Fantasy: The Trouble With Adrian Peterson

(Writer's note: This article will not discuss the off-field issues involved with Adrian Peterson, so, if that's your thing, keep on scrollin'.)

He is the near-record-setter. The Lord of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The franchise's MVP and almost certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. More importantly, he's a fantasy stud, and should be drafted that way.

Right?


You may have heard of a little thing called the "running back cliff," where a player's production at that position after the age of 30 plummets to the point of absurdity. 

(Brett Longdin/ESPN.com)



Peterson turned 30 on March 21st this year.

"But wait!" you'll inevitably exclaim. "Peterson only played one game last season so he's basically 29 in football years! Fewer miles on him! (Insert other fantasy cliches that refer to players as objects rather than people.)"

This, pragmatically, is true. 

"Also, Mr. Smarty Pants, Justin Forsett ran for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns last year and he was in his age-29 season!" you might also exclaim, while you're exclaiming.

This is also true. However, Justin Forsett had 341 career carries before last season, while Peterson has 2,054 for his career.

Let's take a look at Peterson's last full season, in 2013:

14 GS/279 carries/1,266 yards/10 TDs/4.5 YPC/29 receptions/171 yards/1 TD/5 fumbles

Great touchdown numbers, sure, but other than that not "All-World." Good for 209.7 points in standard fantasy scoring leagues, or 15 per game, the lowest of his career (FFToday). 

Granted, that was with a, well, less-than-stellar quarterback at the helm of the Vikings offense, so Peterson saw plenty of 8-and-9-man defensive fronts designed to shut him down. The absurd tandem of Matt Asiata (570 yards/9 TDs) and Jerick McKinnon (538 yards/0 TDs) combined for a solid if unspectacular season:

15 GS/277 carries/1,108 yards/9 TDs/4.0 YPC/71 receptions/447 yards/1 TD/1 fumble

(Minnesota Vikings)


Yeah, that guy scored nine touchdowns. He scored three in one game twice. So, there's that.

So obviously, the delineation there is this: if you're in a PPR league, you're salivating over those 71 receptions. Norv Turner *loves* to throw to the running back, as Asiata and McKinnon's 104 total targets last year shows. In fact, of the starting running backs in the NFC North, that ranks second behind Matt Forte, who totaled 102 receptions on 130 targets (note to self, draft Matt Forte, who doesn't turn 30 until Dec. 10).

The Conundrum

Peterson is 30, so conventional wisdom says his production will suffer. The top 10 running backs to put up 1,200 yards and multiple-touchdown seasons after turning 30 (since 1990) is certainly interesting:

  1. Tiki Barber, 2005: 1,860 yards, 9 TDs

  2. Curtis Martin, 2004: 1,697 yards, 12 TDs

  3. Tiki Barber, 2006: 1,662 yards, 5 TDs

  4. Barry Sanders, 1998: 1,491 yards, 4 TDs

  5. Priest Holmes, 2003: 1,420 yards, 27(!!!) TDs

  6. Warrick Dunn, 2005: 1,416 yards, 3 TDs

  7. Thomas Jones, 2009: 1,402 yards, 14 TDs

  8. Emmitt Smith, 1999: 1,397 yards, 11 TDs

  9. Thomas Jones, 2008: 1,312 yards, 13 TDs

  10. Curtis Martin, 2003: 1,308 yards, 2 TDs

(Curiously, six of those came with the Jets and Giants. Meadowlands a fountain of youth?)

The most recent decent season from a plus-30 back was Michael Turner in 2012, who put up 800 yards and 10 TDs for the Falcons in 2012. Not great, obviously, but Turner's no Peterson.

That's point one: old is bad.


Counterpoint: Adrian Peterson is the best running back on the planet, going into an offensive system that not only has a competent quarterback but a coordinator who loves to utilize running backs in the passing game as well as between the tackles and in the red zone. An age-30 back having a great season is not unheard of (Did you see Priest Holmes in 2003? TWENTY-SEVEN RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS HOLY CRAP), and yes, a season on the exempt list not taking hits could only help Peterson's longevity.

The Verdict

Draft him. Draft him as high as you possibly can. Not only is he the best back in the league, but he's in (potentially) his last year with the Vikings and will be running angry. Very, very angry.

A final line like this isn't out of the question:

15 GS/325 carries/2,000 yards/6.15 YPC/15 TDs/75 receptions/450 yards/5 TDs

Which, obviously, would crush the next best player in your league, regardless of position.

As always, bonne chance and never drink and draft!

(Unless otherwise noted, all stats and info from Pro Football Reference)


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