April 23, 2014

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NFL draft 2011: Browns might target LSU cornerback in top 10 again

Sheldon Brown is a starting cornerback for the Browns. He wouldn’t be for much longer if the Browns drafted LSU’s Patrick Peterson with the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday.

“He won’t be there. But if he is, we should grab him,” Brown said recently.

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson returns an interception against  Louisiana-Monroe in November. (AP photo.)

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson returns an interception against Louisiana-Monroe in November. (AP photo.)

Joe Haden, the No. 7 pick in last year’s draft, and Brown ended 2010 as the starters. Eric Wright is a competent nickelback and was tendered as a restricted free agent. The threesome moves cornerback down the list of needs for the Browns, but Peterson shouldn’t be discounted as a possibility at No. 6 if he’s still on the board.

“You can’t have enough corners,” general manager Tom Heckert said last week. “You are going to play close to 60 percent (of snaps) in nickel so you are going to have three corners on the field 60 percent of the time. The more cover guys you can have the better you are.”

Even though the NFL is more of a passing league than ever, the Browns wouldn’t be considering a corner at No. 6 unless he was the best player on their board. They have too many other needs, specifically defensive line and receiver.

But Peterson’s that good. ESPN’s Mel Kiper rates him the top player in the draft, but he might slip to the Browns if quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert go in the top five.

“He is a rare guy, a rare athlete and he is a very good football player,” Heckert said.

“He’s just such an unusual athlete,” LSU coach Les Miles, an Elyria native, said before the 2010 season.

Peterson is 6-foot, 219 pounds and ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

“The only major concern is the mental part of the game,” said Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki, who reported Peterson scored a nine out of 50 on the Wonderlic test. “He has a tendency to freelance.”

The numbers and the hardware overwhelm the negative and make him worthy of a top-five pick. Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara is the second-best cornerback and could go in the top 10, but he’s considered a notch below.

Peterson won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and totaled 42 tackles, six pass breakups, four interceptions, 1½ tackles for loss and a blocked kick as a junior in 2010. He also had two kick returns for touchdowns.

“He’s got great feet,” LSU receiver Terrence Toliver said at the combine. “He’s a very intelligent player. He’s a big guy, but he’s fast.”

Peterson spent most of his time in Baton Rouge playing press man-to-man coverage. He admits he’ll need to work on his zone skills in the NFL.

“We barely did that at LSU,” he said at the combine. “A lot of people are saying I can’t backpedal and things like that, but I definitely can.

“I’m very comfortable playing press man because that’s pretty much all I’ve been taught — the aggressive style of play we played at LSU.”

That Peterson is even mentioned with the top couple of picks says plenty about his all-around game. No cornerback has ever gone in the first two picks, and Nebraska’s Bruce Pickens (1991) and Ohio State’s Shawn Springs (1997) were the only corners chosen No. 3.

“They’re getting a special player,” LSU teammate Stevan Ridley said. “They’re getting a player that’s going to lock down his side of the field.

“Pat’s a very physical player, he’s a very smart player, he’s been playing that position since he was young. He’s one of the best football players I’ve ever seen and he’s got a motor that’s like no other. Whoever gets Pat is making a great pick and I think they’ll be very happy with him.”

NFL draft

  • What: First round
  • When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
  • TV: ESPN, NFL Network
  • Tidbit: Browns hold the sixth pick

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.