In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens executed their “best player available” mentality in the first round, capitalizing on the rest of the NFL spurning a talented player with off-field issues and selecting Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick.
Smith was a long, physical, upside-filled cornerback prospect whose potential was realized during the 2013 season and has been on display ever since. If it were not for a season-ending foot injury midway through the 2014 season, he likely would have ended the season in the discussion amongst the top ten cornerbacks in the NFL, at the very least.
Selecting Smith during the final portion of the first round came partially as a result of his off-field struggles in college, as he failed several drug tests, particularly for codeine abuse. The concerns went beyond drug use though, and it was justified to believe the issues would persist during his professional career.
Four years into his NFL career, Smith has had no issues with the NFL’s drug program, and his only off-field concern was a disorderly conduct arrest last year, which in the grand scheme of things was not a major issue.
It is safe to say that the risk the Ravens took with Smith paid off, and they ended up getting a first-round steal. In the 2015 draft, could the team capitalize on another troubled cornerback at the end of the first round?
When it comes to on-field talent, it is hard to deny the dominance and potential of Washington cornerback Marcus Peters. The physical press corner with elite closing speed and tackling ability offers plenty to like for a team looking for a starting cornerback in the draft.
His skill set mirrors that of the present day Smith — a player with shutdown press coverage ability, quality reaction skills and run-defending ability. The off-field issues cannot go unnoticed however, and the fact he was kicked off the Washington Huskies football team last season should be a concern.
But are NFL teams really that concerned? We will not know for sure until draft day, but it seems that perhaps he may not be as troubled as perceived, according to Fox Sports:
But the bottom line is, despite his top-10 talent, getting kicked off a team is no minor concern, and there is a real chance he is selected much lower than where his on-field ability would suggest.
That fact could bring the Ravens into play as a potential destination on draft day. The team capitalizes on talented players who slip during the draft, such as Smith or, more recently, Timmy Jernigan, and Peters would be an ideal candidate to help aid a struggling cornerback situation.
Long term (assuming Smith is signed to a new deal), the Ravens ideally need to find a quality starter to play opposite Smith. If this is the offseason which the Ravens find that player, Peters would be the ideal youngster to undertake.
What makes Peters such a talented player?
The first thing that stands out is his imposing, hard-to-shake-off coverage ability. He puts on clinics on how to ride the back of a receiver and mirror them step-for-step.
In the short game, Peters manages to read the eyes of quarterbacks while maintaining his tight coverage.
Here, he is isolated with the receiver in press coverage.
His first reaction off the snap is to use his length to get his hands on the receiver. This gives Peters the ability to guide himself with the offensive player while offering a jam to affect the route.
The route is a quick slant, and Peters’ ability to not be fazed by the receiver’s movement early in the play allows him to stay right on the receiver as he cuts inside.
As soon as the receiver breaks for the slant, Peters reacts by locating the quarterback to ready himself for the throw. Peters has just as much knowledge of when the ball is arriving as the receiver.
This allows him to cut in on the route and position himself to defend the pass. As the ball is in the air, the way Peters readies himself almost makes it look as if he is the intended target.
In what could have easily been an interception, the end result is a pass breakup. Frequently during Peters’ career, he displayed the ability to react to routes, locate the ball and maintain his tight coverage.
Beating Peters deep does not come easy, either.
He has enough long speed to turn and run with faster receivers, and he did just that in 2013 against current New Orleans Saints speedster Brandin Cooks.
Peters matches Cooks stride for stride, and once he remains confident in his trailing of Cooks, he turns his head to locate the ball.
With the ball located in the air, Peters begins to position himself on Cooks by extending his arm to judge the distance. He remains focused on the ball throughout this process, never turning to look at Cooks.
The positioning and ball location allows Peters to perfectly time his jump while boxing out the undersized Cooks, ultimately making it impossible for Cooks to make the reception.
He already has the ball skills that usually need to be taught to young NFL cornerbacks – that makes Peters a viable instant-impact rookie. The athleticism, route recognition and ball location of Peters are what make him the most complete cornerback in this year’s draft class.
If NFL teams do not have any worries about Peters’ off-field/practice issues, then it is unlikely he lasts until the Ravens are on the clock on April 30. But if non-football-ability concerns persists with Peters, the chance for the Ravens to swoop in and grab a talented player at their biggest position of need could develop.
One player will not fully fix Baltimore’s secondary issues, but a duo of Smith and Peters would certainly be imposing for opposing offenses.
Screencaps c/o DraftBreakdown.com