LSU, SEC?show strength with 2011 NFL?Draft

Dave Moormann
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, shown celebrating after the Tigers’ win over Alabama last season, was the fifth overall selection in the NFL?Draft.

For further proof that the Southeastern Conference is the best college football league, look only to last weekend’s NFL Draft.

Four of the five top picks hailed from the SEC, including LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 5 to the Arizona Cardinals.

It’s not that Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus and A.J. Green are better than Peterson, it’s just that those SEC players chosen before Peterson may have a greater impact on each game.

As a quarterback, Auburn’s Cam Newton will more than likely touch the ball on every offensive play. Alabama tackle Marcell Dareus should profoundly affect every defensive play in which he participates, while Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green provides a scoring threat even more pronounced than the one Peterson presents.

That’s saying a lot, too, considering that Peterson returned two punts for touchdowns as a junior. Peterson is a threat every time he gets his hands on the football. It’s just that Newton and Green should handle the ball more often than Peterson. As for Dareus, he’ll harass the player with the ball, whether it be a running back or a quarterback, who may be rushed to get rid of the ball sooner than he would have liked.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper had Peterson rated first overall in the draft, and it’s hard to argue with Kiper’s prognosis. When former LSU wide receivers Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson were eligible for the 2004 draft, much was made of Clayton’s ability. Kiper was quick to note that Henderson deserved his share of consideration, as well.

Clayton went in the first round that year and Henderson in the second. Yet it is Henderson who remains in the league as a viable member of the New Orleans Saints, winners of the 2009 Super Bowl thanks to the help of Henderson.

When former LSU coach Nick Saban recruited Clayton out of Baton Rouge’s Christian Life Academy, Saban faced a dilemma. He could either use Clayton at free safety, where he was a tremendous prep player, or at wide receiver, where Clayton was equally as adept.

Saban chose the latter, he said, because Clayton would be more involved in the action as a wide receiver. Saban knew what he was doing. Clayton and Henderson both contributed to LSU’s 2003 BCS national championship.

Each team has its reasons for drafting a particular player. In Arizona’s case, it was the chance to get a stupendous cornerback with rare return qualities. Not only should Peterson crack the lineup of a team that went 5-11 last season, but he’ll be given every chance to run back kickoffs and punts.

It’s a welcome opportunity for Peterson, who got the most out of his three-year college career and looks to be at least as productive on the NFL level.

"It was something I waited for my entire life,” Peterson was quoted as saying at a post-draft reception in New York, where he was joined by his family and LSU coach Les Miles. “You work so hard to get to this moment….Playing in the NFL is a dream come true. I can't wait….”

Arizona won’t be disappointed in its star catch. Peterson works tirelessly to extract every ounce of potential in his body and has the supreme confidence – not cockiness or boastfulness – to produce the results to match.

Peterson became the highest drafted defensive back in school history and joined Tennessee’s Eric Berry as the highest drafted defensive back in SEC history. As the eighth first-round pick under Miles, and the 33rd in school history, Peterson gave LSU at least one first-round pick in seven of the last eight years.

Just like the quality of the SEC, that helps to explain why LSU has a program that is considered among the nation’s elite.

If Peterson’s “physical and tough” style of play becomes contagious, as Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt hopes, all the better.

In any event, Peterson and the SEC rule once again.