When considering players’ seasons to be mentioned for best ever by an NFL running back, Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season has to be in the conversation. Not only will he become the seventh back in league history to top the 2,000-yard rushing plateau, he is doing so after sustaining a serious knee injury just a calendar year ago.
Peterson is on pace for 2,070 yards, which would be the second-highest total the NFL has ever seen.
Had I told you on Christmas Day, 2011—the day after he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee—Peterson would challenge Eric Dickerson’s 28-year-old rushing record next season, you would have laughed at me and questioned my credibility. Now, that is a real possibility.
He needs 294 yards in the Vikings’ final two games to do so.
I laid out briefly what he has done this season in an article for Bleacher Report (which you can read here at your convenience). In the article, you will find that Peterson has rushed for at least 100 yards in eight straight games, during which he has averaged 164.1 yards per game and an eight-game NFL-record 1,313 yards. And, he has rushed for more yards (1,812) than Dickerson did during his record-setting 1984 season (1,792) through 14 games.
If the six-year pro from Palestine, Texas had carried the ball as many times through 14 games as Dickerson did in ’84 (326), he would already be at 2,044 yards and would be on pace for a record-shattering 2,336 yards.
What I did not include is that Peterson has topped 150 yards rushing six times this season—one shy of Earl Campbell’s NFL record of seven games (1980). If he breaks that record, the big one will fall as well—“big one” being Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
His 6.27 yards per carry is third all-time in a single season. That is an incredible number for any back; but when considering he is an every-down back and will easily top 300 carries this season (currently at 289), we’re talking numbers never seen in the NFL.
In fact, if his current yards-per-carry average holds up, it would be the highest in NFL history among backs to carry at least 300 times (Barry Sanders’ 6.13 YPC in 1997 is the current record).
The era of football we see today features teams throwing the ball at a record pace every season.
Thirty-six of 46 quarterbacks who have started at least one game this season have topped 300 yards passing in a game (78.2%). Compare that to 40 of 66 (60.1%) running backs to start at least once who have a 100-yard rushing game on the résumé this season, and the picture is clear that it’s a passer’s league.
That makes what Peterson is doing all the more impressive and unbelievable.
He is in the running for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award with Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, and it might be a small miracle if he wins it despite his historic season. After all, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
He will be talked about for Most Valuable Player as well, and he, again, is in the running with Manning—among other quarterbacks.
Does Peterson deserve to walk away from this season with either award? In short, yes. The complicated answer lies in the two paragraphs above.
The league and its fans want to see quarterbacks succeed. After all, it has been 17 years since a running back was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft—former Penn State great Ki-Jana Carter went to the Cincinnati Bengals in 1995.
How many quarterbacks have been selected No. 1 overall since the Bengals took Carter? Twelve. And four in a row from Matthew Stafford in 2009 to Andrew Luck in the most recent draft.
Considering his injury and the season he is having, Peterson deserves to be both the NFL’s Comeback POTY and its MVP.
(All stats not cited directly are gathered from ProFootballReference.com)