NFL Network made it official Sunday night when it named Adrian Peterson as the third-best player in the league heading into 2011 – behind only Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He not only has proved to be the best running back in the league through his first four seasons, and is still in his first NFL contract, he is already approaching the status of Hall of Famer.
Perhaps Peterson has jaded Vikings fans because he has been so consistently good for his first four seasons, but if the Vikings are to make a massive investment in any player moving forward, it almost has to be Peterson.
Consider the following:
Through only four seasons, Peterson is already third on the all-time franchise rushing list with 5,782 rushing yards. He trails Chuck Foreman by just 97 yards for second place – and Foreman played seven years for the Vikings. He is 1,036 yards behind Robert Smith for the franchise record of 6,818 yards, which took him eight years to accumulate. At his current pace, by the time Peterson has played eight seasons, he would have 11,564 rushing yards. As it currently stands, only 15 rushers in NFL history have rushed for more yards than that.
Peterson has played four seasons in the NFL. In the 51-year history of the Vikings, his first four years represent four of the top five individual rushing seasons in franchise history.
His 52 rushing touchdowns through his first four seasons already ties him for the franchise lead. His next one will let him surpass Foreman and Bill Brown.
In four years, he has 24 100-yard rushing games. He is on pace to set the franchise record this year – Foreman holds the record with 29.
He has 10 runs of 50 yards or more, only two behind the franchise record – yet another record he is on pace to set in 2011.
He has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half of games 10 times. Every player in the history of the Vikings combined has done it six times, and Smith (who did it twice) is the only player who did it more than once.
He shattered the franchise record for being the quickest to 5,000 yards, accomplishing the feat in just 51 games. Foreman held the old franchise mark at 68.
Peterson has scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns in each of his first four seasons. Only eight other players have ever accomplished that in team history and Foreman (who did it twice) was the only other player to do it more than once.
In Vikings history, there have been five games in which a running back has rushed for 180 yards or more. Four of them have been from Peterson – 180, 192, 224 and an NFL-record 296 yards. Foreman has the other big day (200 yards vs. Philadelphia on Oct. 24, 1976).
While Peterson is on the verge of breaking several team records, one he won’t break soon is rushing attempts. He is fourth all-time in franchise history with 1,198, which leaves him 213 behind Smith, 331 behind Foreman and 429 behind Bill Brown.
A.D. has scored a touchdown in 35 games, leaving him currently in third place all-time – one behind Foreman and seven behind Brown.
While his achievements within the franchise are formidable, he is making his way into rarified air for the history of the entire NFL. He is starting to put up numbers that are comparable only to players already in the Hall of Fame and those who have a good chance of making their way to Canton.
If you aren’t done considering yet, consider the following:
In the four years he has been in the NFL, no running back has had more rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total yards from scrimmage, points scored and rushes of 10 or more yards.
In his first four seasons, the only players in the history of the NFL that have more rushing yards are Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis and LaDainian Tomlinson.
His current pace of 94.8 yards rushing per game trails only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.
Peterson reached 5,000 rushing yards in just 51 games. The only players who did it in fewer games were Dickerson, Campbell, Jim Brown and Davis.
His 52 rushing touchdowns through his first four seasons trail only Davis, Campbell, Dickerson and Tomlinson in league annals.
Through four seasons, Peterson has rushed for 1,300 yards or more and scored 10 touchdowns three times. Only two other players have ever done that – Campbell did it four times and Sanders did it three times. Peterson was two rushing yards short of doing it for the fourth time in 2010.
The Vikings have a lot of needs heading into the 2011 season, but one that should never get too far from the front burner is making sure that Peterson is re-signed. Considering that, after laying out all of his accomplishments, names like Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Curtis Martin, Jerome Berris, Tory Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Franco Harris, John Riggins and O.J. Simpson were never mentioned. He is in elite company – not just with the Vikings, but in the history of the NFL.
The Vikings have had greats in the past like Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Ron Yary, Paul Krause, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Cris Carter, John Randle, Randall McDaniel and Randy Moss, to name few. Most of them are in the Hall of Fame. Eventually, all of them should be. All of them have made their mark in the history of the NFL and put themselves in the record books for their own reasons. Peterson is already approaching that list.
By the end of the 2011 season, barring injury, Peterson will hold just about every rushing record the Vikings have. Then the assault will focus on passing the all-time greats the NFL has produced. If he stays healthy, most will fall. It won’t come cheap, but Peterson is truly a once-in-a-lifetime running back that deserves to be paid as the highest-paid running back in the league. If the Vikings aren’t willing to do it, a bunch of other teams will, which should make locking A.D. down a priority once the business of football begins again.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.