Only a handful of defensive backs in the NFL can take away the entire side of a field.
In hoops, completely nixing an offensive player from the opponent’s game plan is rarely a reasonable achievement.
There are exceptions in each sport, and both Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard fall into those two respective categories. That’s why NFL.com, in a piece comparing NBA and NFL stars, made the connection between the two defensive standouts.
Just as Patrick Peterson has the size and freakish athleticism to match the NFL’s top wide receivers, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is one of the few perimeter defenders capable of shutting down the NBA’s premier swingmen.
Cardinals fans know Peterson’s abilities well. He’s got the size of a safety, the footwork of the best cornerbacks and the speed to close the gap on a receiver when he happens to make a mistake. Leonard’s hands, footwork and size help him lock down NBA players in the same way.
Now, such comparisons might be a stretch.
But the more it’s dissected, the more it makes sense.
Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins wrote a feature on Leonard in March that included deep football analogies. It goes beyond Leonard’s first name sounding phonetically similar to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Much like Peterson, one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, Leonard isolates the players he covers.
NBA.com also keeps track of “prevent defense,” quantifying how much defenders depress the touches, points and field goals of players they are guarding. Leonard ranks among the top 10 in all three categories among perimeter players.
Taking it a bit further, it turns out Leonard even trains like an NFL defensive back thanks to working with Randy Shelton in the offseason.
Shelton, who also trains professional football players, treated Leonard like a shutdown corner. Shelton made him backpedal through speed ladders, wiggling his hips and cycling his feet, as if shadowing a receiver running post patterns.
The real wonder is who the Peterson-Leonard comparison compliments more.