There’s no doubt that Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs ever to step on a football field. However, at 33 years old, it’s clear to everyone that he is at the tail-end of his illustrious career. In fact, AP hasn’t been relevant since the 2015 season where he had 327 carries for 1485 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns at age 30.
In 2016, Peterson played only three games before tearing his meniscus, which ended his season. In those three games, he ran for only 72 yards on 37 carries (1.95 yards per carry). After these three games and the injury, it was clear to me that Adrian Peterson was done. He had been run into the ground in 2015 where he had 327 carries, an absurd number for someone who is 30 years old.
After Adrian Peterson did absolutely nothing in the little work he received with the Saints last season, I believed my claim that AP was finished had been verified. With New Orleans, Peterson had 27 carries for only 81 yards, and 0 touchdowns in four games played.
Then came the moment where Adrian Peterson was traded to Arizona, and it was only relevant because his name is Adrian Peterson. I expected absolutely nothing out of AP, and he proceeded to show us that there was indeed a bit left in the tank, as he rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in his first game with the Cardinals. He then followed this up by carrying the ball only 11 times for 21 yards in a 33-0 loss vs. the Rams.
Everyone thought that Peterson’s first Cardinals game was just a fluke until his third game, where he had 37 carries for 159 yards. Two very bad games followed that before AP’s sixth game as a Cardinal where he had 20 carries for 79 yards. That made it three good games and three bad games for Peterson in Arizona. After six games, he was shut down for the season after as he suffered a neck injury.
Last week when the Redskins signed Adrian Peterson, I was as shocked as anyone. I figured that even though Derrius Guice had gone down, at 33 years old, Peterson would still be playing behind Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine. I figured his role would be what it was in New Orleans, meaning receive six to seven carries per game and be there just in case someone goes down.
What changed my mind completely was the Redskins’ third preseason game. Adrian Peterson was thrown into the game with the first stringers right away. What does that tell me? It tells me that first of all, Peterson looked so good in workouts and in practice that Jay Gruden already thinks that he’s better right now than Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine. Peterson only needed to be there for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for the coaching staff to think that.
Not only did Adrian Peterson take the field with the first stringers against a very solid Broncos defense, but he took advantage of the opportunity, as he had 11 carries for 56 yards. This included some flashy, vintage AP runs as well (see every carry here):
Adrian Peterson’s NFL preseason debut with the Redskins 👀pic.twitter.com/KZJpxGChUS
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) August 25, 2018
If you look at the past two seasons, Peterson’s downfall seemed to be following up a game or season where he had an insane amount of carries. As I stated before the drop-off in production after AP’s high-volume 2015 season was extreme, followed up by injury.
The games following Peterson’s 26-carry game and 37-carry game weren’t good, and eventually he did get injured again. Arizona really had no other running backs that could fill-in decently with David Johnson injured, which is why Peterson got so many carries.
Fast forward to Washington in 2018, where Rob Kelley and/or Samaje Perine are not good running backs, but good enough to take enough pressure off Adrian Peterson for him to be successful. If AP is going to be successful this season, which I believe he will, he’s going to need to get 13-18 carries per game, and no more than that. Having Perine and Kelley there, with an occasionally run from Chris Thompson (I anticipate 60-70% of his touches will be receiving) will be huge for Peterson’s workload management.
Another point I wanted to make is that Alex Smith is now at quarterback for the Redskins. Smith had by far the best season of his career in 2017, as he threw for over 4,000 yards for the first time ever. He also threw for 26 touchdowns, a career-high. He’s only thrown 20 touchdowns or over in two seasons other than 2017. Smith’s offense last year was stacked, and it’s nowhere near the same this year. I fully anticipate Alex Smith to go back to what he was for almost every other year of his career, an above-average game manager, but not a quarterback who’s going to blow you away statistically.
Well what does this mean for Adrian Peterson? The running backs under Alex Smith since 2011 have done extremely well in terms of fantasy production. Lets take a look at these players by year, and where they finished the year ranked among all fantasy running backs (in standard leagues):
2017: Kareem Hunt, KC, 3rd
2016: Spencer Ware, KC, 16th
2015: Charcandrick West, KC, 32nd
2014: Jamaal Charles, KC, 7th
2013: Jamaal Charles, KC, 1st
2012: Frank Gore, SF, 11th
2011: Frank Gore, SF, 13th
This is pretty good. Other than 2015, no first-string running back under Alex Smith finished the year ranked lower than 16th in standard leagues. Do I expect Adrian Peterson to be a top-20 running back? Probably not. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Adrian Peterson can finish inside the top-30 and be a valuable depth piece for fantasy owners.
Right now, I have Peterson ranked #36 in our standard positional cheat sheet. I expect his average week to be 15 carries for 50-60 yards, with a touchdown every two or three weeks. Obviously, this comes with injury risk, but if you’re using a 10th or 11th round pick on Adrian Peterson, there’s not much to lose, as long as you properly build your team. If you’re looking for one last hurrah from Adrian Peterson, 2018 could be it.