At 28 years of age, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson may be the single most talented tailback the National Football League has ever seen.
That statement doesn’t really need qualifying. Never before have we seen such a statuesque figure with blinding speed, freakish strength, freakish explosiveness and genuinely nightmarish quick-twitch moves.
Last season, just eight months removed from an ACL and MCL tear that was supposed to rob the phenomenon of what always seemed to make him so great, Adrian Peterson was already back on the field. The results were absolutely staggering.
He should have still been in rehab by all accounts. Instead, he was busy rushing for 2,097 yards, leading his team to the playoffs despite being seemingly the entire Minnesota offense and collecting his first AP NFL MVP award.
He came just 10 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. Upon notification of how close he came to breaking the record he said, “An orange peanut for me?”
Okay… so maybe that was just a Bad Lip Reading version of what he said. He actually just expressed shock at how close he came before deferring to excitement over leading his team into the playoffs in what was a must-win game for the Minnesota Vikings over the Green Bay Packers.
That kind of humility after coming so breathtakingly near to such a humongous individual accomplishment is made all the more miraculous by the life Adrian Peterson has lived.
His father had NBA aspirations before a freak accident ended his dreams. Then, at seven years old, he witnessed his older brother killed by a drunk driver while riding bikes. By 13, his father was arrested for laundering money for a drug ring.
However, Peterson managed to overcome through sports.
He was a track star and (obviously) a football star at Palestine High School in Texas. He became the consensus No. 1 player in the country before ultimately settling on the Oklahoma Sooners.
As a freshman he rewrote the records books, and then after two more injury-plagued, yet remarkably productive years, he declared for the 2007 NFL Draft. He’d go on to be selected seventh and the rest you’re all probably relatively familiar with.
Rookie of the Year. Five Pro Bowls. Five All-Pro teams. Two rushing titles. A 2,000 yard season and an NFL MVP.
However, at 28, with such a violent running style and a history of injury, it’s hard to imagine how many productive years Adrian Peterson has left. It seems idiotic to question this guy after everything that he’s overcome before–injury, death and struggle–yet we still subscribe to this notion that he can’t.
Yet, we’re all in agreement–or at least we should be–that this is the most dominant running back of his generation and the most talented of all-time. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s the greatest running back of all, because that distinction requires a longevity that Peterson hasn’t displayed despite six incredible years in the NFL. You have to put in 15 years like Emmitt Smith or 13 years like Walter Payton to earn that title.
However, there’s still time for Adrian Peterson to prove that to be true. He’s made mention of the fact that he’d like to set the all-time rushing record, although accomplishing that will likely require him to stay healthy and productive into his early 30s.
Whether or not he can accomplish that remains to be seen. It seems far-fetched given how we treat running backs in this day and age.
What he can do is start with another huge year.
On Sunday, he did exactly that, taking his first carry and bolting through, over and around the entire Detroit Lions defense on his way to a 78-yard touchdown run. It was the 77th rushing touchdown of his career.
The Lions would ultimately go on to corral Peterson’s efforts on the ground, and he’d go on to gain just 15 yards in his next 17 carries. However, he would manage to rack up two more touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving).
In order to rack up another 2,000 yard season, Adrian Peterson will have to average 125 yards rushing per game. That’s 32 more yards than what he got in Week One against the Lions, but considering that the Lions field a stout front four and keyed hard on Peterson, a second consecutive 2,000 yard season still seems within reach.
No back has responded to a 2,000 yard season with another, but if anyone can do it, it’s Adrian Peterson. With as far as he’s come in his life, what’s another 2,000 yards to AP?