KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson has played with dozens of cornerbacks over 12 years in the NFL.
He admits that none of them has been quite like Marcus Peters.
The second-year pro has an uncanny ability to read and react, to know where a pass is going seemingly before the quarterback.
Peters had two of the six interceptions of the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick in a 24-3 win on Sunday , his second straight two-pick game and the highlight of an eight-turnover performance.
It’s not just Peters’ ability that stands out, though.
“I’ve played with a lot of really good corners,” Johnson said, “but they were not as young as Marcus.”
Yes, the 23-year-old Peters is still a pup in the grand scheme of things. But he’s been playing like a bulldog since his first game as a pro, when he picked off Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Peters went on to intercept eight passes last regular season, earning the rookie a spot in the Pro Bowl. He added another interception against the Texans in a 30-0 playoff romp last January, a victory that ended nearly two decades of postseason futility for Kansas City.
Heck, Peters even picked off a pass in the Pro Bowl.
“They’re going to have to stop throwing to his side or he is going to have 100 interceptions,” Johnson said with a smile.
“He’s the ultimate competitor. He’s harder on himself than anybody else. That’s the best thing about him, as a young player — he doesn’t let anything slide.”
Peters hasn’t exactly had a smooth road to stardom.
He was kicked off his team at Washington after a series of run-ins with coaches, culminating with a blowup with coach Chris Petersen.
The series of events was a big reason he slid midway through the first round of the draft, where Kansas City took him with the 18th overall pick.
The Chiefs defended the choice from the moment they made it, insisting they had done due diligence on him.
The Chiefs even sent a scout to Peters’ hometown of Oakland, California, in the days before the draft to make sure they knew everything about him.
What they learned was that Peters had grown up. He had matured. He had become a father and wanted to take care of his family. He learned from his mistakes and was ready to move on.
Peters has been a model teammate and citizen in Kansas City.
He’s also used his newfound stature to help push the movement spearheaded by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for social equality.
It was Peters who raised a gloved fist during the national anthem before the season opener, a homage to John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Peters described afterward what life is like in the predominantly black neighborhoods where he grew up, and how he wants to affect change by reaching out to children in the community.
But his ability to do that will be determined in part by his ability on the field, his ability to stay in the middle of the conversation. And Peters has done nothing to diminish that in three games.
He rallied after a poor start against San Diego to shut down the Chargers receivers in the second half, giving Kansas City a chance to rally for the biggest comeback win in franchise history.
The next week, he made Houston rue him once more with two interceptions of Brock Osweiler.
On Sunday, Peters was at it again with two interceptions against the Jets.
“It was all about executing the game plan to a ‘T’,” Peters said. “We let our pass rush get there, we played underneath, we let our safeties play over the top and we made plays.”
Sounds easy, right?
Peters had the first of the six interceptions, and also the first of four in the fourth quarter that sealed the win. In between, things seemed to get a little contagious.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Peters said. “When things are happening like they did, you enjoy it. You embrace the opportunities that you have. You capitalize on them and have fun doing it.”
Peters is far from flawless. He still boils over when things are going against him. He tends to take too many chances, and gets beaten while trying to bait quarterbacks into making a bad throw.
But when he is picking off passes at such a torrid clip, the Chiefs can deal with it.
“Listen, he has great abilities,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “All the guys know that. They respect the job he’s done since he’s been here. He’s a good football player, a heady football player.
“Does he take chances sometimes? Yeah, he does,” Reid said. “But he’s got a short memory, which you’ve got to have there. He gets right back on it and nothing gets him down.”