Is Adrian Peterson the Most Gifted Running Back of All Time?

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Is Adrian Peterson the Most Gifted Running Back of All Time?
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Adrian Peterson has 1,446 rushing yards this season.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is doing things that we have never seen an athlete accomplish. The strong former Oklahoma Sooner came out of school with 4.4 speed and a 38.5-inch vertical at 217 pounds.

As a top-10 pick, he quickly developed a reputation as a violent, explosive, punishing runner in the NFL. Peterson snatched the single-game rushing record as a rookie with 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers in 2007.

In no time, Peterson became a superstar in the NFL and recognized by many as the best running back in the game. Then, it happened: Peterson shredded his knee in Week 16 of the 2011 season, tearing his ACL and MCL. But if you watched him run today, you’d be hard-pressed to believe he’s had an injury at all.

The NFL’s rushing yardage leader—by a ridiculous margin of 308 yards through 12 games—has shown that he is the most physically gifted runner that the NFL has seen. Peterson has had the advantage of modern medicine that older guys didn’t get, but that simply doesn’t explain his incredible comeback.

It would also be a disservice to such a hard worker to ignore the amount of effort that Peterson has put in to get to where he is now. ESPN’s Stephania Bell wrote in the wake of the injury:

Peterson will be challenged to return to form in 2012. There is no reason at this moment to believe he cannot be back to playing football next season. It is also reasonable, however, to allow for the possibility that it will take some time for him to show the explosiveness and aggressive style for which he is known. It's not just the physical recovery; there is the mental aspect of regaining confidence in a leg that has been severely damaged, believing it will hold up to the physical demands of the game, including, of course, the contact it will naturally be expected to absorb.

As we get into the first full December since Peterson’s injury, it’s safe to say that he has indeed recovered from it physically and mentally. He scored two touchdowns in the Vikings’ first game this season. He still runs over, through and around people on a regular basis.

The dude doesn’t even wear a knee brace.

Is Adrian Peterson the NFL's most gifted running back of all time?

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There’s only a matter of time before Peterson’s name is legitimately mentioned as one of—if not the unequivocal greatest of all time. With 8,198 career rushing yards, he has still yet to reach half of the 18,355 yards that Emmitt Smith put up in his career, so the question may be shelved for now.

He hasn’t yet played half of the 15 seasons that Smith logged in his NFL career, either.

One trend regarding players with torn ACLs is that their second season after the injury tends to be better than the first—and Peterson is on pace for 1,928 rushing yards this season. Does that mean he’ll be a serious threat to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards in 2013?

We’ll just have to watch and find out—if he doesn’t mess around and do it this year. He’ll need 660 more rushing yards in his final four appearances to break the record this season. Peterson ran for 671 yards in his last four games.

 

For more NFL analysis and opinions, follow Jamal on Twitter.

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