The legend of Patrick Peterson is beginning to form its foundations.
The rookie cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals put his impressive speed and athleticism on display in a 30-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens when he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. He did a little bit of everything on the play, dipping and dodging defenders all the way across the field before turning on the jets and outrunning everyone to the house.
The touchdown return was his second of the season, and in seven games this year, he has had 15 returns for 287 yards, an average of an astounding 19.1 yards per return.
Peterson's return abilities have been populating highlight reels since his last season with the LSU Tigers, in which he took 38 punts for 418 yards and two touchdowns while gaining 932 yards on 32 kickoff returns (an average of 29.1 yards per return). He even got some Heisman attention along the way.
Peterson's performances are reminiscent of a player that many believe is the best returner in NFL history.
Devin Hester has recorded an unbelievable 16 return touchdowns in his six-year career, and if it hadn't been for his increased focus on learning the wide receiver position in 2008 and 2009, he would probably have significantly more. It's not hard to see why he's so highly regarded.
What's so impressive about Peterson, though, is that his punt return average is 4.5 yards higher than Hester's 14.6 yard average for 2011, and he has twice as many touchdown returns at this point in the season.
Who will end his career as the more highly regarded return man?
When watching him on film, Peterson's athleticism is every bit as impressive as Hester's, and the moves he can put on defenders would make Hester proud.
Additionally, Peterson has an advantage over Hester: he doesn't have to learn a new position.
Hester was a defensive back like Peterson in college, but he was moved to receiver in the NFL. When he put more emphasis on learning the receiver position and took his mind of kick returning, it showed through the statistics. As one of Arizona's starting cornerbacks (the position he played throughout college), Peterson won't have that problem.
Peterson has yet to return any kickoffs, but if the Cardinals decide to increase his role, it's not too difficult to see him challenging Hester's outrageous touchdown total.