TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals passed on a quarterback, instead using the fifth overall pick in Thursday's opening round of the NFL draft to select Patrick Peterson, a confident, highly regarded cornerback from LSU who says he expects to immediately assume the starting cornerback spot alongside Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
After a 5-11 season, the Cardinals have needs galore and gladly chose Peterson, considered by some to be the best player in the draft.
Peterson, in a teleconference, described himself as a "fierce, competitive, confident young man" who brings kick- and punt-returning talents along with his ability to cover receivers and tackle. He has been timed in 4.31 seconds over 40 yards.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that with his team's many needs and a pick this high, it was important to select someone who can have an immediate impact, "someone in the now, not someone that we would have to develop."
"I like the way he plays physical and tough," Whisenhunt said, "and that's an attitude we need to get better with defensively. ... When you have a chance to get a player a lot of people feel like is the best player in the draft, we have to take those opportunities."
Peterson, appropriately wearing a Cardinal red tie at NFL draft headquarters in New York, certainly has no insecurity.
"I definitely believe I'm all the way NFL-ready," he said. "I believe once I get in there, all I need to do is learn the system."
Another player high on Arizona's list, outside linebacker Von Miller, went second overall to Denver.
There was speculation nationally, but not so much locally, that Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert would be the Cardinals' selection, considering how badly the team needs a quarterback. But the Cardinals have always preferred to seek a veteran free agent.
When asked about an ESPN report that the team has an "understanding" with Marc Bulger -- since no free-agent contacts can be made during the labor dispute -- general manager Rod Graves looked at Whisenhunt and asked: "Ken, do you know anything about that?"
"I don't know anything about that," Whisenhunt replied.
Gabbert went to Jacksonville with the No. 10 pick.
Whisenhunt called cornerback "a very difficult position in this league to play."
"You have to have a very tough mentality because you're going to get beat, you're going to give up plays," he said. "But you've got to learn to next time make a play. That's one of the things I like in my time of being around Patrick. He has that mentality."
The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Peterson has skills that have been compared with Green Bay great Charles Woodson, but it has been suggested he might eventually be shifted to safety. That's not an idea that Peterson likes.
"Anybody can voice their opinion," Peterson said. "For me, I definitely want to be a corner for my NFL career. I'm going to be a young professional, a mature young man that's coming in here knowing that this is a business, knowing that I have to stay healthy, I have to watch my weight. I have to do all the little things I need to do to be a successful corner."
He will compete with two-year NFL veteran Greg Toler for the cornerback spot.
"I'm thinking I'm going to come in there and start right away," Peterson said. "I don't see me sitting on the bench for Week 1."
Peterson said he had seen one Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. That was late in the 2009 season again Green Bay, he said, when he was watching his cousin Bryant McFadden, then an Arizona cornerback.
"I have a good feel for how the fans get down," he said, "and how the players rally up for big games."
Big indeed. Arizona won, 51-45, in overtime in one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press