The Gut Check No. 247: The Insanity Series - Adrian Peterson
By Matt Waldman
June 26th, 2012

The Insanity Series: Players That Will Drive You Mad in 2012

Every season there are players with appeal so strong that fantasy owners can't resist drafting them despite evidence that suggests otherwise. This series is devoted to dispelling the illusions fantasy owners, football media, and fantasy analysts may have about them. My goal is to break through the wall of denial that exists regarding these players. While I'm aware that I might be the one who is ultimately deluded, these are players that I'm telling readers to be the naysayers when it comes to fantasy drafts.

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Adrian Peterson: There is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Superman (at least in 2012)

Tears came to my eyes when I saw Adrian Peterson assisted off the field. It wasn't the injury that did it, but the reaction of his opponents. One after another, each defender individually approached Peterson and offered encouragement. Players even came off the bench to talk to him, pat him on the shoulder, and tell him what he meant to them as a foe.

There was a genuine need for these players to approach Peterson. It wasn't something football fans see with this level of reverence. It was a poignant moment involving a player who seemed bulletproof to major injury, but now was suddenly stripped of his invulnerability to major injury.

He's an NFL hero. Peterson's career has been filled with so many years of indomitable skill that no one wants to doubt the Vikings running back when it comes to anything he does. This includes Peterson being ready to play Week 1 after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Christmas Eve of 2011.

Peterson is a known as a fast healer, an amazing physical specimen, and an equally amazing worker. Even I don't want to doubt the best running back in football. Yet, based on his average draft position and the rankings of my peers, I must.

Past History

When it comes to sports medicine, we're learning with each passing year that past history is often best left in the past. Wes Welker returned from an ACL and ACL tear on January 3, 2010 and returned Week 1 of the following season to catch 86 passes for 848 yards, and score seven touchdowns in 15 starts. Good stats, but not the 123-reception, 1,348-yard, 4-touchdown effort from 2009 or the 122-reception, 1,569-yard, 9-touchdown rebound in 2011 a year later. Welker admitted this year that his knee never felt right that first year back - still a common complaint among NFL players.

And wide receivers may do their share of cutting, but I believe that movement is a more premeditated act of set moves that generally involve making them without defenders holding, hitting, or pulling them in a variety of directions while doing so. Receivers have a greater luxury to move in a straight line and/or fall down after the catch. Runners deal with a greater variety of off-balanced, unplanned movements that required an even higher level of confidence in the knee.

Moreover, Peterson may be regarded by some as a straight-line, power runner, but these YouTube highlights demonstrate this is a fallacy. Peterson is a violent runner not just in terms of his power, but also his cuts, spins, and changes of direction. One of the special things about Peterson's game has been his ability to get through the line of scrimmage and make one sharp plant and cut at full speed to change the axis of defensive pursuit and turn a 15-yard gain into runs that exceed 40 yards. He may not use a lot of stop-start moves and jukes like Jamaal Charles, but his cuts require plenty strength and suddenness.

Here's a recent list of running backs that tore an ACL and their production the next year. Most of them went had successful fantasy seasons the following year. Edgerrin James was the No. 24 fantasy running back upon his return. He also had Peyton Manning under center. Peterson has Christian Ponder. Both James and Ronnie Brown were injured mid-season and had acceptable fantasy starter production the following year, but Brown might have some mitigating factors (see below). Jamal Lewis was the No. 13 running back upon his return. However, Lewis is the only back on this list to accomplish this feat and he had an entire year to rehab. Deuce McAllister, a great young running back at the time, hurt his knee at the end of his 2004 season. He was never the same back.

Season of Injury

Running Back
Year
G
Rush Att
Rush Yds
Rush TDs
Rec Yds
Rec TDs
FF Pts
Edgerrin James
2001
6
151
662
3
193
0
103.5
Jamal Lewis
2001
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Correll Buckhalter
2003
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Deuce McAllister
2004
14
269
1,074
9
228
0
184.2
Ronnie Brown
2007
7
119
602
4
389
1
129.1

Following Year

Running Back
Year
G
Rush Att
Rush Yds
Rush TDs
Rec Yds
Rec TDs
FF Pts
Edgerrin James
2002
14
277
989
2
354
1
152.3
Jamal Lewis
2002
16
308
1,327
6
442
1
218.9
Correll Buckhalter
2003
15
126
542
8
133
1
121.5
Deuce McAllister
2005
5
93
335
3
117
0
63.2
Ronnie Brown
2008
16
214
916
10
254
0
177.0

Ronnie Brown's injury was the most recent of the heralded runners in fantasy football and the former Miami runner tore his ACL in Week 7 of 2007 while on his way to what was looking like a Top 5 fantasy year. To Brown's credit, he returned the following season and performed well enough to come within 84 yards of 1000, score 10 touchdowns, and produce as the No.17 fantasy runner in 2008. However, Brown had more weeks of rehab than Peterson will and he also returned the same year that the Dolphins implemented the wildcat and thoroughly confused the league.

While it is possible that the pass-poor Vikings have, in theory, the personnel like Percy Harvin and Toby Gerhart to pair with Peterson to thrive with the wildcat I think opposing defenses have caught on enough to make the offense nothing more than an occasional change up. I believe this means Peterson has tougher sledding then Brown. In fact, if Peterson has 848 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns - Wes Welker's production as a receiver the year after his return from his injury - I could consider Peterson's season a major success. This effort would place Peterson about even with Jonathan Stewart in 2011 as the No. 24 running back in fantasy football.

Overcoming Denial

I have no problem with a fantasy owner projecting a low-end RB2 season for Peterson. However, his top-15 projection is wishful thinking. Peterson does not have the same strong offensive line he had a few years ago and he has a young quarterback that isn't skilled enough at this stage of his career to take some of the pressure off the running game. It doesn't help that beyond Percy Harvin, the receiving corps is one of the following: young and inexperienced; new and unfamiliar with the system; and experienced but lacking great talent.

My greatest concern is that Peterson pushes his schedule so hard that he suffers a string of compensatory injuries that begin in September and limits him off and on throughout the season. I'm talking about muscle pulls, calf strains, or ankle sprains - the type of injuries that Peterson will try to perform with and cut into Toby Gerhart's opportunities, which will make both fantasy options mediocre, at best.

Peterson is a special athlete, but I'd rather him prove me wrong on someone else's team unless his ADP drops below the level of Insanity.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to waldman@footballguys.com.

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