The top of the draft is a muddled picture right now. No true consensus has emerged, though the player I see most often rated among the top three prospects is Patrick Peterson, the cornerback from LSU. He appears at #1 on Mel Kiper’s big board. The primary objection against Peterson at #1 appears to have nothing to do with him, and everything to do with his position. No cornerback has been taken that highly, and there seems to be some thought that you don’t take a cornerback that highly.
The first part of that is a true factual statement, the second is – pardon me – absurd. There are some positions I would not take highly in a NFL draft (I’m looking at you Sebastian Janikowski), but cornerback is not one of them. The NFL is a passing league, and getting a key player at a pass defense position is valuable. This argument that other teams can avoid them is a non-starter for me. Just because my rook doesn’t move as much as my middle pawn doesn’t mean I don’t think it has more strategic value.
Let’s say that, best case scenario, Patrick Peterson is so good that teams don’t throw on him at all. You’ve limited what the other team can do strategically, and you just need to put a competent player on the other side. It’s not an indictment of Asomugha, for example, that the Raiders failed to put a decent player on the other side, it’s an indictment of the organization.
I took a look at the cornerbacks taken in the top 10 of the NFL Draft between 1980-2004. There have been 25 who started their careers at cornerback. Five of them are, or will be soon, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson. Several others, like Troy Vincent, Mark Haynes and Terry McDaniel, are a notch below that but were very good for a while. We’ve had busts too, but that’s a decent hit rate.
In fact, when I compare the Top 10 Corners with the non-QB players who were selected with the top overall pick, they compare favorably. Over at pro-football-reference, players are rated by Approximate Value, which assigns a number based on starting seasons, awards, and the quality of the teams. The Top 10 Corners were virtually equal with the First Overalls (excluding QB). Two of thirteen (Bruce Smith and Orlando Pace) are or will be in the Hall of Fame.
Should you have taken Mark Haynes or DE’s Curtis Greer, Bruce Clark or Doug Martin back in 1980, who went right around of him? You might not know who they are, so we’ll come forward (the answer is Haynes, easily, by the way). What about Charles Woodson (4th in 1998) versus Andre Wadsworth (3rd) or Grant Wistrom (6th)?
Okay, but that’s not fair, because I’m just cherry picking some real life examples. So I went through every cornerback in the top 10 over those years, assigned them a Win, Loss, or Tie based on their careers compared to other defensive players also drafted in the top 10 (ties generously went to players within +/- 15 in Approximate Value). The Cornerbacks had a winning record against the Defensive Ends, Defensive Tackles, Linebackers and Safeties, going 42-32-15. Pretty good considering they were on average drafted lower in the Top 10.
I don’t think you draft positions this high, you draft players. If you are a team scouting and you think Patrick Peterson is the top player, you take him. Drafting positions will lead you to do things like reach for an inferior prospect because he is a defensive end, which is why that position ranks lowest among the Top Ten in hit rate.
Given the uncertainty at QB (don’t reach there either), I would take Patrick Peterson if I’m Carolina, and I don’t care if no other cornerback has been taken at that spot. Going by the wisdom of the crowds, and not getting caught up in any nonsense about which positions you must take where, he seems like the best bet to succeed.
[photo via Getty]