Adrian Peterson has joined the New Orleans Saints in hopes that his new team will be better equipped to use his talents. While taking far less money than he was originally due in Minnesota, the move also represents his desire to play for a team that he hopes will get him a Lombardi trophy.
While Peterson’s move was one of the biggest storylines leading up to the NFL Draft, there is a bigger topic at hand that interests Fantasy Football. Over the decades, the NFL has had a rule of thumb regarding running backs. Once they hit 30, their effectiveness dwindles.
But try telling that to Adrian Peterson. Peterson came back from a gruesome knee injury that has claimed numerous careers, and almost broke the season long rushing record the following season. Peterson clearly isn’t an ordinary back, but will father time catch up? He isn’t an old geezer like Brett Favre yet, but he has missed quite a bit of time over the last two years.
It happens to all of the greats at some point, they can’t be superhuman forever. This was a smart move coming from Peterson’s camp, signing before the draft ensured his position on the depth chart. It will only get more difficult to find a team when they just drafted a younger, faster running back. LeGarrette Blount would be wise to do the same when he still can.
This move also impacts Mark Ingram significantly moving forward. He is used to having a bit of a committee to share the load, but he’s never shared the backfield with someone like Peterson. We’ll take a good look at this later as well.
Adrian Peterson Vs. Running Backs Over 30
History is the best place to start with Peterson. A first glance at Peterson’s contemporaries isn’t completely condemning to his performance in 2017 and beyond. Below is a short list of Peterson’s peers. Pulled from Pro Football Reference were the number of seasons they played at 30-plus, how many seasons they had going over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, and the average number of touchdowns in those seasons over 30.
|# of Seasons 30+||1000+ Yscrim||Avg Touchdowns|
While few, if any have the skills that Peterson did at his prime, it goes to show that it is very possible to be successful after the age of 30 in the NFL. Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Thomas Jones, and Curtis Martin are or were very viable Fantasy starts, having a high rate of touchdowns and a high percentage of their seasons ending with over 1,000-plus total yards from scrimmage. Fred Jackson had multiple seasons of relevance, but wasn’t quite as consistent in finding the endzone or turning out 1,000 yard seasons. It should be noted that Fred Jackson and Thomas Jones both experienced a late career entry into Fantasy relevance. Both of these backs were focal points in their offenses in their late 20s.
What’s The Catch?
Meanwhile, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee and Chris Johnson did not fare so well in their older age, though CJ2K hasn’t retired yet. These three in particular were worked very hard in their careers, and as a result, the longevity simply wasn’t there. It’s possible that their involvement in the passing game had something to do with their late career slumps. Below is a chart of the same players, revealing the number of receptions each player averaged over the age of 30, and the average receiving yards using Pro Rootball Reference.
|Avg. # of Receptions||Avg. Rec. Yds.|
PPR and .5PPR leagues are increasing in popularity, as the league evolves into more passing-oriented offenses. Of the backs who had success in their 30s, only Thomas Jones averaged fewer than 20 receptions per year. An interesting outlier comes in the form of LaDainian Tomlinson. After turning 30, he only produced one season above 1,000 yards from scrimmage, but he made up for that by averaging almost 40 receptions, and seven touchdowns. That kind of production adds significant value in PPR leagues as well. Danny Woodhead thrived doing this, turning what would be a backup into a decent flex option.
There is a pretty common narrative that runs with Adrian Peterson. The common complaints are his shortcomings as a receiver and his overall lack of involvement in the passing game. What the narrative doesn’t tell you, is that Peterson averaged 24.1 receptions in his 10 year career. When he plays more than three games in a season, that average jumps to 29.5.
Peterson’s use in the passing game, with his natural running talents, should not sway people from drafting him. Adrian Peterson seems physically up to the task if his public Snapchat and workout with New England have any meaning. From those accounts, Peterson is very much ready for the upcoming season.
Problems with the Gun
However, just because there is past success in the NFL over the age of 30, doesn’t mean that Peterson will be as successful. He has been a very violent runner in this league for 10 years, and has been relied upon by a repeatedly mediocre Vikings offense. Few players will ever see the workload that Adrian Peterson saw over their careers.
The real issue that is going to follow Peterson is his performance in the shotgun formations. According to Pro Football Reference, Peterson averages a paltry 3.7 yards per carry in the shotgun. This is compared to 4.9 when taking a handoff from under center. In a league that uses the shotgun more and more, that average is troubling. His destination in New Orleans used the shotgun formation over 55% of the time last year.
Considering Adrian Peterson’s struggles in the shotgun, I see him in more of a 2nd half/lead preserving role. His best work has always come from exploiting exhausted defenses, and I imagine that Sean Payton will use him as a battering ram to eat up the clock when his team holds a lead or is in the red zone.
Competition from Within
This leads me to think that Peterson’s role may be diminished in the setting he is moving into. With Mark Ingram already taking his fair share of carries and catches, it makes me wonder if there will be much left for Adrian Peterson. In fact, I see this addition as a subtraction to Ingram’ workload. Last season, Mark Ingram entered the doghouse after several fumbles in the mid-season. He also had some struggles in the redzone that likely helped prompt this move.
Expect to see Mark Ingram to go into free-fall in most Fantasy formats. What was a solid late 2nd-early 3rd round pick should be taken several rounds later. Ingram should be found in the seventh or eighth round now that he shares the backfield with the future Hall of Famer. Even worse for both backs is the addition of Alvin Kamara. He’s a talented back in his own right.
Peterson’s stock should be taken with a grain of salt as well. From what is known about Peterson’s playstyle, as well as his lack of production in two of his last three seasons, there cannot be too high of expectations. AD will certainly vulture several touchdowns from Ingram. He will certainly get his fair share when the Saints are trying to put the game out of reach. But I wouldn’t expect a lot from Peterson, and see him as a situational player. Peterson’s draft value will likely be much higher than it should be this summer, just from his name alone.
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