Breaking Down What Makes Adrian Peterson Such a Special Running Back
In contrary to the majority of the media, I firmly believe Adrian Peterson is human. I'm just not sure what he's entirely made up of, as his talents are seemingly that of a superhero.
He possesses an immense combination of traits that usually a running back is lucky to only have one of. For instance, Mark Ingram can pick his way through the trenches with crystal-clear vision. Marshawn Lynch can bully his way through the defense. Doug Martin can accelerate past defenders. Chris Johnson is agile as a ballerina and sets up his blocks very well.
And Adrian Peterson? He does all of the above and simply does it at a supremely better rate than his peers.
Before Peterson became a superhero in the NFL, he was widely questioned at the University of Oklahoma. He displayed his talent in college too, dashing through defenses at an unprecedented pace and seemingly running invincibly—that is, until he broke his collarbone against Iowa State in 2006.
The injury forced him to miss the remainder of his season, and going into the 2007 draft, there were questions, as Sports Illustrated's Don Banks revealed from one team executive:
Because of him re-injuring it (his collarbone) in the bowl game, it's not as far along as it should be, it's not healed. He lost three months with the re-injury. The question is, will it be healed enough to take a hit. Or will he hurt it again, the way (ex-Detroit receiver Charles Rogers) kept doing.
It's not enough to take him off anyone's board, but it's a concern because of his straight-up running style. He has been a bit injury-prone and now you've got a situation where you're drafting damaged goods.
Damaged goods: A damning criticism of a young and talented prospect.
In hindsight, the anonymous team executive was quite off the mark. However, it's interesting to note the comment about Peterson's "straight-up" running style. The reason is because it's been questioned by many, but he has—knock on wood—stayed healthy for the most part, and it's actually benefited him at times.
Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13, he ripped off an 82-yard run midway through the second quarter. The offense featured "22" personnel, consisting of two backs and two tight ends. Peterson was seven yards deep in the backfield and took the ball to the far right upon receiving the handoff.
As he turned up the field and neared the sideline, he met his first barricade. It was Packers safety Morgan Burnett, who attempted to make up for a poor pursuit angle with an arm tackle. Arm tackles generally aren't effective against Peterson because of his lower body strength. Although he is running with high pad level, he is very strong in his lower body, and it's put to use when he runs with high knees.
The high knees are effective because they enable him to force his way through wimpy tacklers with the power he's generated from the lower body.
Further, once Peterson beat Burnett, he met two more defenders that attempted to bring him down. Opposed to wrapping him up, they tried to knock him off balance, which is a very tough thing to do. Peterson has rare balance that allows him to stay on his feet at the point of contact.
After running through or past three Packers defenders, Peterson was off to the races and in the end zone 82 yards later.
Earlier, I alluded to Chris Johnson's ability to set up his blocks with his eyes, which Peterson also does very well. He does it at a better rate than Johnson, who has a tendency to sometimes completely abandon the thought and simply roam outside of the trenches. He's also more consistent with it and really does an exceptional job of using his eyes to mislead defenders.
In the same game against the Packers, Peterson fooled "fill" defender Morgan Burnett once again when he busted a run for 48 yards.
This time, the Vikings were in "21" personnel, featuring two backs and one tight end. Peterson received the ball in his belly and ran to his left, where his lead blocker was taking him and a host of Packers defenders were present. The Packers appeared to have built a fortress against the Oklahoma alum, but they were mistaken.
Noticing that he wasn't going to be able to get to the outside versus the Packers defense, Peterson put his lead foot into the ground and cut toward the middle of the field.
On the other side of the ball, Morgan Burnett was still working down the defense as he looked to clean up after his defenders if Peterson was spilled to him. The problem is that he abandoned his assigned gap once the Vikings running back gave a false look to the outside.
Along with the use of his eyes, Peterson was very effective when he planted his lead foot in the ground. It was akin to a hard jab in basketball, swaying defenders in the opposite direction before taking off in the opposite direction.
As a result, Peterson created himself a grand alley that he exploded through once he squared his shoulders, which is another key to downhill running.
Eyes, balance, agility and vision are all key traits of a running back, and Adrian Peterson has them all.
Along with his determination, he uses the above traits better than any running back in the NFL, which is why he's largely considered the league's best. It wasn't always this way, though, as there were many who questioned whether he could stay healthy and become a productive talent.
He may be coming off a torn ACL injury, but he sure is productive.
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