Are the Cardinals Doing the Right Thing by Expanding Patrick Peterson's Role?

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Are the Cardinals Doing the Right Thing by Expanding Patrick Peterson's Role?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

By now, we all know that Arizona Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson is a phenomenal athlete.

Since entering the league in 2011, Peterson has established himself as a dangerous punt returner and a ball-hawking corner. Over the course of his two-year career, he has scored four times on returns and tallied nine interceptions.

However, Peterson could also be one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians believes the first-round pick out of LSU has the potential to be a top-five NFL wideout. 

The praise didn’t stop there. Quarterback Carson Palmer told Wesseling that the two-time Pro Bowl selection would be a standout, no matter the position or the sport:

There's not much he can't do. He's one of those guys, if it wasn't football, then baseball maybe or another sport. He's that type of talent and athlete.

Palmer’s right. Peterson has the skill to be good at anything if he puts his mind to it. Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated says the most interesting thing he heard while he was at Cardinals camp had nothing to do with football and everything to do with Peterson’s golf game.

According to Trotter, Peterson taught himself golf in two years by watching online videos and reading about Tiger Woods. Moreover, he has an 8 handicap. For those who don’t know golf, an 8 handicap is very good for someone who has only been playing the sport for two years.

Yet, his supreme athletic ability doesn’t necessarily mean it is wise for Peterson to take snaps on the offensive side of the ball. Even though there hasn’t been any sign of the PatCat (Wildcat formation) during training camp, Arians told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com that the offensive package for Peterson has already grown to 15 plays.

Image via AZCardinals.com

Sure, Peterson won’t automatically see 15 snaps a game on offense, but even five-to-10 plays could prove to be detrimental to his health. Playing wide receiver is a lot different than playing cornerback. Receivers are more susceptible to big hits and serious injury. Just ask Laurent Robinson, Austin Collie or Ryan Swope

Robinson has had a hard time finding a new team this past offseason after suffering five concussions last year. Collie finally latched on with the 49ers after three concussions with the Colts, and Swope had to retire from football because of multiple concussions.

If that isn’t enough, former New York Jets wide receiver Al Toon prematurely retired in 1992 as a result of at least nine concussions during his eight-year career. This is not to say all concussions happen on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s pretty apparent that wide receivers and skill position players are more inclined to experience a concussion.

According to a MomsSteam.com study, football players who play the so-called skill positions suffer more fierce-impact hits to their heads than non-skill players. 

The background info makes one wonder whether or not Peterson’s presence on offense is worth the risk. Arizona already has Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler. Undoubtedly, these four pass-catchers will eat up a majority of the targets.

What’s the point in of putting one of the 10 best cover corners in the league in harm's way? 

By the end of the 2012 season, Peterson had logged 1,131 total snaps, including 1,071  on defense, 51 on special teams and nine on offense. On average, that’s over 70 snaps a game based on the fact that Peterson appeared in all 16 contests.

Patrick Peterson's coverage statistics from the 2012 season (via Pro Football Focus).

Here’s another question that bears exploration: What does Peterson bring to the table in terms of route-running, catching and timing? Let’s be honest, he’s probably not the best route-runner, he doesn’t have the hands of a receiver and his timing is far from impeccable. 

Furthermore, Peterson has always been a cornerback, even in high school. When he did participate on the offensive side of the ball, he excelled as a running back. As a senior at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla., he scored nine rushing touchdowns and zero receiving touchdowns.

Not even LSU pulled the trigger and played Peterson on offense. Yes, head coach Les Miles talked about it, but that’s it. One would have to think that LSU would have used him if they had thought his offensive strengths would have advanced its offense. 

For Miles, it was always about risk and evaluating his players during camp. He wanted to make sure he had them on the right side of the ball for their skill set. Arizona’s coaching staff should take a page out of his playbook.

More often than not, the Cardinals will need him fresh and they will need him in crunch time. When he is sidelined, their depth takes a hit. Jerraud Powers, Tyrann Mathieu, Javier Arenas and Antoine Cason don’t have the same game-changing ability as Peterson.

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Powers, Mathieu, Arenas and Cason have managed to register 13 turnovers total. Over that same period of time, Peterson has garnered nine takeaways himself. His ability to create turnovers would surely be missed if he were on the shelf because of an injury that he suffered while playing offense. 

Should the Arizona Cardinals use Patrick Peterson at wide receiver?

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Getting Peterson more involved is a nice thought, but when it comes right down to it, it should be viewed as nothing more than a fantasy. Playing receiver and cornerback full-time is simply too much to ask of any one player in today’s NFL.

As enticing as a certain idea may be, sometimes it’s just better to let it be. Arians has been around the block, so he should know that moves of this nature could ultimately get him fired.

Thomas Bertram once said, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” He has a point. Arizona’s offense may have been broken in 2012, but Arians has already done enough during the offseason to field a competitive offense in the season that lies ahead.

Playing Peterson at wide receiver is the wrong move. Plus, one way or another, it isn't going to make or break Arians' offense in 2013. 

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