Each and every year in the buildup to the NFL Draft, prospects are analyzed, dissected and picked apart by draft analysts nationwide, examining everything from relationship history to the lifestyles of their parents (the Dez Bryant fiasco).
This year is no different, with University of Washington star cornerback Marcus Peters arguably the most polarizing prospect this side of Dorial Green-Beckham (Josh Gordon Jr.?). Coincidentally, that same position is perhaps the one screaming for a major retooling by the Pittsburgh Steelers front office. There are a few red flags, but many scouts argue Peters is the top cover corner in all of college football, despite being dismissed from the team for his senior season.
Peters plays with reckless abandon, and can be considered a hot-head at times, which may fuel speculation as to him being removed from the Washington coaching staff. In November, he allegedly put his hands on an assistant coach and choked him, although coaches later denied those accusations. Peters has a very loud persona and never hesitated to hold his tongue to authority figures. Was there more to it than that though, as fellow Washington prospect Danny Shelton allegedly had issues with the coaching staff as well.
In some ways, he brings to mind another former problem child at cornerback, the Baltimore Ravens’ Jimmy Smith. A top-10 talent, much like Peters is, he slid down the draft board due to his off-the-field troubles, ranging from assault to several marijuana possession issues. The Ravens gladly snapped him up, and to this point it has paid off, as he has progressed very well from early on, when he was considered a bust.
One cannot deny the ultra-athletic physical gifts of Peters though. He has the size, speed and skill set that NFL defensive coordinators covet, and what better way to bring in the Keith Butler regime on defense than gift wrapping him a potential day 1 starter at corner? At 6-foot and 198-pounds, he possesses the size and length that the team prefers in it’s corners, As stated previously, he is a very aggressive press-corner with the skills to wreak havoc on receivers at the line of scrimmage, while also showing a keen ability to anticipate throws and jump routes.
Something else that jumps out to me is his alpha dog mentality, in the fact that he is fearless and a fiery competitor, and will not back down from any receiver, whether it be a Calvin Johnson or Limas Sweed.
A recent article mentioned Pittsburgh double-dipping in the 2011 NFL Draft with corners Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. Brown has since been cut, and Allen may be on his last chance as well. It then pointed out Seattle drafting Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman several rounds later, kind of throwing salt on the wound as far as Pittsburgh’s cornerback woes are concerned. Peter’s never-back-down attitude mirrors Sherman’s, and what an asset that could be for the Steelers, currently with a bunch of band-aids in the Pittsburgh secondary, coupled with the uncertain future of safety Troy Polamalu.
With the NFL Combine and Pro Days looming, it will be a spotlight for Peters to rectify his off-the-field rumblings, but one thing is clear, and that’s his undeniable talent. He will have to convince teams that he truly is a “team-first” guy, one who won’t be a locker room cancer (LeGarrette Blount anyone?) If he can do that, he likely won’t be available with the 22nd pick. The Steelers obviously are looking for players who fit their mold, so Peters will have some convincing to do with Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. The front office has obviously shown lately they aren’t afraid to take gambles on talented but troubled players with Mike Adams, and the aforementioned Blount. If any coach league-wide can harness Peters, it’s Tomlin, often looked at as a “players coach.”
The lag between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft is often harmful for draft prospects, with many being overanalyzed. Peters will most certainly be under the microscope, but one NFC East scout proclaimed him “the best cover corner prospect I’ve seen in the last 14 years.” That’s some pretty rare company, and going back 14 years will lead you to Champ Bailey, often regarded as the league’s premier lock-down corner for over a decade. If Peters can be half the player Bailey was, and he’s there for the taking at 22, it should be a no-brainer for Colbert and company.