Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Dreams May Come 2009 – Cedric Peerman

In order to prepare for the NFL draft (and survive the unbearably long offseason), we've decided to check in on this year's draft class from time to time and discuss some of the potential future characters of the League that stand out for some reason or another. Today, Virginia RB Cedric Peerman.

beast of burden - rolling stones

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Once again, we'll be LIVE BLOGGING the NFL Draft this Saturday. Stay posted here for all the analysis and thoughts you could possibly want.

If Titans RB Chris Johnson was my unheralded obsession of 2008 (although I’m torn between him and Saints WR Adrian Arrington), then 2009 is all about Virginia RB Cedric Peerman.

Perhaps no pick this year represents the NFL’s strange relationship with physical measurements quite like Cedric Peerman. Despite all of the talk you’ve heard about this draft class being uniquely unimpressive at running back, Peerman has, when healthy (the ultimate red flag phrase to scouts), proven to be a versatile back who could carry a college offense. Furthermore, Peerman was the most physically impressive back at the combine, posting the fastest 40 yard time (4.45 seconds), the second highest vertical jump (40 inches), and the fourth best bench press total (27 reps). Granted, none of those numbers on their own provide the sort of jaw dropping flash that Chris Johnson or Darren McFadden did last year, but combined they provide the picture of a back who, thanks to a reputation for gaining punishing yards between the tackles, has all of the skills to accomplish the tasks asked of him. This is where the relationship of the draft and physicality comes into play; outliers act as the ultimate selling points, but full, rich pictures only make an unheralded player seem more unremarkable.

Fortunately for Peerman, there is a sea change in the NFL regarding running backs that could get him the attention he deserves and the success of which he is capable.

The stunning fall from grace of LaDainian Tomlinson, the less stunning fall of Willis McGahee, and the reliance of teams with the singular talents listed above on a system of several backs all shifted the focus of an offensive backfield last year away from the front man and onto the unit as a whole. Yes, Adrian Peterson is tremendous, but without Chester Taylor he wears down. Yes, Thomas Jones had a fantastic year, but Leon Washington made that offense what it needed to be, all by virtue of his ability to accomplish things that Jones could not. At 5’10” and 216 pounds, Peerman is built to handle a variety of tasks, and while he may not be able to convince NFL coaches of his ability to carry an offense, he may no longer have to do so. Instead, all he needs to prove is that his obvious physical talents translate to a similarly complete picture of an NFL back.

The consequences of this would be dramatic for the way we conceive of NFL running back corps. Rather than viewing these units as made up of broken individuals serving to form a complete whole, we could start seeing discrete, yet fully formed works stacked on top of one another, giving layered depth to the whole rather than a broad, expansive single layer (Peterson and Taylor are as close as I can find to this in the league, although Miami has started to do it as well). Granted, it’s fun to think about the idea of what Leon Washington can hit you with as opposed to Thomas Jones, but imagine a backfield in which, after a punishing run up the middle by Larry Johnson, Cedric Peerman steps onto the field, leaving defenses no easy decisions as to what they can expect. Granted, it’s not as sexy in terms of potential, but it’s perhaps more dangerous in terms of creating an offense that can eat up yardage and clock time, eventually opening up the field by wearing the defense down physically and mentally.

That’s perhaps the strangest thing about Peerman as a draft pick. On the one hand, he represents the kind of unconventional selection that coaches loathe. What discrete piece of “the puzzle” is he? On the other hand, Peerman represents perhaps the simplest step toward creating that age-old ideal of “hard nosed” football that coaches have been worshipping since the game was invented. It’s that combination of revolution within the boundaries of the system that represents true subversion, and makes Peerman my favorite running back on the board.

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