As excited as I am that Adrian Peterson is about to destroy opposing defenses for the seventh straight season, I can’t help but cringe that he is in his seventh season. AP turned 28 in March, which now leaves him just under two years shy of “The Wall” for NFL running backs, also known as a 30th birthday.
Conventional wisdom—and overwhelming statistical evidence—says that top NFL running backs have about eight seasons of high level production in them, and this eighth season usually coincides with the player turning 30. The pounding these guys take over the years as their team’s top ball carrier accumulates, ultimately resulting in legs that no longer have the vibrancy they once had. These former stars usually hang on for another year or two, where they move to a different team and then struggle as their yards per carry dwindle until they are forced to the sidelines for good.
Over the years as a rabid NFL fan, I have watched this scenario play out over and over again. Players such as Eddie George, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, and Shaun Alexander all put up a dominating 7-9 years before their production falls off a cliff right around age 30. It is strange to watch a player who once showed unearthly power and explosion suddenly transform into a plodding statue unable to run by defensive ends or make mediocre middle linebackers miss. I know these guys have made millions of dollars and will always be celebrities, but it is hard not to have sympathy for them as they must unwillingly come to terms with their deflated abilities.
So where does this leave us Viking fans with AP? Yes, we’ve all heard football experts say things like “Adrian’s different” or “Peterson at 75% is still a force to be reckoned with.” I want to believe these optimistic assessments as much as any Viking fan, but I heard the same things said about George, Tomlinson, and Alexander while in their 20’s.
Especially Eddie George, an iron man who never missed an NFL game due to injury his entire career. He was a mountain of a human at 6′ 3″, 240 lbs, and he plowed through defenses for 8 seasons before suddenly “losing his legs”. Yes, George was overworked by the Titans, but the only reason Peterson hasn’t kept pace with George’s number of attempts is because AP had his awful knee injury and has only played a full 16 games 3 of his 6 years in the league. These are not compelling reasons to believe his career will exceed that of George’s.
So what is the silver lining to this gloomy cloud of imminent decline? In all likelihood we fans will be privileged to witness a minimum of two more years of AP at his apex. Two (hopefully) full seasons of our guy running over cornerbacks, juking linebackers out of their jocks, and sprinting past safeties as though they were trees planted in the turf. It will be two tremendous seasons of the Vikings’ improving offensive line providing yawning holes, making it easy for Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton to zero in on his blocking target and pancake him as AP turns on the jets into daylight. Provided good health, All Day will have us high-fiving and jig-dancing repeatedly the next two campaigns. He will cement his place as the greatest running back in the history of the NFL.
That’s why now is the time for the Vikings to make another deep playoff run and be contenders. They were on the edge of greatness in 2009, descended into the deepest depths of loserness in 2011, and are once again on the rise. We all know a running back by himself cannot carry a team to a Super Bowl, but he sure can make up for deficiencies in other areas. If AP performs such as he did last season, the Vikes only need the defense to be a bit better and the QB to be somewhat more consistent than last season. If we see that out of the purple this year, then a Super Bowl is a realistic goal.
Could Adrian Peterson truly be different and run right through the RB “wall”? Could he put up his crazy stats until he is 32 or 33? Sure, it’s possible; he is a singular talent. But history tells us that the chances are slim, so the time is now for the Vikings if the NFL’s best running back is to ever hoist the Lombardi Trophy over his head.