Deandre Baker was an unheralded Georgia Bulldogs player who won the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.
He was so good he didn’t allow a touchdown pass for two years.
That all changed when he began playing in the National Football League.
Baker earned a reputation as a slacker who took plays off and didn’t take his craft seriously.
Worse, he was involved in an alleged robbery incident that tarnished his name.
However, it could be fate’s way of intervening and straightening him out for good.
The New York Giants, who made him the 30th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, released him.
Baker is currently on the active roster of the Kansas City Chiefs.
It just goes to show fate can give you a second lease on life just when you least expect it.
Deandre Jeffrey Lamar Baker was born to parents Andre and Chemika in Miami, FL on September 4, 1997.
Baker has had an insatiable passion for football ever since he was born.
In fact, he’d watch entire football games when he was just an infant.
“When he was an infant, he used to sit up and watch football games like he was already a teenager,” Andre Baker told the Ledger-Enquirer’s Jordan D. Hill some two decades later when Deandre was a sophomore cornerback for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Baker family wholeheartedly supported Deandre’s passion for the gridiron.
Well-meaning people urged baker to work hard on the field and in the classroom so he could establish a bright future.
His father, Andre, instilled the discipline he needed.
The older Baker told his son to do two hundred to three hundred push-ups every night to build him up physically, per Hill.
Florida, being a football state, was conducive to Deandre Baker’s growth and development.
Baker played football with future college stars Shemar Smith, Keyshawn Young, Keir Thomas, and Antonio Callaway. They helped sharpen Baker’s skills on the gridiron.
However, on the other side of the spectrum, Baker was also surrounded by malcontents, thugs, and delinquents who made Miami a dangerous place to live.
Congrats to former Liberty City Warrior and Northwestern Bull Deandre Baker (@Rip_Shod23) for winning the Jim Thorpe Award which goes to the best defensive back in all of college football. #WarriorsOfLibertyCity pic.twitter.com/mTymBfWHYZ
— Evan Rosenfeld (@evansss) December 7, 2018
Eddie Brown, who was Baker’s coach during his senior year at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, told Hill it wasn’t uncommon for someone in the area who hung out at school or the football field to get killed.
Worse, it was a trend that occurred every month.
Brown told the Ledger-Enquirer in November 2016 Baker was fortunate to have a support system that kept him out of the streets.
Football also helped keep Brown on the narrow and straight path.
As early as sixth grade, he realized his potential on the gridiron could help him secure an education and a bright future.
“In Miami, football is the only way out,” Baker told Hill.
Baker started out as a wide receiver for the Northwestern Bulls.
Unfortunately, the Bulls were already loaded at wide receiver.
That left Baker at the bottom of their receivers’ depth chart.
However, all wasn’t lost for Deandre Baker.
Stephen Field, Baker’s head coach during his sophomore and junior years at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, urged him to work on some defensive back drills during a summer camp at Florida State University, per Hill.
Both Field and Florida State Seminoles defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt were impressed with Baker’s showing.
The switch to defensive back was a massive and crucial paradigm shift in Deandre Baker’s football career.
He played in more snaps and helped the Bulls return to the postseason during his junior year in 2014.
That same year, Baker was an All-State track and field participant in the 200- and 400- meter dash.
It was a testament to his speed on the gridiron.
Baker eventually earned a spot in the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
He registered one tackle in that game.
As Baker’s high school football career wound down, Scout.com, ESPN.com, 247Sports.com, and Rivals.com named him a three-star prospect.
Among the three websites, ESPN.com gave him the highest national ranking.
ESPN named Baker the 56th cornerback in the nation in 2015.
On the other hand, 247Sports.com singled out Baker’s speed and recovery speed as his best assets at cornerback.
Jeremy Pruitt shares Deandre Baker story:
"He was in a line of 100 DBs & he came to one session of a camp & I pulled him over to the side, didn't know who he was, I asked him how many offers he had. He said none.
"I said you got an offer from Georgia and he said, 'I commit.'"
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) May 1, 2019
When Pruitt became the Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, he gave Baker an offer in June 2014.
Baker had no offers from other big-name schools at the time.
He immediately took up Pruitt on his offer and made his commitment to Georgia.
Baker eventually signed his National Letter of Intent with the Bulldogs on National Signing Day in 2015.
“Georgia’s a good program,” Baker told the Ledger-Enquirer. “They had a good defense and a good coach (in) Coach Pruitt. That’s how I got here.”
Deandre Baker would burst onto the scene and become a vital cog in the Georgia Bulldogs’ defense in the next few years.
College Days With the Georgia Bulldogs
Deandre Baker majored in Business at the University of Georgia.
The Bulldogs were already a college football juggernaut when Baker joined their ranks as a true freshman in 2015.
Since 1997, Georgia had won thirteen bowl games.
The Bulldogs also had won at least ten games every season during that span.
However, they hadn’t won a national title since 1980.
Could Deandre Baker finally lead the Bulldogs and their fans to the Promised Land?
Baker didn’t get off to a promising start in his college football career.
He suited up in just one game for the Bulldogs and recorded one measly tackle during his freshman season in 2015.
Georgia duplicated its 10-3 win-loss record from 2014.
Ironically, the school fired head football coach Mark Richt at the end of the season.
According to SI.com’s Zac Ellis, Richt’s failure to win SEC and national titles spelled his doom in Athens, GA.
Jeremy Pruitt, the man who helped recruit Deandre Baker to Georgia, rejoined the Alabama Crimson Tide’s coaching staff for a third time.
Pruitt took over as Alabama’s defensive coordinator position which Kirby Smart, the new Georgia head football coach, previously held.
Andre Baker told his son it was the nature of the beast in the college football coaching ranks.
In Hill’s words, “Andre stayed in his son’s ear after the moves, telling him that the coaching carousel was the nature of the sport and that it could play to his advantage.”
The Bulldogs beat the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, 24-17.
While Deandre Baker never took the field for that game, his father’s prediction would eventually come true.
The younger Baker was also patient throughout the process.
“Deandre didn’t complain at all,” Bulldogs linebacker Reggie Carter told the Ledger-Enquirer. “He knew he had to keep working and his time would come. He was very patient.”
— The CFB Source (@TheCFBSource) September 8, 2018
The coaching change was like a breath of fresh air for Deandre Baker.
He also didn’t experience any slumps during his sophomore campaign at Georgia.
On the contrary, he started two consecutive games against the Ole Miss Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers in late September 2016.
Baker was forced to sit out the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores on October 15, 2016 after he injured his right ankle against the South Carolina Gamecocks six days earlier.
Despite losing to the Florida Gators 24-10 two weeks after the South Carolina game, Baker had a coming-out party.
In Baker’s best game of the season, he recorded ten tackles, one sack, and one pass breakup.
The Bulldogs regressed slightly in Smart’s first year with the helm.
They won eight games and beat the TCU Horned Frogs in the 2016 Liberty Bowl, 31-23.
Deandre Baker finished the game with two solo tackles.
He concluded his sophomore campaign in Athens with 21 solo tackles, 31 total tackles, two interceptions, five passes defended, one fumble recovery, and one forced fumble.
Remarkably, Baker did these in just eight games during the 2016 NCAA season.
Deandre Baker had officially arrived.
He would build on his momentum during his junior year.
Baker was firmly entrenched in the Bulldogs’ secondary by then.
He suited up in all fifteen games and started fourteen of them.
Not only did he play more, but he also came up big in clutch situations.
Baker’s forty-four total tackles were fourth-best in the SEC.
He also had two tackles in the Bulldogs’ 54-48 Rose Bowl win against the Oklahoma Sooners on January 1, 2018.
A week later, Baker recorded an interception against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Championship Game.
Unfortunately, the third-ranked Bulldogs bowled to the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide, 26-23.
— @540Jason© (@540Jason) January 9, 2018
Georgia’s national title drought continued.
Baker finished the year with 30 solo tackles, three interceptions, and nine passes defended.
Coaches eventually voted Baker into the 2017 All-SEC Second Team, per the Bulldogs’ official athletics website.
Baker never entertained thoughts about leaving early for the pro ranks.
He told DawgNation.com’s Mike Griffith during the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN his decision to stay at Georgia for his senior season paid massive dividends:
“I never second-guessed staying.”
“I know I gained a lot the last season; there were a lot of areas I improved in, so it helped me overall – my tackling and ball production.
Baker kicked things up a notch as a senior.
The Associated Press named him to its preseason All-America First Team.
Baker recorded picks against the 24th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks and Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in two consecutive weeks.
He had a season-high seven tackles in the Bulldogs’ 43-29 road win against the Missouri Tigers on September 22, 2018.
Baker finished his senior year with 31 solo tackles, 40 total tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended, and one forced fumble.
Remarkably, Deandre Baker allowed just one touchdown during his four-year tenure with the Bulldogs.
Baker also told DawgNation.com he hadn’t surrendered a touchdown in two years. He also never allowed any wide receiver to torch him for a hundred yards.
To nobody’s surprise, Baker earned national recognition when he won the Jim Thorpe Award – an accolade for the nation’s top defensive back – in 2018.
— Gradick Sports (@GradickSports) December 7, 2018
He was the first Georgia Bulldogs player to win the award, per DawgNation.com.
Baker was also a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (given to the nation’s best defender) in 2018.
The Associated Press and the SEC’s head football coaches also named Baker to the 2018 All-SEC First Team.
He also earned All-America First Team honors from The Associated Press, ESPN.com, American Football Coaches Association, SI.com, and Walter Camp.
With Baker going full-throttle on the defensive end, Georgia won eleven games and received an invite to the 2019 Sugar Bowl.
Unfortunately, the 14th-ranked Texas Longhorns upset the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, 28-21.
Deandre Baker would enter the National Football League as one of the most highly-touted defensive backs in 2019.
Several weeks before the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, rapper Lil Wayne signed Baker to his Young Money APAA Sports Agency.
Pro Football Career
Since winning Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants had fallen on some hard times.
After they won their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy during the 2011 NFL season, Big Blue had five losing seasons in their past seven leading up to the 2019 NFL campaign.
Pat Shurmur’s Giants won just five games in 2018.
New York’s shoddy passing defense was a key factor in its atrocious showing that year.
The Giants allowed 4,044 yards in the air in Shurmur’s first year at the helm.
That ranked them 23rd in the National Football League.
— IG: @SleeperAthletes (@SleeperAth1etes) March 4, 2019
Deandre Baker, the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award winner, could have been the game changer the Giants desperately needed.
The New York Giants made the 5’11”, 193-lb. Baker the 30th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Big Blue traded up with the Seattle Seahawks for three players to acquire his services.
In order to get Baker, New York had to give up its 37th, 132nd, and 142nd draft choices to Seattle.
Baker was the Giants’ third selection in the first round.
They also selected Duke Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones sixth overall and Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence 17th overall.
While Deandre Baker was a high-profile defensive back at Georgia, few knew about his work ethic behind the scenes.
A team source told the New York Post (via GiantsWire’s John Fennelly) in May 2020 the Giants had “a battle” whether to pluck Baker from the draft pool or not.
The source revealed those who were against the idea of drafting Baker were iffy about his work ethic at Georgia:
“The story was he had to have his a– kicked every day to work hard at Georgia – to even go to practice.”
“We knew that and we still drafted him, and from Day 1 it was like taking a guy in the first round that you had to teach nearly everything to.”
When Baker took the field as a Giants rookie during the 2019 NFL season, he was the antithesis of the shutdown cornerback he was at Georgia.
Baker had trouble covering the NFL’s best receivers: they would leave him eating their dust as they hauled the ball into the end zone.
For instance, Baker lined up in zone coverage trying to cover Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper during a Monday Night Football game.
However, the rest of his teammates were lined up in man coverage.
Baker’s gaffe allowed Cooper to score uncontested as a national television audience watched in disbelief.
The play captured Baker’s struggles with speedy wide receivers while employing a soft zone coverage.
Hargreaves benched/cut for lack of hustle.
— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) November 12, 2019
In a separate incident, it appeared Baker gave up on a pass play intended for New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Baker seemed to be jogging nonchalantly on the field after he allowed the reception.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” a Giants player told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan in November 2019.
Giants coaches put Baker on the hot seat during a team meeting following the loss to their cross-town rivals, per ESPN.
Not only that, but he also set social media on fire for the wrong reasons for his lackadaisical play on the field.
According to Fennelly, Baker even fell asleep during team meetings and showed little interest in improving.
Deandre Baker finished his underwhelming rookie year in the NFL with 48 solo tackles and eight passes defended in sixteen games.
GMenHQ.com’s Matt Clark attributed Baker’s sub-par performance to an ankle injury he sustained during the preseason, and his lack of speed that proved detrimental in soft zone coverages.
The Giants hit rock bottom in Baker’s first season and Eli Manning’s last.
New York won just four games in the 2019 NFL season.
Things would get worse for Deandre Baker.
— UAccessOnline (@infouaccessmag) May 17, 2020
Baker and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar received arrest warrants following an alleged robbery incident at a party in South Florida in May 2020.
According to the arrest warrant ESPN’s Brady Henderson and Jordan Raanan obtained, Baker and Dunbar allegedly stole money and watches from the party guests.
The arrest warrant contained conflicting information. Some of it said Baker was armed with a semi-automatic rifle while some of it said he wasn’t armed.
Baker’s lawyer Patrick Patel told the New York Post (via SI.com’s Ben Pickman) his client had nothing to do with the incident.
Patel insisted his client played the football video game “Madden” for over an hour in a room adjacent to the one where the ruckus broke out.
The attorney told the New York Post that Baker only saw “a table getting flipped over” during the height of the alleged robbery.
As soon as Baker saw it, he stopped playing “Madden” and left the premises.
Nonetheless, the Giants told Baker to stay away from the team during his legal dispute.
They also released him on September 8, 2020.
All charges against former UGA CB Deandre Baker have been DROPPED. The lawyer for 3 of the 4 alleged “robbery victims” has been arrested and charged with extortion in Florida. pic.twitter.com/J4ZIKbZZQ2
— Barstool UGA (@ugabarstool) November 16, 2020
The Broward State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped the charges against Baker in November 2020, per Raanan.
That same month, the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs signed Baker to their practice squad.
“I know when he gets here, he’ll see the environment that we have and he’s going to be asked to work hard and keep his nose clean,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told the Kansas City Star (via ProFootballTalk.com’s Josh Alper).
The Chiefs eventually elevated Baker to the active roster for three regular-season games.
Baker suited up in two of those games, recording five total tackles, four solo tackles, one pass defended, and a sack.
Baker recorded his first career sack against Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
His performance convinced the Chiefs to sign him for the 2021 NFL season.
Baker has seven total tackles in four games through Week 10 of the 2021 NFL campaign.
Can Deandre Baker take his NFL career to the next level?
If Baker improves his work ethic and shows the right attitude, he can become a vital cog in the Chiefs’ secondary for years.
Aside from Deandre Baker’s early upbringing in South Florida, not much is known about his personal life.
However, he remains active on his Instagram account.