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Player Spotlight: Adrian Peterson

Can Adrian Peterson, the ageless wonder, tally up another elite fantasy season?

Year in, year out, Adrian Peterson is a cornerstone player for many fantasy teams. Despite the fact that the Minnesota Vikings have to find out what quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will do once unleashed, it seems as though the team will absolutely lean on Peterson again.

That’s great news for fantasy owners and perhaps disappointing news for Vikings fans who may never see their quarterback throw the football downfield regularly.

Consistent Excellence

Aside from the 2014 NFL Season when he was suspended, Adrian Peterson has failed to hit the 1,000 yard mark just once—in 2011 when he blew out his knees.

Injuries didn’t slow him down (he had a career year in 2012 with 2097 yards and a 6 yards per carry average) and age seems to have no influence on him either. Peterson has been unflinchingly consistent regardless of circumstance averaging 1,298 yards, 4.9 yards per carry and just under 11 touchdowns each year.

There’s very little chance that he will miss those marks this year, once again putting him at or near the top of the heap when it comes to fantasy backs.

Opportunity

What’s great here is how often we can expect offensive coordinator to use Peterson. Since arriving in Minnesota, Turner has called 856 run plays compared to 971 pass plays. He actually called 63 fewer pass plays in 2015 (454) compared to 2014 (517) while the run plays dropped less (from 442 to 414 or by just 28).

So Turner actually throttled back the throws in Bridgewater’s second year. And in 2014 he didn’t even have Peterson.

Normally, you see the opposite, with a coordinator getting more comfortable with his quarterback, not less.

This is old hat for Turner though, who rode Ladainian Tomlinson the same way despite the presence of Philip Rivers. In the three years Turner had Tomlinson he called the back’s number 315, 292 and 223 times. The 2009 number would have been higher save for an injury which cost Tomlinson two games.

The Chargers still threw plenty but Turner was more than happy to lean on his veteran back.

This will occur again this season, as it will every season until either Peterson leaves or his legs fall off. Turner is going to trust his veteran back to carry the team until he can’t do that anymore. Given Peterson’s workout regimen, that time won’t be coming this year.

The Old Grim Reaper

Of course, there is always the chance that this will be the year Peterson falls apart. He’s now 31 and traditionally that’s actually past the time when teams put old running backs out to pasture.

Is it a concern for Peterson?

We don’t think so. Sure, the shadow of it will forever loom over him until it actually comes true, but Peterson is an outlier, a player outside trends. We’ve already mentioned his workout regimen, the one which other players are following and has allowed Peterson to continue to play beyond what most people expect from a 31-year old running back.

Here’s a taste of what he gets up to, per the above linked article.

He begins at Houston's Reagan High School with a mile run, slated to be seven minutes or better, then starts into a set of nine sprints -- six of 300 meters apiece, timed between 42 and 46 seconds, and three at 200 meters each, with a maximum time of 29 seconds. Peterson has to remind himself to run within reason, not letting his competitive side goad him into overtraining. But, he points out, he was still able to win all but one sprint.

And when you read the article, you’ll realize that was essentially a warmup.

Peterson repeatedly outperforms younger players in these drills and in the workouts.

Is age a concern for Peterson? Again, we don’t even think he’ll notice it.

Game Limitations

As good as Peterson is, he has his limitations. He has never been a very good pass blocker and is not a huge fixture in the passing game. He can catch the ball, but it’s not a strength.

That does make things a little more challenging for the offense, as it really doesn’t want to give a clear signal to the defense that the play will be a run or pass depending on the presence of Peterson on the field.

He still ended up on the field 65 percent of the time last season, which puts him in the top five running backs.

It speaks to the tendency to lean on the run which we talked about earlier. Turner wants Peterson on the field. As he is not as useful during passing plays, a lot more running plays are called.

Competition

In 2014, Adrian Peterson was suspended but the world didn’t end. Instead, Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata formed a formidable one-two punch for much of the season and kept the ground attack going.

Neither is or ever will be Peterson but both are very good running backs. They’ve shown that they can fill the void in Peterson’s absence and they will provide some competition down the road.

I don’t think that time is now, but it’s important to understand that the Vikings have options in the backfield. While McKinnon and Asiata lack Peterson’s overall skills, McKinnon is much better on passing downs and Asiata is a very nice short yardage option.

If something happens to Peterson or if he starts to show his age, Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer could give Peterson a little more rest. We don’t think the impact will be huge, but it is something to watch.

For now, though, Peterson remains healthy and productive and so both Asiata and McKinnon are going to be on the sidelines more often than not.

Positives

  • Consistent, high yardage/touchdown production
  • Ground-centric offensive gameplan and coordinator
  • Healthy & Improved offensive line

Negatives

  • When will age become a factor?
  • Young quarterback has to see more action at some point
  • Will offense use Jerrick McKinnon or Matt Asiata more?

Final Thoughts

Yes, Peterson is aging but the effort he puts in on the offseason has held off Father Time and will continue to do so again this season. From a football l standpoint, I want to see more work from teddy Bridgewater, as he could be the future and Peterson just isn’t. However, Norv Turner’s history indicates he prefers to run his back as often as possible and with a talent like Peterson, who can blame him?

Last season, Peterson was the second best running back in the NFL and did it with a banged up offensive line. Now the line is healthy, there is more talent and so Peterson is once again poised for a top-shelf NFL and fantasy season. Owners who have him drop into their lap will be very pleased with the results on the field in 2016.

Projections

 

Games

RSH

YDS

TDs

REC

YDs

TDs

Garda

16

300

1350

12

30

215

0

Other Viewpoints

Writers at NFL.com voted Adrian Peterson as their “Gold Medal Back” aka the Best Back in the NFL. Charlie Casserly says he can be "even better with an improved offensive line." Nate Burleson says Peterson "competes with so much heart and is the closest reminder to what running backs used to play like several decades ago." Willie McGinest said Peterson is "is simply the best. We've seen him put the Vikings on his back for years."

Our own Andy Hicks actually feels Peterson is a Value Play:

The year off seems to have done Adrian Peterson the world of good. Now at age 31 it would appear that Peterson should be slowing down, but the Vikings have kept their faith in him and the Norv Turner offense will still run through the running back. Obviously no running back is without issues, but Peterson is a proven elite back, in a proven elite system with stability on offense. In the competition for number 1 ranking, he isn't coming off an injury like Le'Veon Bell or Jamaal Charles, which Peterson has proven resilient to in the past. He isn't a rookie like Ezekiel Elliot and he has more than 1 season of proven form unlike Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Devonta Freeman. He isn't on a new team like Matt Forte or Lamar Miller either. Peterson may not end the season at number 1, but he is the safest choice if you want a running back early.

Meanwhile, Matt Blair of Numberfire.com has a dissenting opinion. He points to the dreaded “post-300 year” blues as a stumbling block, especially at Peterson’s age.

Peterson is third among active running backs in career carries with 2,381, only trailing Frank Gore and Steven Jackson.

Peterson is also among the 10 oldest running backs -- Fred Jackson leads the league at age 35.

How have 30-plus year-old running backs done coming off of a 300-plus carry season? According to Pro Football Reference, only 10 running backs aside from Peterson have done this since 2000….. Aside from Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin, most backs saw their carries drop significantly.