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|Peterson has shut down some of college football's best receivers.|
The question to Patrick Peterson seems simple enough. What other college players do you like to watch on film?
Then the LSU cornerback finally admits, "I don't really study other college guys. They're probably studying me."
Cocky? Yes. Correct? Without doubt. The 6'1", 222-pound junior is a shutdown corner (seven career interceptions) who has emerged as a dual threat -- the Jets' Darrelle Revis meets the Browns' Joshua Cribbs -- and likely top-five NFL draft pick (maybe top-two). This season, Peterson ranks in the top 10 nationally in both punt and kickoff returns. In his career, he has scored touchdowns four different ways: interception, blocked field goal, fumble return and two punt returns.
"Patrick is one of the greatest double-threat guys I've ever seen," says LSU coach Les Miles. "And we recruited a pretty good one when I was at Michigan."
That would be Heisman winner Charles Woodson, one of Peterson's idols. "I tried out Woodson's Heisman pose after my punt return TD against West Virginia," the 20-year-old Peterson says, pausing to recall the celebration penalty that followed his September score. "That didn't go over so well."
But Peterson's act has impressed talent evaluators. On Nov. 6, a pack of NFL scouts is on hand as Florida State hosts North Carolina -- except they ignore the game to crowd around a laptop and watch Peterson do his work 450 miles away in a showdown with Alabama wideout Julio Jones. "Right here is what sets him apart," says one scout, pointing at the screen. "He should be smoked. Jones has him completely turned around with a nice route change; he's blind. But his mind always knows where the ball is." As Jones turns his shoulders to make the catch, Peterson closes a four-yard gap and -- boom! -- flattens the receiver to bring out the punt team. "That's pure instinct," says another scout. "He's raw and overaggressive, but we can teach him technique. The only person who teaches instinct is God."
The Man Upstairs can take credit for Peterson's speed, but props for his work ethic go to the Man Down the Hall, a.k.a. Patrick Sr. "Dad says once you have confidence, no one can stop you," says the younger Peterson. "The only person who's ever stopped me is him. He was my position coach in high school and benched me for my entire sophomore year, because he didn't think I was studying hard enough. I haven't stopped studying since, in class or at practice."
Now, the man he studies on film the most, Woodson, can't wait to watch Peterson in the NFL next fall. Says the 13-year vet, "I always love to meet the next mes."
Ryan McGee is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.