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The thing about digging for draft diamonds—in this case, Oklahoma State cornerback Kevin Peterson—is that there are usually reasons why they’re buried in the first place.
Of course, that’s not always the case. Sixth-round pick/arguably greatest QB of all time Tom Brady is the league’s most famous collective miss, but many preceded and followed him (such as sixth-round pick Antonio Brown, who scouts said lacked size). In general, though, when 32 teams and an ever-growing number of draft analysts tap a player as a Day 3 or late-round pick, it’s because there are noteworthy issues.
So it is with Peterson. He is not all that big (5' 10", 181 pounds with 31 1/2" arms), nor fast (4.66-second 40 time at the combine). He also closed his college career on a sour note—in a bowl loss to Ole Miss, Peterson was flagged twice for interference, surrendered two touchdowns to likely first-rounder Laquon Treadwell and was part of a cornerback/safety miscommunication that led to yet another TD.
Was it one bad game? One bad 40 time? Or emblematic of a player who could be in over his head at the next level?
The headline should have been a spoiler alert. Peterson did enough pre-bowl game and in the other combine events to remain in the mix. An All-Big 12 first-team selection last season, Peterson proved far more successful holding his own against the likes of Kevin White and Corey Coleman than he did against Treadwell.
Peterson may never be a lockdown NFL cornerback, but he has enough in his bag of tricks to play a productive role.
“[NFL teams] like me a lot,” Peterson said following Oklahoma State’s recent pro day. “They like my physicality when I play. My speed’s kind of iffy ... but you know, just my intensity that I bring to the game, my knowledge for the game. I’ve been getting more and more phone calls as the days go along, so I’m really excited for how things are going.”
What those teams do not have to wonder about is how Peterson will respond to a challenge. He repeatedly lined up against highly talented receivers, often in one-on-one coverage. Treadwell and Ole Miss managed to get the best of him, but the majority of Peterson’s other showdowns were draws at worst (even when his team lost).
White, for example, caught just three passes for 27 yards during West Virginia’s 2014 win, in which Peterson followed him for much of the game. His touchdown, a 19-yarder, came against a different Oklahoma State cornerback.
And Coleman blew by Peterson (who bit on a play fake) for a 48-yard reception to open this year’s Baylor–Oklahoma State game, but then averaged a mere 7.25 yards on his four catches from there. That’s the same Coleman who led the nation with 20 touchdowns and produced an 18.4 yards-per-catch clip for the year.
Moments after that 48-yarder, Peterson turned in an outstanding play on a patented deep ball to Coleman. He managed to flip his hips and run with the speedy Baylor receiver before knocking the ball away from Coleman at the last second.
That is Peterson at his best. While the measurables are not there across the board, he tends to find a way to be competitive.
“One thing is the combine, one thing is the pro day, but another thing is the film,” Peterson said. “The film doesn’t lie. You go out there and play against athletes, you’re playing against athletes. Combine is more seeing what you can do physically, but the film doesn’t lie.”
Peterson found more combine success outside the 40-yard dash, too. His three-cone time of 6.94 seconds was a top-10 mark among cornerbacks, and that quickness would come in handy should Peterson find himself manning the slot in the NFL. The aforementioned lack of size may pigeon hole him there, at least early on.
Granted, it wasn’t necessarily a fair matchup on paper for him when Peterson lined up outside against the Treadwells and Colemans of the college football world. The letdown against top competition is what may scare NFL teams away from trying Peterson there at the next level; his smarts and proven experience elsewhere could get him a look.
“They go over the basic questions: ‘How’s mom, how’s dad, how’s home life, have you had any troubles off the field?’” said Peterson of his combine meetings with NFL teams. “But then when they got to the football questions, they could kind of tell what you knew and didn’t know. I’m a film junkie myself, so I love going in the film room, I know the ins and outs of everything.”
There will be some teams that buy in and some teams that don’t. Such is life as a mid- to late-round draft prospect, where the hope is that one front office really goes to bat for you. And given the good things we’ve seen at times from Peterson, he has a definite chance to outperform his projected draft slot.