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Patrick Peterson to Safety ?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings move to acquire 8-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson caught most Vikings fans by surprise. After all, the Vikings drafted three cornerbacks last year, two of which were starters - Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler - while Mike Hughes is also returning at cornerback, along with Kris Boyd. Harrison Hand had a decent rookie season too, albeit on limited snaps.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have only one starting caliber safety on the roster in Harrison Smith, as Anthony Harris signed with the Eagles. The Vikings could look to acquire a safety yet in free agency- they’ve been linked to Will Parks and Keanu Neal in the rumor mill - but they only have about $3 million in cap space available. Update: Neal signed with the Cowboys. They could also target a safety or two in the draft, but that would leave acquiring a top starting safety to chance- especially given the Vikings would not be likely to use their first round pick on a safety and don’t have a 2nd round pick.

All that leads to speculation that the Vikings may move Patrick Peterson to safety, replacing Anthony Harris.

Moving Patrick Peterson to Safety

While Patrick Peterson has earned multiple Pro-Bowl and All-Pro nods in his likely HoF career, the last couple seasons have seen his coverage grade fall-off - coinciding with his reaching his 30th birthday. Father time waits for no man, and while Peterson entered the league with a 4.31” 40 time, most would agree that Peterson has lost a step over the past couple years.

And so recently Peterson was asked if he’d be willing to play safety, and he said he would. He wouldn’t be the first high-profile cornerback to make the switch to safety later in his career. Rod Woodson, who had a couple down years after turning 30 at CB, made the move to safety and added an All-Pro and 4 Pro-Bowl seasons after turning 34. analyst Bucky Brooks also commented on Peterson moving to safety:

” … I believe Peterson could be one of the value items on the free-agent market — IF he moves to safety. As an instinctive playmaker with ball skills and a wealth of experience, he could extend his playing days by relocating inside to occupy the deep middle … a move to safety would enable him to rely on his experience, football IQ and playmaking ability. We’ve seen elite ballhawks — Charles Woodson and Rod Woodson, to name a couple — cement Hall of Fame careers with exceptional play at safety. Peterson could follow their blueprint and revive his game by transitioning to a position that allows him to rely on his mind more than his body at this stage of his career. He would need to embrace the increased physicality that would come with the new role, but a successful metamorphosis could help the longtime playmaker reach legendary status among his peers.”

Over the years, Peterson has been a pretty sure tackler - never more than 9 missed tackles in a season - and a solid run defender - particularly in his later years. He hasn’t given up more than 5 TDs in a season since 2014. And while his coverage and overall PFF grade has been down the last couple years, he also had a bad year back in 2014, which he bounced back from. Peterson generally shadows the opponent’s best receiver, so the degree of difficulty Peterson faces every game is a factor in his performance as well.

A visual of his performance over the last two seasons (he only played half of 2019 due to a PED suspension) shows he is still a very capable CB. The main areas where is struggled looked to be covering shallow crossing routes, occasionally not reacting fast enough a comeback or hook route, and sometimes giving too much cushion - although some of that was purposeful based on the game context.

Overall, you can see that Peterson still has excellent ball skills, football IQ and awareness, and is a good tackler in run support. Having a multi All-Pro and Pro-Bowl defender playing back at safety and allowing him to make plays on the ball could be a big asset for the Vikings defense. Even as a more zone-oriented cornerback, Peterson still looks like he can provide some excellent production as a defender. He shows the leadership and communication on the back end you like to see as well.

Another area where Peterson could serve the Vikings well as a safety is in the red zone. Having effectively 3-4 cornerbacks on the field in the red zone, when the Vikings often play Cover-4, could be useful in improving the Vikings’ already good red zone defense (even last season it was ranked 11th).

Lastly, Peterson could be something of a coach on the field, and in practice, for the Vikings’ group of young CBs to learn from. The future HoFer will undoubtedly command their respect for his career-to-date, and offer them a variety of tips and insights to help their game.

Bottom line, while Patrick Peterson had a couple down years as he’s hit age 30, a move to a more zone oriented scheme as a CB, or to safety, could help him regain his All-Pro form, even if he’s lost a step from his 4.31” 40 time of ten years ago. His saavy, experience, and football IQ, along with a better Vikings’ pass rush, could go a long way in helping the Vikings’ young secondary take a big leap forward this season.

3/22 Update: Peterson said in his initial press conference that he will be playing cornerback.


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