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Cardinals J.J. Nelson, Patrick Peterson land on list of NFL’s fastest players

You can’t watch an NFL game without being awed by the speed some players display.

In fact, an Arizona Cardinals game may feature a little more in the speed category than others.

The Cardinals have plenty of speed on the field, at several positions, but two of their players — wide receiver J.J. Nelson and cornerback Patrick Peterson — made the cut on a list of the NFL’s fastest players compiled by ESPN analyst Matt Bowen.

Bowen published an article on ESPN.com highlighting the league’s speed merchants after breaking down film to see “whose track speed translates to the field.”

Nelson, a third-year wide receiver from Alabama-Birmingham, was third on the list.

In two NFL seasons, Nelson has averaged more than 19 yards per catch (19.3). He’s a true big-play weapon with the speed to get over the top of the secondary and eliminate defensive pursuit. Check out this touchdown run versus the Dolphins on the reverse (watch). Nelson destroys the angle from the safety and outruns the defense on his way to six. Given his size (5-foot-10, 160 pounds), Nelson isn’t going to earn his money on middle-of-the-field throws. Instead, he’s going to work over the top of the secondary and rip off chunk plays with that 4.28 speed.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians noticed Nelson’s jaw-dropping speed while the receiver was still in high school.

“It’s funny because I was at a track meet five years ago, four years ago, in Alabama — the state championships and my granddaughter was running,” the coach said after the Cardinals picked Nelson in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. “This kid from Midfield won the 100, 200, 4×100 — little skinny dude. My son and I go, ‘Who in the hell is that?’

“It just happened to be J.J. Nelson.”

Peterson is one of the most decorated and respected cornerbacks in the league, but his speed doesn’t get talked about a lot. Bowen ranked the sixth-year player 11th on his list.

Playing in the secondary is more about short-area closing speed and the ability to transition (or break) on the ball. That’s why it can be hard to compare the long speed of Peterson to the wide receivers on this list. But if we go back to some of his punt returns earlier in his career (watch) or take a look at his interception this past season versus the Bills when he opened it up to track the ball (watch), there’s no doubt that Peterson belongs with this group. He’s a low-4.3 guy all day.

Arizona was one of only two teams to have two players appear on Bowen’s list. The Atlanta Falcons were the other, with receivers Taylor Gabriel (9th) and Julio Jones (12th) making the cut.

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