconds). Fun fact: Kimbrough’s vertical jump comes in slightly over half of his height (71 inches).