Adrian Peterson turned 30 in March. If you read outlooks for this season, you might think that he spent last year finding Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth, rather than spending the year on the Commissioner’s Exempt List while dealing with his court case for child abuse. Field Yates of ESPN released a list of his top 10 running backs in the NFL for the next three seasons, and listed Adrian Peterson at #1.
Plenty of Hall of Fame backs had historic seasons at age 27 or 28. Exactly one running back since 1950 has led the NFL in yards from scrimmage over a three-year span, from ages 30-32: Walter Payton from 1984-1986.
Fantasy drafters also appear to be ready to fully embrace Adrian Peterson.
And when I check average draft positions so far this offseason, Peterson is currently 1st overall.
There’s this feeling that Adrian Peterson is motivated and rested and somehow this will make up for his age. I’m skeptical.
No specific example like Peterson exists: a player who missed pretty much an entire season at age 29, without a significant injury causing the absence. But, we can look to what other elite running backs most similar to Peterson did at age 30. Using the pro-football-reference.com finder, I found the running backs with the most yards from scrimmage from age 24 to 28. I then isolated the 15 who were most similar to Peterson and played at both age 28 and 30. Here they are:
This group of comps averaged slightly more total yards than Adrian Peterson from age 24 to 28. Ten of them are in the Hall of Fame. At age 28, the group was significantly better than Peterson, who had 1,437 yards from scrimmage in 2013. The group averaged 1723.5 yards from scrimmage at age 28, with 11 of the 15 exceeding Peterson at the same age.
At age 30, they averaged 1163.6 yards from scrimmage. Would some have averaged more if they had not played at all for a year? Maybe, at least to the extent that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to sustain an injury. But other than Peterson not having a serious injury last year, I’m not sure there’s much to thinking he will be fresher. I’ve never seen compelling case that “low mileage” is a significant factor, and Peterson certainly wouldn’t qualify as a low mileage guy anyway, besides sitting out last year.
I’m not saying Peterson can’t have a great year. He absolutely can. A few years ago, when he was coming back from his knee injury, I was more bullish than the consensus, which had him outside the top 10 entering August. I thought he had upside risk every bit as much as downside.
Now, I think the downside is being ignored, and he seems to feel “safe.” I don’t think he is. Plenty of great backs declined between age 28 and 30, and we simply haven’t seen the evidence in front of us to know if that is the case with Peterson. He’s a pounding, fast, physical runner. He was basically becoming useless as a receiver–one of the indicators of how a back will age–the last time he played regularly. He isn’t exactly a guy that avoided contact.
He’s being priced as if age-related decline is not a legitimate question. The last season he played, he finished as fantasy running back #18, following up his MVP season at age 27.
Absence, I suppose, makes the heart grow fonder. I’m just pointing out that age comes for everyone. We don’t know how Adrian Peterson will specifically age, but we’ve seen enough great players who declined during this period when we simply have little to no on-field evidence on Peterson, to make it a factor to consider.