What happened to Marcus Peters?

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 19: Marcus Peters
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 19: Marcus Peters /

Marcus Peters was once heralded as the best young cornerback in the NFL. Now Chiefs fans are wondering what happened to their dominant ballhawk.

The bust had already been ordered.

Ask any Kansas City Chiefs fan—nay, any NFL fan—about future Hall of Famers even a few months ago and Marcus Peters’ name was bound to come up. The Kansas City Chiefs cornerback had turned in elite performances since he first stepped onto the field at Arrowhead Stadium as a rookie in 2015, and his sophomore season only bolstered the case for his likely future in Canton.

During his very first game, a season-opener against the Houston Texans, Peters came up with an interception. For his second game, he added another interception and then took it to the house for his first NFL touchdown. During that first year, he would force 9 turnovers, including an NFL-high 8 interceptions, and would even run back two of them for touchdowns—one for 90 yards. He was rewarded by being named the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and was given a Pro Bowl nod as well.

Year two brought more impact and accolades as he turned in his second Pro Bowl season. He was also named All-Pro for the first time in his career, a response to another 7 turnover season, including 6 interceptions, that also featured 20 passes defended (46 over his first two years in the NFL) and 3 fumble recoveries.

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Peters wasn’t just shutting down opposing receivers. He was shifting the tides of one game after another. He became the single best draft pick for a general manager known for his draft acumen. Peters was a ballhawk on a historic level, generating turnovers and demonstrating rare instincts for the ball in just two NFL seasons. If anyone wasn’t convinced by his rookie season, then his second year cemented his reputation as the game’s best young pass defender.

This year, Peters was supposed to be a cornerstone. Any fears about his previous character concerns drummed up in college had been alleviated. As the Chiefs faced one of the league’s most difficult schedules, there was solace in knowing that the secondary featured a turnover machine who could anchor the team’s pass defense. In fact, the Chiefs allowed an entire draft class filled with immediate impact players at cornerback slip by because, at the very least, they had one side of the field already locked down entirely with the NFL’s best.

Fast forward 11 games and something is wrong—clearly wrong—with Marcus Peters. The same performer is still there, in spurts. The evidence is there in the five turnovers he’s generated so far this years (3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles). It’s also clear that the defense around him is a shell of what he enjoyed his rookie season. Veterans are slower. Injuries have taken their toll. The secondary clearly needs more overall talent. It’s harder for Peters to shine when quarterbacks ignore his side of the field and/or the entire defense performs poorly.

But we also know those excuses only cover part of the story. Peters has been called on the carpet for many plays where he just stopped trying—where he stopped any pursuit or didn’t bother to tackle. He’s also whiffed on a few turnovers. Whereas previous years showed Peters’ extraordinary ability to make a play on a ball, this year even the ordinary hasn’t come through (e.g. the complete whiff against the Bills just last week).

Right now, Pro Football Focus has Peters ranked as the No. 39 cornerback in the NFL. In addition, PFF has tracked Peters over the last three games and the results have not been pleasant: 14 of 17 passes completed for 190 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. That equals a 116.3 passer rating.

The analysts at PFF aren’t the only ones who have noticed that Peters isn’t turning in a repeat performance of last year. Ike Taylor’s regular cornerback rankings over at NFL.com don’t even mention Peters at all, a weird reality given that Peters was top dog (or near it) on most such lists coming into this season.

The good news is this: Peters has created turnovers even this year and there’s no reason to believe that he has somehow regressed. Distracted? Maybe. Not as consistent? Sure. But his coaches, fellow players and the man himself will testify to the fact that he’s still the lockdown corner he’s always been, filled with the same passion and competitive fire as when we first saw him.

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If it’s the steadying presence of Eric Berry that’s missing for Peters this season, then hopefully the addition of veteran corner Darrelle Revis can provide that sort of presence. Peters might not yet be ready to be a team captain sort and that’s fine. The Chiefs defense looked great when he was green as a freshman, so Andy Reid can find his character leaders elsewhere, if necessary. The main thing is getting Marcus Peters back to being the main thing.

If Peters can bring consistency to his impact talent, then once again we will be talking about the Chiefs corner as a man with an induction ceremony in his future.