Patrick Peterson is a rare talent. He demonstrated that all season with LSU, and showcased his blazing speed again last week at the Combine.

But is he rare enough to be historic? Peterson may be fast, but when it comes to cornerbacks, draft history is a mighty strong beast to fight.

Peterson could make history in April, becoming the highest cornerback selected in the NFL draft. There’s been talk of him possibly coming off the board with the first overall pick. If that happens, Peterson will be an instant answer to a trivia question as the first cornerback selected first overall. He’ll also join very elite company in the annals of draft history just by being picked in the top three.

In the past 20 years there have been 20 cornerbacks selected in the top 10. In 10 of those years, no cornerbacks were selected in the top 10, and seven saw no defensive backs whatsoever taken off the board with the top picks. Peterson has incredible speed, and raised his draft stock even further when he ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.34 seconds, the Combine’s second best time this year. On draft day, he’ll be trying to outrun history.

Despite the brilliance of Charles Woodson’s career, he doesn’t hold the distinction of being the highest cornerback selected. That trophy is split between Shawn Springs (Seattle, 1997) and Bruce Pickens (Atlanta, 1991) who were both taken with the third overall pick. The breakdown of the remaining cornerbacks teams deemed worthy of a top 10 investment shows the kind of game-changing, defence-altering player Peterson has to be if he wants to make history.

Note: All players listed were drafted as cornerbacks. Some, like Antrel Rolle, were converted into safeties.

Draft year Position Interceptions Pro Bowl appearances
Joe Haden 2010 7 6 0
Carlos Rogers 2005 9 8 0
Antrel Rolle 2005 8 13 2
Adam Jones 2005 6 5 0
Dunta Robinson 2004 10 14 0
DeAngelo Hall 2004 8 32 3
Terrance Newman 2003 5 28 2
Quentin Jammer 2002 5 18 0
Chris McAlister 1999 10 26 3
Champ Bailey 1999 7 48 10
Duane Starks 1998 10 25 0
Charles Woodson 1998 4 47 7
Tommy Knight 1997 9 3 0
Bryant Westbrook 1997 5 13 0
Shawn Springs 1997 3 33 1
Antonio Langham 1994 9 14 0
Troy Vincent 1992 7 47 5
Terrell Buckley 1992 5 50 0
Todd Lyght 1991 5 37 1
Bruce Pickens 1991 3 2 0

Pickens may share a piece of history with Springs, but his play at the professional level didn’t make him deserving of the title. Springs thrived in Seattle initially before being limited due to nagging injuries, while Pickens made only nine starts.

Pickens, Tommy Knight, and Adam “Pacman” Jones are the clear busts of the group, representing the end of the spectrum opposite dynamic superstars like Woodson, Bailey, Vincent, and Buckley. Combined the group has 469 interceptions, and 34 Pro Bowl appearances.

Even with the three major busts, those numbers alone make this a distinguished group. But Peterson is aiming higher than merely being distinguished. His crosshairs are set on joining the kind of uniquely gifted cornerbacks selected in the top three. That kind of cornerback is an extremely rare breed, and accounts for a meager 0.5% of the 691 players drafted over the past 20 years

The main factor working against Peterson’s bid to be the first ever cornerback selected at No. 1 is Carolina’s putrid offence, and the decision on whether or not to pull the plug on the Jimmy Clausen era. The likelihood of the Panthers drafting one of the top quarterbacks like Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert remains strong. Of the next four picks two of them belong to teams that were in the bottom 10 this year in total passing yards surrendered per game (Arizona, Denver).

Peterson’s best shot at history will likely be with Denver. The Broncos hold the second overall pick, and Peterson can form a formidable tandem opposite Bailey, filling a hole on a secondary that was routinely picked apart.

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