The best NFL defenses are loaded at cornerback. Oklahoma St. CB Kevin Peterson could provide a team like the Buccaneers with some much needed depth. The Bucs secondary was the most problematic unit on the team in 2015. Lovie Smith tested nearly every combination of cornerback to stem the onslaught of easy completions and inside slants. Nothing worked.
While Smith’s defense was the root of the symptoms, the Bucs were lacking talent at the corner position. Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks are set to return under defensive coordinator Mike Smith, but the Bucs are thin even if their starters bounce back in 2016.
A three-year starter for Oklahoma St., Kevin Peterson anchored the secondary. Since starting as a sophomore, Peterson collected 125 tackles, 21 pass breakups and five interceptions. At 5’11" and 190 pounds, Peterson has good size for an NFL corner, and he’s not afraid to use it. He’s as physical a corner as it gets in this draft, and it shows in run support.
Peterson had some of the best tackling technique on Oklahoma St.’s defense. He goes for the wrap-up rather than just an arm or shoulder tackle, leading to greater stop success than some of his teammates.
Peterson’s technique reflects the overall effort he brings to the field. He’s an enthusiastic tackler and he’ll chase down a play even when it seems too far out of reach.
At the Combine, Peterson clocked a 4.66 40-yard dash time. His tape indicates he may be even faster or at the very least doesn’t lose anything once the pads come on.
Generally, Peterson did not have the most impressive combine performance, recording a 35.5 inch vertical and 121 inch broad jump. As subjective and inconclusive as combine drills are, it should be clear that Peterson is not the most explosive defensive back in the draft.
That's not to say Peterson isn't athletic, and what he lacks in burst he compensates with technique. He tracks receivers with impressive smoothness, allowing little cushion even in zone coverage. In the slot, he could be a real breakup artist in the NFL.
Unfortunately that’s all he’ll be as Peterson doesn’t exhibit great ball skills. Five interceptions in three starting seasons says all it needs to about his takeaway abilities. He appears more comfortable taking away the receiver’s ability to complete the catch than attempting a play at the ball himself.
This results in Peterson losing to some of the better, more sure-handed receivers he’s faced. Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell victimized Peterson last season for a rather embarrassing touchdown, highlighting Peterson’s weaknesses.
While Peterson otherwise had Treadwell covered, he made the fatal mistake of not turning his to find the ball in the air. At best, Peterson was going to get a pass interference call (and he did). Because he played the receiver instead of the ball, Peterson miscalculated the timing and missed breaking up the pass. This issue appears more frequently than NFL teams will like when they watch his tape.
The source of the problem might be poor flexibility in Peterson’s hips. It’s rare to see him open up well enough to both cover his man and still track the ball. He’s more likely to read the receiver’s body language and attempt to time a pass breakup than look to see the pass’ trajectory.
To be fair, Peterson is pretty good at this, resulting in some impressive incompletions.
When Peterson's technique is on, he's difficult to beat. Most passes thrown towards his receiver will be contested. It's when his technique breaks down that the flags fly and touchdowns are scored.
Starting NFL corners can't lack for speed so it's unlikely Peterson will ever man the sidelines full-time. He does possess sufficient quickness to play in the slot. With his strong tackling technique and tight coverage ability, nickel corner should be Peterson's calling.
The Bucs' coaching change will precipitate an imperative shake-up for the secondary. Even if Banks and Verner do play to their potential, Tampa Bay needs depth at nickel.
Sterling Moore started the 2015 season manning the slot but became the Bucs best starting corner down the stretch. In his Fab 5 column, Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds cast doubt over Moore's return to Tampa Bay in 2016.
With little behind Moore at corner, the Bucs need to infuse the position with new talent. Peterson is a bit of a project, but as a Round 4 or 5 pick, he might pay dividends from the bench.