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Spotlight: Adrian Peterson

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 1st


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Adrian Peterson - To Be (#1) or Not To Be (#1) During September?

For years, fantasy owners have slavered at the idea of having Adrian Peterson as their #1 fantasy running back. Since entering the league in 2007, he's been a lock for top-three production (he was either third or second among fantasy backs from 2007-2010). Even during his injury-shortened 2011 campaign (12 games, with 209/973/12 rushing and 23 targets for 18/139/1 receiving), Peterson checked in at eighth among all fantasy backs.

However, the phrase injury-shortened is the rub entering 2012. Peterson suffered a severe knee injury - a torn MCL and ACL as well as meniscus damage in his left knee - on Saturday, December 24, 2011. He had reconstructive knee surgery on December 30, 2011, and has since pursued an aggressive rehabilitation program in an attempt to be ready for the start of the 2012 regular season. Peterson has pointed to his ability to beat all his teammates in sprints and running hills as examples of his advanced state of recovery during the offseason/preseason.

However, the trainers and coaches up in Minnesota have been much more conservative in their assessments of Peterson's injury/rehabilitation over the past eight months. The team clearly intends to ease Peterson back into action during 2012, rather than throw him to the wolves quickly. They placed Peterson on the active/PUP list as soon as training camp opened, and so far have limited him to running on the side during practices.

* On May 9, 2012, head team trainer Eric Sugarman said: "I love Adrian. But let's make this clear: I'm still not going to be quoted as saying he's going to play in the first game. That's not fair. I don't know that ... He'll keep throwing that out there. And good for him. That's great. That's obviously our goal, to get him playing the first game. But only if he's functionally safe to do it. This is our franchise. We can't be foolish about this."

* On July 3, head coach Leslie Frazier said: "He's so valuable to our organization that we have to be smart. We'll tread lightly as far as Week one (regular season) and how much he'll contribute on the field."

* On July 29, after Peterson opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list, head coach Leslie Frazier said: "Ideally, you'd like to see him get some carries at some point in the preseason just for his benefit," said Frazier. "Where he can gain some confidence and get a feel for where he is and where he needs to be by the first game."

As you can see, the Vikings' coaches aren't going to expose Peterson to much contact during preseason, and their kid gloves treatment of Peterson may well extend into the first weeks of regular season.

So, who is the guy that may be #1 Viking running back during September (perhaps even October) while Peterson gets back into his NFL groove? That guy would be Toby Gerhart, who put up some VERY nice numbers subbing for Peterson during the four games Peterson missed during 2011 (Gerhart rushed for 4.9 yards per carry last year, with 109/531/1 on the ground, and caught over 82% of the passes that came his way with 28 targets for 23/190/3 receiving to his credit).

Gerhart was also forced to overcome a knee injury this year - Gerhart suffered a torn MCL in his knee during the 2011 season finale - BUT the injury did not require surgery, and was much less severe than Peterson's injury. On April 11, 2012 Gerhart indicated that the knee was almost fully rehabilitated and that he would fully participate in offseason workouts. He has done so and as of the opening of Vikings' training camp on July 27, Gerhart is taking the first team snaps. Gerhart has been open about training this year with the assumption that he'll be the team's starter until Peterson is ready to return as the full-time starter.

Essentially, the situation facing fantasy owners interested in the Vikings' running game this year is a two-headed monster. In order to enjoy a full 16 weeks of production from the Minnesota running backs, you'll likely need to draft both Peterson and Gerhart. As of the start of training camp, we don't know how soon Peterson will regain his form and take over as the lead back for the Vikings. It could be early in September, but it could be much later in the year. With an effective alternative already proven at the NFL level in Gerhart, it would seem foolish for the Vikings to rush Peterson back into the lineup (and the coaching and training staff have consistently sought to temper expectations about how soon Peterson will return as the lead running back during 2012).

Positives

  • Peterson and Gerhart are both proven NFL-caliber backs - if you manage to snag both in your fantasy draft, you'll likely have a solid runner to plug in each week
  • Peterson is highly motivated to get back to top form, and may terrorize opponents once he is finally back in the limelight
  • Gerhart is a nice insurance policy to have on your roster even if Peterson manages to return week one of the regular season, and a solid fantasy prospect in his own light if Peterson struggles to return to the field during preseason

Negatives

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  • If you draft Peterson, you'll likely have to overpay for Gerhart in order to keep other fantasy owners from "sniping" Gerhart - though Peterson likely won't command a top-12 pick this year, you'll still have to invest two quality fantasy selections to get one running back's production
  • Peterson's return to his former dominant level as a fantasy running back #1 is not assured. There are numerous examples of NFL players who never fully recovered top form after a knee reconstruction such as the one Peterson had to endure
  • The Vikings are a young team in a tough NFL North division - if Minnesota gets off to a bad start for 2012, the Vikings may decide to shut down Peterson early in order to protect him for a more meaningful season during 2013

Final thoughts

I am in the middle of the Footballguys.com range of opinions on Peterson (the range is from 8-37 on Peterson as a 2012 fantasy back), slotting him 20th on my redraft running back board as of late July. Regarding Gerhart, I am inline with most opinions among the staff, slotting him at 48th among fantasy backs. Here's what I expect to see happen - Peterson will be limited during September as he tests his knee, and then he will gradually increase his number of touches/playing time during October. Assuming that the Vikings still have a fighting chance at a playoff berth at mid-season, I think we see Peterson become more prominent in the offense during the second half of 2012. Peterson could be a player to put your fantasy team over the top during December. However, you'll have to carefully manage your roster at running back early in the year in order to be in contention in December, if you decide to put Peterson and Gerhart into your running back stable this year. The Peterson/Gerhart combination presents a higher level of risk for fantasy owners than a Peterson selection would have represented in years past.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Blackjacks said:

ADP is going to be majorly overrated on draft night. Gerhart will be the steal. I will be shocked it ADP (as great as he is) reaches 1,000 yards or 6 tds, but I think Gerhart will hit both the above #'s. In fact I think Garhardt might have double digit TDs!

FF Ninja said:

Much like Redman, I expect their year end numbers to be better than their positional ADP, but how much good does that do you if he's splitting time during the FF playoffs?

I like Gerhart's game and I think he'll be awesome (RB1 ppg numbers) for 6 weeks if they put Peterson on the PUP, but if they do that I think his ADP will shoot from his current RB40 to somewhere in the 20's. If you play in a strictly points league then he'll probably be worth it because he'll amass some numbers if ADP misses time, but I'd rather invest in a guy like Donald Brown (RB38), Stevan Ridley (RB37), or Blount (RB41) who could be year long RB2 contributors rather than a rent-a-RB1 who turns into a backup when I need him most.

As for the RB position in general, I think Ponder takes a step forward which leads to more scoring opps than last year and maybe clears the box out a bit on 1st and 2nd downs. I'm going to speculate that AP does indeed hit the PUP list and they give him the majority of the carries when he returns, but a combination of caution, production, and Gerhart's play will lead to more of a split than last year. I'm thinking Gerhart gets close to 20/gm thru 6 games and then there is a 15/8 split going forward. Obviously, any projections are going to be pretty wild guesses...

TG (16g): 200 x 4.4 = 880 yds 8 TD, 30 rec x 8 = 240 yds 1 TD
AP (10g): 150 x 4.2 = 630 yds 6 TD, 15 rec x 7 = 105 yds 0 TD

Jason Wood (Footballguys.com Senior Writer) said:

I've been surprised by the lack of concern folks are showing for Peterson's knee. Just because he says he'll be on the field, we're taking him at his word? This is a guy who suffered damage to multiple ligaments, and is the workhorse of his team. I know he's awesome. I know he's a fast healer. And I know the Vikings want to get him back into the fold. But why is everyone so comfortable that Peterson will be back to 100%, particularly in 2012? I'm HIGHLY skeptical, and so in a way I'm happy to see his average draft position as high as it is. I actually hope it continues to rise, because it'll make my decisions easier knowing that someone else in my leagues is targeting someone I most certainly won't.

Herb said:

I would expect the coaching staff to work [Peterson] back slowly, with maybe 10-12 carries/game up through the Week 11 bye. At that point, if he's still healthy and the team has a chance at the playoffs, I would expect his carries to increase to the 14-18/game range. However, it is far more likely that the Vikes will be also-rans by the week 11 bye, at which point you would hope they don't ride him too hard in a lost year.

TwinTurbo said:

I am trying to move AD in my keeper league. There are just too many red flags here. There is also no such thing as a quick healer when it comes to multiple ligament tears and this type of serious injury. It was a major reconstructive surgery and there are many factors to consider here. It's wishful thinking to assume AD will be exactly what he was before, or that he will jump right back in game 1 as the Vikings workhorse RB. He's already past the average midpoint in a stud RB career. In a best case career scenario at the age of 27, this could have been his peak year without the injury. But at the start of the season, he'll be less than 9 months removed from one of the worst possible injuries a RB can have. Toby Gerhart is a reliable RB2. The Vikes have an inexperienced QB and a revamped O-line. I don't even care about his recent arrest, but with all the other red flags I have him ranked as RB15 right now and I think that's being optimistic. We won't know where he's really at until the preseason games, if he plays in them at all.


Adrian Peterson projections

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