Spotlight: Adrian Peterson

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 22nd

Jason Wood's thoughts

  • Walter Payton
  • Tony Dorsett
  • Franco Harris
  • James Brooks
  • Eric Dickerson

Since this is a Spotlight about Adrian Peterson, you probably think I'm comparing his career trajectory to these all-time greats, right? Well, in a way you're spot on but probably not in the way you think. Not only are these five backs all phenomenal players with amazing careers, but THEY ALL FUMBLED MORE OFTEN THAN ADRIAN PETERSON. Yes, you read that correctly. Adrian Peterson is off to a dominant start to his NFL career, and yet you can't go more than a few minutes without someone worrying that his "fumbling problem" is going to somehow derail his playing time and turn an elite back into something less.

But his penchant for fumbling, at least in the context of the otherwise dominant performances he delivers each week, is way overstated. In three season, Peterson has fumbled 20 times in 915 carries, for a fumble rate of 2.2%. Not only is that LESS than the rates for Payton, Dorsett, Harris, Brooks and Dickerson, but it's NOT EVEN IN THE BOTTOM 20 of comparable players.

RBs with at least 32 games played, in the modern era (1970-Present), sorted by Fumble %

Rank First Last From To Att Fmb Fums/Carry
1 Wendell Tyler 1977 1986 1344 64 4.8%
2 Joe Cribbs 1980 1988 1309 51 3.9%
3 Chuck Muncie 1976 1984 1561 57 3.7%
4 Sam Cunningham 1973 1982 1385 49 3.5%
5 Billy Sims 1980 1984 1131 40 3.5%
6 Mike Thomas 1975 1980 1087 37 3.4%
7 Chuck Foreman 1973 1980 1556 52 3.3%
8 Tony Dorsett 1977 1988 2936 90 3.1%
9 Franco Harris 1972 1984 2949 90 3.1%
10 James Brooks 1981 1992 1685 51 3.0%
11 Wilbert Montgomery 1977 1985 1540 42 2.7%
12 Lawrence McCutcheon 1972 1981 1521 41 2.7%
13 George Rogers 1981 1987 1692 45 2.7%
14 Eric Dickerson 1983 1993 2996 78 2.6%
15 Marv Hubbard 1970 1977 930 24 2.6%
16 Larry Brown 1970 1976 1328 34 2.6%
17 Freeman McNeil 1981 1992 1798 45 2.5%
18 Greg Bell 1984 1990 1204 29 2.4%
19 Tiki Barber 1997 2006 2217 53 2.4%
20 Kevin Mack 1985 1993 1291 30 2.3%
21 William Andrews 1979 1986 1315 30 2.3%
22 Andra Franklin 1981 1984 622 14 2.3%
23 Walter Payton 1975 1987 3838 86 2.2%
24 Adrian Peterson 2007 2009 915 20 2.2%
25 Ottis Anderson 1979 1992 2562 56 2.2%
26 Curt Warner 1983 1990 1698 37 2.2%
27 Christian Okoye 1987 1992 1246 27 2.2%
28 Marcus Allen 1982 1997 3022 65 2.2%
29 Ricky Williams 1999 2009 2164 46 2.1%
30 Roger Craig 1983 1993 1991 42 2.1%
31 Travis Henry 2001 2007 1488 31 2.1%
32 Barry Foster 1990 1994 915 19 2.1%
33 Neal Anderson 1986 1993 1515 31 2.0%
34 Mike Pruitt 1976 1986 1844 37 2.0%
35 John Riggins 1971 1985 2916 58 2.0%
36 Earl Campbell 1978 1985 2187 43 2.0%
37 Tim Biakabutuka 1996 2001 611 12 2.0%
38 Joe Morris 1982 1991 1411 27 1.9%
39 Johnny Johnson 1990 1994 1046 20 1.9%
40 Gerald Riggs 1982 1991 1989 38 1.9%

The moral of the story? RELAX with the fumble talk. It's not going to keep an elite RB like Peterson off the field, unless Brad Childress is so obtuse as to ignore the value he brings regardless of whether he lets a few balls slip over a season.

If you're not worried about his fumbling, is there any other reason not to draft Peterson? Through his first three seasons:

  • 3rd all-time in rushing yards/game
  • 3rd all-time in rushing TDs/game
  • 3 Pro Bowls
  • 2 1st Team All Pros

It's not hyperbole to say that, as long as he stays healthy, Peterson is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. And his FANTASY value is no less impressive:

  • 2007 -- RB3 in standard leagues, RB5 in PPR leagues
  • 2008 -- RB3 in standard leagues, RB9 in PPR leagues
  • 2009 -- RB2 in standard leagues, RB2 in PPR leagues

Take not of those points-per-reception rankings, because Peterson has really evolved as a receiver. In his first two years, he only caught 19 and 21 receptions, respectively, which is why he dropped a few slots in PPR leagues versus more prolific fantasy backs. But last year Peterson caught 43 receptions, which allowed his PPR value to equal his standard league value.

Unlike the receiving corps, Peterson isn't reliant on Brett Favre to be an elite fantasy back

The other thing you should take away from his fantasy rankings is that Peterson doesn't need Brett Favre to suit up to be an elite option. Consider how impressive he was in 2007 and 2008 with virtually no semblance of a passing attack. Now don't get me wrong, I would much prefer Favre to return because it will a) keep Peterson's reception totals higher, and b) keep opposing defenses from stacking the box on a weekly basis. But there's comfort in knowing that Favre's ankle isn't going to cast doubt on your 1st round selection.

Other Considerations

The Vikings have a Top 10 offensive line -- Our Chris Smith analyzes the offensive lines each season, and believes the Vikings are a Top 10 unit.

The Vikings have the makings of an excellent offensive line. In fact, the potential is there for this group to be a top-three unit this season. Bryant McKinnie is a massive, talented left tackle but he struggled last season and played his worst football as a pro. He needs to rebound this season for the Vikings offensive line to elevate their play. Phil Loadholt started 15 games as a rookie last season and had some good moments. However he struggled at times in both the running and passing game and needs to improve his lateral movement this year. The good news is both are capable of playing much better than they did last season. John Sullivan started all 16 games last year but needs to elevate his run blocking ability. He struggled to open holes for the running backs to exploit. Steve Hutchinson is a fixture at left guard. He isn't as dominating as he once was but is still a very good football player. Finally Anthony Herrera has started 42 of the past 48 games for the Vikings. He does a decent job but he'll never be considered a great lineman.

Toby Gerhart replacing Chester Taylor

The Vikings drafted Toby Gerhart out of Stanford to replace veteran Chester Taylor. Let's make one thing clear, we like Gerhart and think he would be an immediate fantasy starter in the event of a Peterson injury. THAT SAID, he's a rookie RB and not the proven commodity Taylor was. As a result, there's no reason to think Peterson won't be among the league leaders in attempts, as usual.

The Schedule

The Vikings have an average schedule against the rush according to Clayton Gray's Ultimate Strength of Schedule. But one word of caution, in the Playoff Weesk (14-16), the Vikes have what looks like a daunting trio of opposing run defenses. Don't let that concern you too much, as Peterson is the kind of back that produces regardless of the competition.


  • Peterson is 3rd all-time in rushing yards and TDs per game; he's among the elite of the elite
  • When you draw up a prototypical back, Peterson fits the bill...size, speed, patience, vision, there are no holes
  • The Vikings supporting cast assures that opposing defenses can't key on him with abandon


  • Peterson fumbles a decent amount, but no more than many of the all-time greats
  • The schedule looks daunting in the key fantasy playoff weeks
  • In two of three seasons, Peterson hasn't caught a ton of passes which makes him slightly less elite in PPR leagues

Final thoughts

What more could you want from Adrian Peterson? He's pretty much a lock for 100 yards and a TD in every game he starts, and unlike some of the other first round fantasy RBs, Peterson has proven himself in a variety of circumstances. He was a top back with a bad passing offense, and he was still a top back last year when the Vikings were historically prolific throwing the ball in the red zone. If you're drafting early, Peterson needs to be a serious consideration to anyone not picking first overall (that honor goes to Chris Johnson). Draft accordingly.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

FreeBaGel said:

People read way too much into the effect of a passing game on fantasy running backs. It's pure theorycraft. It sounds good on paper that better passing game = less focus on the running game = easier to run the ball. But lots of things in fantasy football sound magical, and have much less real world application than we give them credit for. Look at the top performing running backs last year outside of Peterson.

Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Steven Jackson, Jamal Charles, Frank Gore, Ricky Williams.

NONE of them have elite passing games. In fact, if the group has anything in common it's that they all played with below average passing games.

Peterson's numbers were down last year because the O-line sucked hard. Chester Taylor, who is considered a competent runner and had his ypc inflated by some cheapy 3rd and long carries, still only averaged 3.6ypc behind the same line. Peterson is electric when he gets to the second and third level, but last year that happened so much more rarely than it did with the other top backs because more often than not the line of scrimmage was just a giant log-jam with no semblance of a hole anywhere. The fact that Peterson was still a top 3 fantasy back with that mess of a run blocking situation last year is a testament to how good he still is.

Did having a good passing game help? Theoretically, sure. But only by a minor fraction as much as having an awful run blocking o-line hurt.

SayWhat? said:

There wasn't much wrong, aside from the obvious fumbling, with Peterson last year. I just don't think the casual football/fantasy football fan realizes how truly terrible the Viking's O-line was at run blocking last year. There was simply nowhere for Peterson to go. I suspect that they'll be slightly improved this year, with Sullivan and Loadholt having a year of experience under their belts.

BlueBandit24 said:

The Vikings offensive line was absolutely brutal for much of the year and nowhere was that more evident than in the running game. Steve Hutchinson was banged up for most of the year, which may have played a role, but they're going to need more push from Sullivan and Herrera if they want to really get the running game going once again. I'm excited about AD this year. I think he was too focused on being a bell-cow last year; with Gerhart in town absorbing some short-yardage carries I think Peterson an go back to hitting the home run and having some of those electrifying runs we saw very early in his career.

rzrback77 said:

Adrian Peterson is the #1 RB on my board regardless of whether in ppr league or not. I would be thrilled to be able to draft in third or fourth slot and be able to take Peterson after Chris Johnson, MJ Drew, or Ray Rice. I think that he is such a competitor that he will work more this off-season to reduce the fumbles and I fully expect him to have his best season yet catching passes.

I think that the Vikings other threats will help Peterson to gain more yards on every play. The Vikings have two awesome WRs in Rice and Harvin and their third (Berrian) is also good. They have a really good receiving TE in Shiancoe as well. Some folks gage the Viking's offensive potential on whether Favre returns or not. I think that they can be good, even without him.

Adrian Peterson projections

Jason Wood335150015403351
Message board consensus319143914433851