Patrick Peterson is, without a doubt, one of the most explosive punt returners we’ve ever seen in the NFL, and he skillfully earned that title after only one season. He amassed 699 total yards on only 44 returns, averaging out to about 16 yards per return. The man who finished second in punt return yards was Cincinnati’s Brandon Tate, who finished the season with 543 (it took him 7 more attempts to get to that number, by the way).
We are talking about a CB, however, and it is usually not a good sign that his punt return prowess is the first thing associated with his name. It is no secret that Peterson’s defense did not translate to the NFL as quickly as the Cardinals may have hoped. His rookie campaign was littered with blown coverages and missed opportunity, but does that mean that Peterson’s hopes of becoming a premier CB are shot?
Does Peterson have what it takes to become a shutdown CB?
It’s funny that this is even a question, considering the hype he had coming out of LSU last year. In a draft where even the best players were thought to have considerable weaknesses, Peterson was widely viewed as the one guy who had it all. And honestly, why not? There was no reason to doubt any aspect of Peterson’s game. A consensus 5-star recruit coming out of high school, USA Today dubbed him National Defensive Player of the Year. So, high school dominance? CHECK. As a junior at LSU, he earned just about every honor imaginable, including winning the 2010 Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back) and the 2010 Bednarik Award (Best Defender). College? CHECK. Given these facts, who wouldn’t believe his dominance would continue in the NFL?
Peterson finished last season with a PFF pass coverage rating of -6.6, good enough for 174th out of 197 total CBs, which is not exactly what you would expect from your 5th overall pick. Even more telling, he allowed the 3rd most receptions of all CBs, as well as the 3rd most yards. One of the few bright spots (if you want to even call it that) is that Peterson is credited with allowing only 3 TDs last year, which is a little better than middle of the road when compared to all other CBs.
Peterson was pretty bad last year, but that doesn’t mean we should all jump ship just yet. Given all the receptions he allowed, he only gave up 198 YAC. For a player giving up as many receptions as he did, that is not a bad number. Some quick math indicates that Peterson gave up about 2.9 YAC per reception. For comparison, PFF’s top CB last year, Darrelle Revis, gave up an average of 3.5 YAC per reception. Revis gave up only 81 less YAC with 32 fewer receptions. So what does this tell us? This tells us that Peterson was around the ball. He was around the ball and made stops after allowing the initial reception.
This stat indicates that Peterson was only a step or two behind on the majority of his receptions. That step or two could have equaled an interception, or could have at least put a dent in his reception total. With a season under his belt and a real NFL off-season in the works, who’s to say he doesn’t gain that extra step? The physical tools are definitely there. Many NFL players, past and present, allude to how different the professional game is from the college game. The game is bigger, faster, stronger, and who knows what else. That initial transition is very difficult, and Patrick Peterson is surely a testament to that. A rookie season struggle does not necessarily mean his career won’t live up to the early expectations.
What does this do to Peterson’s fantasy relevance?
So let’s say Peterson does right the ship this year. Let’s say he finds that extra gear his game was so desperately missing. Is that a good thing or a bad thing for his fantasy value? The old adage has always been that great CBs tend to be not so great fantasy options (i.e. Darrelle Revis is ranked 111th in Jeff Ratcliffe’s IDP Player Projections). In a way, I feel that this notion will apply to Patrick Peterson eventually; I’m just not convinced it applies to this season.
Darrelle Revis has the reputation of being the shutdown corner. Heck, the guy is nicknamed ‘Revis Island!’ Opposing QBs are well aware of his talent and try to steer clear of his coverage if they can help it. Patrick Peterson does not have that reputation. If anything, he has a reputation that encourages QBs to throw his way, giving him ample opportunity to greatly improve his fantasy numbers. Add that improvement to his punt return potential (if you’re in a league that records that) and you get a fantasy player that is, at the very least, worth consideration.
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