Adrian Peterson is back on the field—in Vikings purple, much to the chagrin of Cowboys and Cardinals fans still holding out hope for a backfield upgrade—so for the moment at least the drama is over. Now attention can be turned to what happens on the gridiron.
Early projections for Peterson peg him as a top-10 back, with The Huddle’s projections of 1400 total yards and a dozen touchdowns among the more conservative. Those numbers are right around what he produced in his last (almost) full season, 2013—1,437 combo yards, 11 TDs—and a bit under his career averages—1,824 and 14 for a 16-game season.
With AP back in pads, and presumably satisfied with the $12 million he’s scheduled to receive this season, expect those projections to be tweaked upwards as the season approaches. Let’s review three key reasons for optimism regarding what Peterson can do for your fantasy team this season.
The Norv Turner Effect
Much-discussed heading into last season, Peterson had all of one game to carve out his own place in the litany of successful backs operating under Turner’s tutelage.
What’s so special about Turner? It isn’t a significant change in the rushing attack, because the Vikings still employ the same offensive line coach (Jeff Davidson) they had pre-Turner. It may not even be an uptick in Peterson’s passing game production; last year Jerick McKinnon emerged as a viable third-down option, which may cut into the 50 to 60 receptions Turner predicted for Peterson prior to 2014. And it isn’t even necessarily because Turner made journeymen types like LaMont Jordan and a rebuilt Terry Allen viable fantasy options in his offense.
Maybe it’s as simple as Turner being a coordinator who, when he has a stud running back, isn’t afraid to feed him. Emmitt Smith rushed for 39 touchdowns and 4,762 yards in three seasons under Norv. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 4,550 yards and 48 touchdowns in four years with Turner. Even pseudo-studs like Stephen Davis (2,723 and 28 in two seasons) and Ricky Williams (3,225 and 25 in two seasons) broke the fantasy bank.
Norv isn’t necessarily magic. But he knows what to do with a big dog, and among today’s NFL running backs they don’t come any bigger than Peterson.
The Teddy Bridgewater Effect
The plan last season was to ease Bridgewater into the lineup, allowing him to rely on a workhorse running back—and obviously that didn’t happen. So again, the Vikings look forward to the new face of the franchise handing off to the top rusher in franchise history.
And fantasy owners should be happy as well. Look at the litany of sub-par quarterbacks Peterson has played with: the 10 quarterbacks who have handed off to Peterson at one time or another include Brett Favre—but also Kelly Holcombe, Brooks Bollinger, Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, Joe Web, Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. Peterson scored 290 fantasy points with Favre at the helm and averaged 206 fantasy points per 16 games in those other seasons.
But it’s not just talent; stability at the position also helps. Peterson’s top two fantasy seasons were the aforementioned 290 in 2009 and his 309 in his 2,097-yard 2012. In both of those seasons the Vikings had one quarterback (Favre in 2009, Ponder in 2012) start all 16 games. In each of Peterson’s other five seasons with more than one game, Minnesota was forced to start multiple quarterbacks over the course of the season.
Be it the passing game threat Bridgewater adds to the Vikings attack or the stability of a reliable and competent quarterback, Peterson returns to a more talented offense—and that can only help his numbers.
Rested and Ready—and Motivated
As Peterson’s camel-riding birthday party so subtly underscored, he turned 30 this past offseason—generally a death knell for NFL running backs. But Peterson is no ordinary running back, demonstrated by his 2,097-yard campaign mere months removed from ACL surgery. You can trot out all the analytics and bar graphs and pie charts you want about carries and years and such, but Peterson is that exception who defies the numbers.
He’s also not as high mileage as you might think. Frank Gore is the NFL’s active leader in touches with 2,784, followed at some distance by Peterson with 2,279. But hot on AP’s heels are Marshawn Lynch (2,272) and Matt Forte (2,260), and there’s little outcry about a decline for them this season.
Through the layoff Peterson has kept himself in peak physical condition, noting when he showed up for Vikings OTAs that some of the younger guys he works out with in Houston couldn’t keep up. And after spending the past 18 months out of the NFL end zone, you can bet AP is itching to get back.
Finally, of course, Peterson is motivated by the almighty dollar. Only $36 million of the six-year, $86 million contract Peterson is playing under was guaranteed, which should be enough to keep him around long enough to claim this season’s $12,750,000 in base salary—and maybe even encourage a little extra effort to convince the Vikings to either rework the remainder of his deal or commit to some or all of the remaining $30 million in salary.
Peterson hasn’t had a preseason carry since 2011, and that’s unlikely to change this August. But he’ll be turned loose in prime time when the Vikings open the regular season on Monday night in San Francisco. At that point it’ll be about football. And when it comes to football, few are better at running it than Adrian Peterson.