If you have ever wondered how a player goes from being an undrafted tight end out of college to a seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle in the NFL, you’re not alone. Jason Peters does, too.
Peters, who will enter his 12th NFL season and seventh with the Eagles, is one of the NFL’s more amazing stories.
“It’s a blessing, that’s all I can say,’’ Peters said. “I’m blessed. I really am.
“When I look back on it, if I would have gotten drafted as a tight end, who knows? I would have likely stayed a tight end. I might not have played that long. Everything would have been different.’’
Instead as an undrafted player with the Buffalo Bills, Peters made the switch from tight end to tackle and became one of the best to ever play the position.
“To get a big guy playing tackle that can pass protect like he does and work his way down the line, God didn’t create many people like him,’’ NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth said of Peters.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland shakes his head and smiles when Peters’ name is mentioned.
“The best part about Jason is he wants to be coached,’’ Stoutland said. “He’s still eager to learn. ‘Am I doing the steps right? What’s it look like on film?’ I’m so blessed to be able to coach a guy like that.
“What makes him so good is he’s got the best balance of any player I’ve ever coached, balance and body control. You can’t knock him off balance, it just doesn’t happen.’’
Peters has been to seven Pro Bowls the past eight years, missing just 2012 when he was out with a torn Achilles. Five years after he decides to stop playing his name will be mentioned prominently in Hall of Fame conversation.
“I’ll think about that when I’m though playing,’’ Peters said about having his bust in Canton. “Guys in the media mention it to me, but it’s not something I think about now. It’s just like at the beginning of each season I don’t think about making the Pro Bowl. I just play game to game and see what happens.’’
What happened in 2004 is what led to Peters’ career change and what has turned out to be his incredible story.
As a junior tight end at the University of Arkansas, Peters decided to declare for the NFL Draft.
“I sent in my request like any underclassmen would do and they sent me back a grade, a high grade, so that’s why I decided to come out for the draft,’’ Peters said. “I mean, all we did was run the ball anyway [at Arkansas], it’s not like I was going to put up big numbers, score a lot of touchdowns and my stock was going to rise.
“This was an opportunity for me. [Kellen] Winslow and [Ben] Watson were the two top tight ends in that draft. But I thought I was going to go in the second, maybe the third round.’’
Peters did what all draft eligible players do: work out at the Scouting Combine, have pro days, anything to impress the pro scouts on hand to watch.
And he felt he did.
“The Combines, I blew it out of the water,’’ he said. “I did all the drills. I caught everything they threw me, I think I might have dropped one ball. I don’t know what happened. I guess they just didn’t know what to do with me.’’
The draft began that Saturday in April back in 2004 and as expected Winslow and Watson were first-round picks. Ben Troupe and Kris Wilson, two more tight ends, went in the second round.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I kept asking my agent,’’ Peters said. “In the second round, Washington called me and said they’re thinking about taking me, but then they take [Chris] Cooley. In the third round, the Saints called me, and they took another guy not even a tight end.
“After the fourth, fifth round I told my agent at this point I’d rather not get drafted and be able to pick where I go, instead of just being stuck some place.’’
Peters got his wish and quickly signed with Buffalo after the draft ended.
“I want to say every team in the league called, well at least 25 did,’’ Peters said. “Buffalo was the best option for me at that time. They didn’t have any big names at tight end.’’
Peters played in five games and started one as a rookie tight end for the Bills. It wasn’t what he dreamt about in his NFL dreams.
“My second year is when it happened,’’ he said of the switch to tackle. “After my first year, I sat down with our coach [Mike Mularkey] at the end of the season and told him I wanted to get on the field more. I told him I needed to get on the field more and I would make a difference. He told me the offensive line coach liked me. I told him I’ll play the line, I’ve never done it before, but I’ll do it.’’
“[McNally] deserves a lot of credit,’’ Peters said. “I have to credit Mularkey, too. He could have easily just released me, but he took a chance and moved me to the offensive line.
“I was the third or fourth tackle, working behind Mike Williams and Jonas Jennings, when workouts started that March. I just watched them on the field. And then off the field, I watched Walter Jones of Seattle, because he was the best. I just tried to pick up little things.’’
Williams suffered an ankle injury a few weeks into the season. Peters went in first as a right tackle; he moved to the left side the following season and that was that.
“He never got his spot back,’’ Peters said.
The Eagles acquired Peters in a trade with the Bills in 2009 for a first-round and a fourth-round draft pick. Five of his seven Pro Bowl appearances have come in Midnight Green.
“It’s been great coming to Philly,’’ Peters said. “Things weren’t working out in Buffalo, and this gave me another chance.”
Now, after going from unheralded tight end to star left tackle, there’s just one more chance he wants.
“The Super Bowl,’’ Peters said. “I told [Eagles offensive coordinator] Pat Shurmur I want to play 15 years. But if we were to get a Super Bowl, that might be it. I might end it right there. That would be the icing on the cake.’’