KANSAS CITY, Mo. – “And a little child shall lead them.”
That passage from the Old Testament is relevant with the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs. Marcus Peters is not a little child in the normal world; he’s 22 years old. But in professional football, he is a toddler, a rookie with just 14 games of NFL experience.
With the season headed towards a conclusion in the weeks ahead, Peters has firmly imprinted the Chiefs defense with his considerable skill, and a passion for the game that may exceed his talent.
So impactful has the young man from Oakland been, it’s not far-fetched to consider Peters as the Chiefs’ most valuable player in the amazing 2015 season.
This week, he’s already earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, becoming the fourth player in team history to secure an all-star game spot as a rookie. On Wednesday, Peters was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his two interceptions with a touchdown return against Baltimore.
“His attitude seems to have spread throughout the team,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s very rare for a young guy to have such a great attitude that it rubs off on others.”
His chance of earning enough votes from his teammates for MVP is hard to gauge. Since the team made the MVP an official honor in 1979, only one rookie has taken the vote: running back Joe Delaney in the 1981 season. There wasn’t any doubt about that election, as Delaney was the best player wearing red and gold that year.
But, Peters should become the fifth member of the Chiefs to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honor, joining cornerback James Marsalis (1969/AFL), nose tackle Bill Maas (1984), outside linebacker Derrick Thomas (1989) and cornerback Dale Carter (1992).
With a pair of games left, he’s No. 2 in the league with seven interceptions; no other rookie has more than three. The best rookie pass rusher is Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter with five sacks. Other defensive rookies haven’t produced like Peters.
The award should be his, and while the numbers are impressive, more noteworthy is the quick transition he made into a veteran defensive unit.
“They trust him out there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of his young corner. “Is he going to give up a play here or there? Yes. Does he need to work on his fundamentals and techniques? Yes. But the players have confidence in him and they know he’s going to bring it every snap.”
Safety Eric Berry said he’s not surprised by what Peters has been able to do in this rookie season.
“He told me in camp, everything that he was going to do as far as on the field,” Berry said. “We talked about it doing some extra drills after practice one day and he was just telling me everything he was going to do for the team and how he was going to come out and perform. I believed every word of it because he has a lot of passion and you can see it in his eyes when he talks about football and what he wants to do on the field.
“That’s his character, that’s who he is. That’s not a façade, that’s not a front, that’s just the type of person he is. When you come in like that and you back it up; his confidence is not cocky, it’s not cocky at all. He believes in his skills, he believes in the work that he puts in and he just goes out and performs.”
Despite a generation gap – he’s the third youngest player on the 2015 Chiefs and the youngster starter – Peters has connected with his veteran teammates.
“No. 22, he’s special, man,” said 31-year old, nine-season veteran defensive end Mike DeVito. “He reminds me of (Darrelle) Revis when Revis came out.”
DeVito was with New York when Revis came into the league as the Jets first-round choice in 2007. DeVito was also a rookie that season, although he wasn’t drafted.
“Revis is the best player I’ve seen playing football and 22 is right there with him,” DeVito said of Peters. “For him to be doing that as a rookie is incredibly impressive. He carries himself like a vet. I think that’s a big thing in this league – coming in with that confidence and swagger. They (Revis and Peters) are very comparable.”
Reid believes the rookie provides an emotional lift with his personality.
“He never thinks he’s out of the play and he’s going to challenge people,” said Reid. “He gets mad at himself when he doesn’t make a play or somebody makes one on him, but he fixes it. He’s not one who gets mad and completely loses focus. He gets mad, comes back and makes a better play.”
If named Defensive Rookie of the Year, Peters would join an illustrious group of Chiefs players that previously earned that honor:
Marsalis – was the 23rd choice of the 1969 AFL-NFL Draft out of Tennessee State University. At the age of 24, he moved quickly into the starting lineup at left cornerback and opened 17 games: 14 in the regular season, two games in the AFL playoffs and Super Bowl IV. He had two interceptions in the regular season and added three more in the playoffs. Marsalis played in the AFL All-Star Game that season and added the Pro Bowl to his resume in 1970.
Maas – went off the 1984 NFL Draft board at No. 5 in the first round, coming out of the University of Pittsburgh. The 22-year old got right into the starting lineup at nose tackle, opening 14 of 16 games and he was credited with five sacks. Although Maas did not make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, he chalked up two trips to the all-star game in his time with the Chiefs.
Thomas – proved to be the foundation of the franchise’s rebuild. Thomas was the fourth selection, first round of the 1989 NFL Draft from the University of Alabama. Just 22 years old, he moved into the right outside linebacker spot and started all 16 games. Thomas finished with 75 tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and he knocked down four passes. Thomas was a consensus choice as the defensive rookie of the year and started in the Pro Bowl, the first of his nine trips to that game.
Carter – was the 20th pick in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft, out of the University of Tennessee. The 23-year old Carter played all 16 games, starting nine and had 55 total tackles, with seven interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He also returned 38 punts, averaging 10.5 yards and scored two touchdowns. Although he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Carter ended up appearing in four all-star games in his career with the Chiefs.