Bears cornerback Kevin Peterson sounds like just another undrafted rookie who wants to prove the world wrong.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best,” the cornerback from Oklahoma State said. “And then they took being drafted — hearing my name called, getting that phone call — they took it away from me.
“So I’m out here trying to prove everybody wrong — that I should have been drafted; should have been one of the high [picks]. I feel like I’m better than the guys who got picked. But it just lit a fire in my heart. I’m actually glad it happened. It just brought the hunger back in me. I always had it, but it created a whole new animal inside of me.”
Peterson’s lament is as old as the modern-day seven-round draft. At 5-10, 190 he has neither the ultra height nor the ultra length that NFL scouts are looking for. And even Peterson knows his pedestrian 40 time (4.66) at the NFL scouting combine was a turn-off.
But you don’t have to search too deeply into his profile to find a number of intangibles and non-measurables that tell personnel evaluators this kid has a chance. Peterson, one of 23 rookies participating in the Bears’ offseason OTAs this week at Halas Hall, comes to the Bears with some classic sleeper indicators: “plays faster than his timed speed”; “plays bigger than his size”; “high football IQ”; “physical, aggressive”; “not afraid to fail”; “embraces any challenge”; “very self-motivated”; “attention to detail”; “good teammate”; “plays with a chip on his shoulder”; “a very, very self-confident kid.”
And Peterson has some impressive tape against top-notch competition in the Big 12 — including Baylor’s Corey Coleman (drafted 15th overall by the Browns), Texas Christian’s Josh Doctson (22nd overall by the Redskins), Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepherd (40th overall by the Giants) and West Virginia’s Kevin White, the Bears’ No. 1 draft pick (seventh overall) in 2015.
Coleman was averaging 136.6 yards per game and 20.1 yards per catch, with 20 touchdowns through nine games, but was held to five catches for 77 yards (15.4 per catch) and no touchdowns against Oklahoma State and Peterson. Doctson, a Biletnikoff finalist, was averaging 182.7 yards per game and 18.2 yards per catch with 13 touchdowns through six games, but was held to six catches for 64 yards (10.7 per catch) and no touchdowns against the Cowboys. In 2014, White was averaging 145.7 yards per game and 14.8 yards per catch with seven touchdowns in seven games, but was held to three catches for 27 yards (9.0 yards per catch) and a touchdown against Oklahoma State.
“You look it up and see what I’ve done against the top guys — clearly dominated,” Peterson said. “I played against the Biletnikoff [Award] winner last year, Corey Coleman — he had no catches. Played against Josh Doctson — he had one catch.
“I guarded Kevin White my sophomore and junior year — did OK against him. He had three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown, but that [touchdown] was against the other corner. When he was up against me, he had like one catch for six yards.
“There’s a whole lot of scheme that went into that. They were running the ball on us. And we had double teams on him sometimes. But I held my own against him. So I’ve always known I was ready for the NFL. I just have to get the opportunity to get out here.”
Peterson will have to prove he can play better than his time and his size consistently at the NFL level. But it’s not like he’s some try-hard slow guy. He was a three-time state sprint champion at Wagoner (Okla.) High School. And he ran a hand-timed at 4.4 40 at Oklahoma State.
“He’s one of those kids with an innate ability to play fast and process information at a fast rate,” said Oklahoma State cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie. “I was shocked at some of the combine times he ran, because he’s plays extremely quick and fast — a reactionary deal he’s blessed with.
“Part of it is the work he puts in to learning and studying opposing defenses and understanding the playbook and knowing where he can cheat and take some chances. And he’s a tremendous teammate. Sometimes guys that are so confident in themselves, they only think about themselves. But he’s a special player, a special kid. I think the Bears got a steal in him.”
Peterson still is a long shot, likely battling for a practice-squad spot. But he loves the challenge. “He was the guy that came in every week wanting to know [which opposing receiver] caught the most ball, who they were trying to get the ball to — and wanted to cover that guy,” Duffie said. “The Bears got a great kid, a big-time competitor. I can’t say enough about who he is, what he’s made of and the foundation and character of his integrity.”
It doesn’t always work out. In the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss, Peterson was burned for two touchdowns against Laquon Treadwell and flagged twice for pass interference in a 48-20 loss. But with Treadwell on the Vikings, Peterson can’t wait for a second chance. His focus only increases when he gets beat. As a senior in high school he was burned for a deep completion that led to a go-ahead touchdown. He returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to win the game. It’s hard to measure that kind of competitive spirit.
“You always count your blessings,” Peterson said. “But I expect to be here. I love playing the game. Whether it’s my rookie year or I’m a 10-year vet, I’m going to try to be the best player on the field.”