When Corey Peters signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals in March of 2015, he expected to step in and become the starter at nose tackle from day one.
After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Peters signed a three-year, $9,150,000 contract with Arizona to join the likes of Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker on the interior of the Cardinals' defensive front.
However, near the end of training camp in 2015, disaster struck for Peters, as he suffered a torn left Achilles that would sideline him for the duration of the season. Peters was placed on the team's injured reserve list, and for the second time in his career, Peters had to rehab a potentially devastating injury.
At the end of the 2013 season, Peters suffered a torn right Achilles, which cut short the best season of his career, one in which he racked up 5.0 sacks from his nose tackle position.
Still, all signs pointed to a healthy season for Peters in 2015, and the news of his injury forced fourth round draft choice, rookie Rodney Gunter in the starting lineup. With Peters out, Gunter performed better than anticipated, but nevertheless, the Cardinals missed the run-stopping presence Peters provided.
After missing 2015, Peters undoubtedly felt the pressure to perform this season, and played a critical role on one of the best units on the Cardinals' roster this year.
Peters in 2016
For only the second time in his career, Peters finished a season without a sack, but his failure to take down opposing quarterbacks shouldn't define the type of season Peters enjoyed.
Fully recovered from a gruesome injury, Peters returned as the starting nose tackle in Arizona, taking his place in the middle of a defensive line that relied heavily on his ability to plug up the A-gaps against the run.
Peters finished the year with just 21 tackles, but held his own on the defensive line against opposing centers and helped the Cardinals put together one of the best run-stopping units in the NFL. Though Peters wasn't statistically impressive, his ability to stand his ground at the line of scrimmage and command two gaps at once freed up some of the teams faster playmakers like Campbell and edge-rusher Markus Golden to make more plays at the line of scrimmage.
In 2016, Peters showcased a strong first step and initial burst at the line of scrimmage, and was rarely beaten at the point of attack. In the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme, he carried out his role well and though he didn't impact the passer, he carried out his role in the running game and justified the coaching staff's decision to insert him back into the nose tackle role ahead of Gunter.
Peters in 2017
The upcoming season marks the final year on Peters' contract and will certainly help make or break his future with the franchise. If the team elects to allow Campbell to walk in free agency, the Cardinals will need more production from Peters in the middle of the defensive line, assuming Arizona inserts Robert Nkemdiche into the role formerly played by Campbell.
Though Peters doesn't necessarily need to improve his pass-rushing capabilities because the Cardinals aren't reliant on their nose tackle's ability to collapse the pocket, he'll need to be just as stout in the run game and capable of handling double teams on a regular basis.
If opposing offensive lines are able to game plan and target Peters more frequently in 2017 than they were able to in 2016, Arizona will have a much better idea of whether it wants to bring Peters back in 2018 and beyond based on how he responds. At the age of 28, Peters likely isn't going to get any faster, and with an injury history that now includes a pair of torn Achilles' tendons, it's going to be difficult for Peters to command significant money on the free agent market without an impressive campaign this season.
Can Peters continue to move opposing offensive linemen backward, create stalemates at the line of scrimmage, and assume responsibility for both A-gaps if the Cardinals' defensive line is weaker as a unit in 2017? Those are questions Peters will attempt to answer this season.