LSU's Peterson might be best prospect on the board
In a league that might trend towards pass-happy, it only follows that the only thing as important as a potent combination of quarterback and receivers is a defense built to contain them.
The line of first defense, so to speak, is at cornerback, where the defender's ability to mitigate the presence of the man he is assigned to cover is supreme.
By most measures, Patrick Peterson of LSU not only is the best cornerback in the 2011 NFL Draft class, he might well be the top overall prospect in terms of measurables and intangibles.
There's a chance he will be the first pick, according to some analysts, while others point towards past draft patterns. If Peterson is not selected in the top five, Shawn Springs (drafted No. 3 overall by Seattle out of Ohio State in 1997) will remain the highest-drafted cornerback in the modern era.
"I hope I can be in play for the first pick," said Peterson. "It is what it is. The Panthers have the final say-so. It doesn't matter what I think, what I have to say about it. It's truly an honor and a blessing to be in this position, anyway. I'm just going to continue taking one thing at a time and waiting for April 28 and see what that day brings me."
The 6-0, 219 Peterson won the Bednarik Award (given to the country's top defensive player), the Thorpe Award (for the top defensive back) and was named the Southeastern Conference's MVP on both defense and special teams during a prolific 2010 season at LSU.
In addition to four interceptions, Peterson was so productive as a return man he wound up fourth in the SEC in all-purpose yards at 116.9 per game. He averaged 16.1 yards on 26 punt returns, scoring two touchdowns. On 29 kickoff returns, he averaged 29.3 yards.
"Here's my take on Patrick Peterson is that whenever you see a corner of his size -- you're talking about plus or minus 220-pound corner -- he's got a little bit of stiffness to him that the longer, bigger corners always do or usually do," said draft analyst Mike Mayock of NFL Network. "So he's most comfortable in press-man. If you try to play him in off-man, he's going to struggle a little bit. So I believe you need a team that's going to let him press, get up in your face, knock him out at the line of scrimmage and turn and run.
"He's got a little stiffness to him, but ultimately he might be best served as a safety. I think he can play corner, but down the road a little bit, because he's a big, strong tough guy that can run, I think he might be an all-pro safety."
Tennessee coach Mike Munchak, whose team holds the No. 8 pick, offered high praise for Peterson at the NFL Owners Meetings.
"You saw what happened with the Jets and the guys they have and how important it is to have a guy (Darrelle Revis) who can take the best receiver and shut that guy down," Munchak said. "Peterson is definitely a special guy. We interviewed him for 15 minutes at the combine. This guy seems special listening to him talk about his trade and his mindset and how he plays different coverages. He's going to be a special player.
"The value of someone like him, who can come in and be that dominant that quickly. Yeah, he's one of those rare corners who can come in and be a very, very high pick.'
Peterson said he believes his best position in the NFL will be cornerback but acknowledges the points made by those that believe he should shift positions.
"I want to work on my zone coverage. We barely did that at LSU," he said. "A lot of people are saying I can't backpedal and things like that, but I definitely can. …
"I'm very comfortable playing press man because that's pretty much all I've been taught. The aggressive style of play we played at LSU, you want to get after the receiver, you don't want those guys to get the best of us because most receivers don't like press. That's what (LSU defensive backfield) coach (Ron) Cooper installed in our heads. If it's time to make a play and time to get off the field, he's definitely putting both corners in press."
An all-around talent, Peterson wants to continue returning kicks in the NFL. In fact, he sounds like a guy that would play wherever the coaches want just to get on the field.
"I don't want to be the next Charles Woodson, but I definitely want to pattern my game after Charles Woodson," he said. "He can play each and every defensive position on the field. If they gave him the opportunity to play D-tackle or D-end, he'd definitely do it.
"That's something I want to show the world that I can learn the scheme and understand the scheme as well. Playing if they need me to play dime, if they need me to play corner, strong safety, rover, I'm definitely down for it."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S TOP CORNERBACKS
A converted running back and former point guard, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara could be the second of possibly three cornerbacks to go in the first round. An all-around athlete who picked off five passes as a junior but was awarded the highest compliment by opposing offenses as a senior, Amukamara has answered questions about his straight-line speed and appears poised for a solid NFL career. Colorado's Jimmy Smith is another big corner (6-2, 211) with physical tools.
THE LAST FIVE
The last five cornerbacks drafted by the Colts . . .
2010: Ray Fisher, seventh round, Indiana
Kevin Thomas, third round, Southern California
2009: Jerraud Powers, third round, Auburn
2007: Michael Coe, fifth round, Alabama State
Dante Hughes, third round, California
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 15 cornerbacks expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft . . .
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Curtis Brown, Texas
*Brandon Burton, Utah
Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson
*Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.)
Davon House, New Mexico State
Curtis Marsh, Utah State
Johnny Patrick, Louisville
*Patrick Peterson, LSU
Buster Skrine, Chattanooga
Jimmy Smith, Colorado
*Aaron Williams, Texas
Shareece Wright, Southern California
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.