Adrian Peterson (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
What does the historical data say about Adrian Peterson repeating in the 2,000-yard club? If the previous six 2,000-yarders are any indication, it won’t happen.
As Adrian Peterson takes the field for the first time this preseason Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers, he will do so with lofty expectations surrounding him.
After his miraculous return from ACL surgery that led to the second-highest single-season rushing total in league history, A.D. comes into 2013 making even bolder predictions – he thinks 2,500 yards is in the realm of possibility. Even head coach Leslie Frazier begrudgingly admitted that it could happen. At training camp, he was asked about it and he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, “If it was anyone else, I would say it would be impossible. But Adrian has proved people wrong before, so it might be possible.”
However, history might say differently. Only six other players have the 2,000-yard club blazer. It is one of the most exclusive clubs in the NFL and nobody who has made it there once has even pulled it off twice.
The reason is pretty simple. If a running back goes off for 125 rushing yards, it is considered an extremely good game. To reach 2,000 yards, a runner must average 125 yards over 16 games. Every time he rushes for “only” 100 yards, he needs a 150-yard game to make up for it. That’s why it’s so difficult to pull it off once, let alone twice.
But, simply getting there, history tells us, takes a toll on a running back that can be too much of a grind to get back to that lofty status again. There is a reason why the club is so exclusive and we have a decent amount of supporting historical data to draw from.
This is the history of the other six members of the 2,000-yard club.
O.J. Simpson was the first member of the 2,000-yard club when he rushed for 2,003 yards in 1973 – a feat that still stands alone because he did it in 14 games. However, he never came close to those numbers again. He followed his 2,000-yard season with 1,125 yards in an injury-plagued season. He would post seasons of 1,817 yards in 1975 and 1,503 yards in 1976, but his production dropped badly after that – never rushing for more than 600 yards in any of his final three seasons and averaging 3.8 yards or less in his final two years.
Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams became the second member of the club when he ran for 2,105 yards in 1984, just his second NFL season. In the nine remaining seasons of his career, he ran for more than 1,300 yards just twice and played in all 16 games just three times.
Barry Sanders joined the club by rushing for 2,053 yards in 1997. What made his achievement so special was that he did it in his ninth season. The following year, he ran eight more times (343), but gained 562 fewer yards (1,491) and his 4.3-yard average was the worst of his NFL career. While still one of the game’s dominant backs, he abruptly quit after the 1998 season and never looked back.
Denver’s Terrell Davis made the fraternity the following year, rushing for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1998. In three seasons from 1996-98, he rushed a whopping 1,110 times in 47 games – an average of 24 times a game – and also caught 103 passes. However, injuries took their toll. In the three seasons following his 2,000-yard season, he played in just 17 games, rushing 312 times for 1,194 yards and four TDs.
Jamaal Lewis earned his membership when he rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003 – his third NFL season. In his first three years, he ran the ball 1,004 times – posting seasons of 300 or more carries in each of them. In his six subsequent seasons, he rushed more than 300 times just once. He followed up his 2,066-yard season with 1,006 in 12 games in 2004. In his final six years, he played in all 16 games just twice and averaged 3.6 yards a carry or less in four of his final five seasons.
Tennessee’s Chris Johnson ran for 2,006 yards in 2009. He famously vowed that he would the first player to ever accomplish the feat twice. Not only hasn’t he done that, his seasons since (all 16-game seasons) have produced rushing totals of 1,364, 1,047 and 1,243 yards.
There are reasons to think that Peterson can replicate his incredible 2012 season, chief among them being that he said it’s a goal of his and he is very goal-focused. However, history may be running against his goal. Then again, who thought he would be able to have the kind of season he did in 2012 less than nine months removed from career-threatening surgery? He’s beaten the historical odds once already. Can he do it twice? Stay tuned.
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.