Patrick Peterson emerges as top defensive back in first season
BY BRETT MURDOCK, Couchsideshow.com contributor
The Arizona Cardinals made the right decision in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Instead of trying for a quick fix with their quarterback issues, the Redbirds went the defensive route, electing to take defensive back Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 overall pick. And the rookie has yet to make them regret that decision.
But first, why did the Cardinals decide to go with Peterson over the multitude of prospects that could have also helped them immediately? Simply put, its because Peterson is a freak of nature — in a good way. Listed as cornerback, he has a safety’s build at 6-foot-0 and 219 pounds and cornerback’s athleticism, possessing a 4.34 40-yard dash time and a 39 inch vertical. He was widely regarded as the best athlete in the draft, and many had him going first overall. When he fell to No. 5, Arizona did not have much of a choice.
Peterson compiled an impressive career as an LSU Tiger, playing every game of his collegiate career. The Florida native recorded seven interceptions, four in his junior year, and returned two punts for touchdowns. He spent only three years in Baton Rouge but his final year was stellar and earned him the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American nod. Peterson also received the Thorpe (best defensive back) and Bednarik (best defensive player) awards for his performance.
But, when he got to the big time, his process was halted by an ugly, heated standoff between NFL players and owners, thus reducing the amount of time Peterson would have to get used to the professional level. But the cornerback never seemed to miss a beat, adapting to Ray Horton’s defensive schemes quickly and earning a starting nod come opening day, where he made a grand debut by returning a punt 89 yards for the eventual game winning touchdown to beat the Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Peterson would not stop there. The rookie returned three more punts for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in overtime against the Rams to give the Cards their second win of the year. The four return touchdowns tied an NFL record for a season and he nearly got a fifth in the final game of the year against the Seahawks.
That return however broke the record for return yardage in a single season. While Peterson is praised for his highlight reel returns and breakneck speed, his defensive play is often overlooked. While not perfect and still just a rookie, his defense was also noticeable. Despite only picking off two passes all year and having just 59 tackles, his presence was felt in the way he defended superior receivers and his vision and smarts forced opposing quarterbacks to look the other way. He was flagged multiple times and was beat on some plays, but that comes with the territory.
With Peterson, the Cardinals have a star in the making if he isn’t one already. He is the most explosive player the NFL has seen since Devin Hester and has the tools to only get better. And his efforts have not been for nothing either, as he was selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl in his first season as the NFC’s return man and was also named to the All-Pro team, also as a returner.
If there is a ceiling for Peterson, nobody is quite sure where it is. That is the amount of talent this guy has and the potential for growth. The fear is that all this publicity and recognition will get to the 21-year-old’s head, but Peterson knows better. He has relatives in the league who know how to act and he should follow in their footsteps as he makes his mark on the NFL for years to come.