As NFL training camps get into full swing, and preseason games start, there is one story, it seems, that no one is talking about.
It’s a story all too common in today’s game, but will no doubt have an effect on the history books well into the future. While the ending to this tale has technically not yet been written, it’s one that has been told many times before, and I’m afraid is due to be told again in a manner just the same.
Adrian Peterson, All-Pro running back for the Minnesota Vikings, recently met his athletic maker—on Christmas Eve, no less—when he tore his ACL and MCL while being tackled during an otherwise meaningless Week 16 game against the Washington Redskins.
Peterson underwent successful surgical reconstruction of both ligaments, and is hopeful he can return to peak form sooner rather than later.
History and science, however, give quite a different and painfully realistic outlook for one of the game’s greatest rushers. They tell us that Peterson is done as a top-level running back, and will be lucky if he lasts just a couple more years as a viable presence for any team’s backfield.
To appreciate how big a loss this is for the game, you have to first appreciate the man.
Adrian Peterson is not just a running back. He is an offensive weapon capable of controlling a game for all four quarters.
Running backs aren’t supposed to come into the League as a rookie and rack up over 1,000 yards during their first eight games. Running backs aren’t supposed to rush for 296 yards in a single game.
Running backs aren’t supposed to average a touchdown per start, or gain more than five yards every time they touch the ball.
Peterson has done all of it. He is not your grandfather’s tailback, plowing into the line for three yards and a cloud of dust.
Peterson ranks fourth all time in rushing yards per game, behind Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and the man for which his career is now doomed to forever mirror, Terrell Davis.
Study after study has confirmed what we already know about ACL tears in running backs. They are a bitch.
A pilot study followed 12 running backs who had undergone ACL repairs from 1996-2001, and found a significant decrease in running back production (yards per attempt) for those athletes, akin to an athletic reserve.
James Gladstone, an orthopedic surgeon at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, believes running backs only play at approximately two-thirds of the level they were playing at before an ACL injury. That is, it seems, if they play at all.
Dr. James Carey conducted a study out of Vanderbilt University, and made some interesting notes about the difference between perception and reality.
He found that NFL team physicians believed that 90-100 percent of all non-borderline players fully returned from ACL injuries. In reality, one-fifth of the injured players (seven out of 33 running backs and wide receivers) never played a down again.
That means you shouldn’t blindly trust the Vikings medical staff when they give the standard company fare that Peterson is “looking strong."
Few would believe, and I am not among them, that Peterson has taken his last carry in the NFL. He will surely make an attempt at a comeback. How long his comeback lasts is the question.
Dr. Vishal Michael Shah of the Richmond Bone and Joint Clinic conducted his own study on NFL players who had ACL replacement surgery. Of the total 49 players in the study, 31 did return to play, but only for an average of slightly less than one year.
Adrian Peterson already has over 1,400 carries (read: tackles) on his legs over the last five seasons, but Dr. Shah’s study says that actually means Peterson is more likely to return.
It seems that the longer you’ve been in the NFL, the less likely you are going to give up in the face of adversity. Also, that $100 million contract (most of it un-guaranteed) Peterson signed in September is a huge motivating factor, I would assume.
The evidence says we cannot expect Peterson to return to the days of 20-plus carries a game or 1,300-yard rushing seasons. His days as top-tier running threat are over.
He can no longer be considered a centerpiece for the Vikings going forward. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong. I honestly hope so.
Instead, I suspect that Adrian Peterson will become the answer to the question “Who is the greatest NFL player to never reach the Hall of Fame?”