By: Rajan Nanavati
It was only 11 weeks or so ago when future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson was effectively sitting at home – though still training his tail off, as part of his legendary workout regimen – wondering if his NFL career was over.
After all, Peterson looked like he was approaching that “running out of gas” point that we see in the careers of running backs all too often. His 2017 was characterized by the Minnesota Vikings deciding to part ways with him, (despite him being greatest running back in franchise history), the New Orleans Saints signing him to a modest two-year deal then relegating him to the bench and eventually trading him, and the Arizona Cardinals watching him run for less than 30 yards in three of the six games he played for them.
If it weren’t for a confluence of events, comprised of the Washington Redskins seeing their second round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft (Derrius Guice) – whom they had very high hopes for this season – go down with a season-ending ACL injury in the preseason, followed by Redskins’ Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Williams bringing in Peterson without even telling his bosses (team president Bruce Allen and owner Dan Snyder), who knows if Peterson’s release by Arizona back in March of 2018 would’ve marked the end of his NFL career.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Peterson being forced to hang them up. Through the first eight weeks of the 2018 NFL season, Peterson is the centerpiece of the Redskins’ offense (and arguably the team’s most valuable player during Washington’s 5-2 start to the season), but also currently 5th in the NFL in rushing yards. Peterson has actually run for more yards than last year’s rushing champion in Kareem Hunt (despite playing in one less game), has more rushing touchdowns than Ezekiel Elliott, and averages more yards per carry than both Hunt and even last year’s rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara.
The Redskins naively believed there would be minimal drop-off, if any, after parting ways with quarterback Kirk Cousins, and replacing him with veteran Alex Smith. Instead, the underrated, explosive Washington offense we saw the last couple of years has become a ‘ground-and-pound,’ ball-control offense that features a whole lot of battering opposing defenses with Peterson’s hard-charging running style; only Todd Gurley averages more rushing attempts per game than Peterson.
And to be clear: what we’re seeing from Peterson is far from a “three yards and a cloud of dust”-level of production. He’s one of 16 running backs with at least four runs of 20+ yards this season. In Washington’s win over the New York Giants last Sunday, Peterson recorded his 14th career touchdown run of 60 or more yards; the next highest number of touchdown runs covering that distance belongs to Jim Brown, who has nine.
Week after week, it’s hard not to watch Peterson and wonder if he discovered the fountain of youth in the offseason, and simply didn’t tell anyone about it. We don’t have any precedent in past couple of decades of a running back to play this well, despite being over 33-and-a-half years-old.
While many critics of the Redskins point to the fact that Peterson’s current pace is unsustainable (he’s on pace for over 250 carries this year), given that the rest of the NFL had effectively written him off after last season, only to have him turnaround and play at this high level, it probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against him accomplishing any other age-defying achievement this season.