Identifying a key need in their secondary, the Los Angeles Rams executed a blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 for eccentric cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters – a two-time pro bowler, a two time All-Pro, and the former defensive rookie of the year – became available due to his antics which affected his on-field play under Head Coach Andy Reid. In general, Peters was thought of as a superstar cornerback who separated himself from his peers by way of his elite ball skills and penchant for creating turnovers. In three seasons with the Chiefs, Peters totaled 19 interceptions, 55 pass deflections, and five forced fumbles.
A renewed Peters entered Los Angeles with visions of taking his game to another level, though things didn’t quite work out as planned for either side in 2018. Peters – who managed to play all 16 games – suffered an achilles/calf injury in a week three contest versus the Los Angeles Chargers, affecting his performance for many weeks thereafter. Ironically, the Rams took a large hit in the week three contest as cornerback Aqib Talib was also lost to injury, though Talib’s was more severe and landed him on the injured reserve list with the designation for return, eventually returning against the Detroit Lions in week 12.
The loss of Talib turned out to be significant because Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips adjusted and allowed Peters to travel the field and shadow #1 receivers (including the slot) as opposed to remaining on his right side like usual. Peters’ play immediately took a nosedive, yet the Rams didn’t have much of a choice due to the quality of cornerback depth past the three starters. Peters continued travelling with receivers until the return of Talib in week 12, and coincidentally, his play immediately improved. The best stretch of Peters’ play in a Rams uniform stemmed at the end of the season, and particularly, the three-game playoff run that landed the Rams in Super Bowl 53. The two major adjustments that allowed Peters to perform more admirably were allowing him to remain on the right side of the field as opposed to travelling, and the major adjustment of allowing Peters to play off of the line of scrimmage and with a cushion between himself and his receiver. Talib primarily handled the press responsibilities, whereas Peters excelled with a cushion, reading the eyes of quarterbacks, and having the opportunity to use his instincts and ball skills to jump passes and create turnovers.
When healthy and paired with a veteran like Talib, Peters began to perform as the Rams expected when they traded second and fourth-round picks for him. The key to maximizing their returns is to allow Peters to play where he’s most comfortable, and that’s in off-coverage with help on the backend by way of a shaded safety or a safety ready to open his hips and cover the deep zone. The less Peters has to worry about getting beat over the top, the more he’s allowed to jump routes (appropriately taking his chances) and create turnovers as he possesses an uncanny knack for creating them. Peters is tied for 27th all-time in NFL history in interceptions through the first four years of a players’ career with 22 (per Pro Football Reference).
Peters enters year five in the NFL in a contract season as the Rams exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Now playing for potentially the biggest cornerback contract in the league, motivation should be no issue (though it never seemed to be one anyways). Thus far, the Rams have generally elected to pass on rewarding secondary players new contracts (sans nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman) as they’ve allowed cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald opportunities to play elsewhere in recent years.
In his year-25 season, Peters managed three interceptions and eight pass deflections (as well as one touchdown). Looking forward to a contract season, Peters has all the talent and coaching at his disposal to recreate the elite play we’re all accustomed to seeing. With all factors lining up in a timely manner, be on the look out for a bounce back season from #22 on the Los Angeles Rams.