Minnesota Vikings Can't Let Adrian Peterson Become the Next Barry Sanders

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2012

Currently leading the NFL in rushing, Adrian Peterson is having the best season of his career.
Currently leading the NFL in rushing, Adrian Peterson is having the best season of his career.Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson's career is tracking awfully close to that of Barry Sanders'—and that could be a bad thing for the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson leads the NFL with 1,600 yards and needs to average 134 yards in his last three games to reach 2,000 yards, becoming only the seventh player ever to achieve that milestone. 

After rushing for 154 yards against the Bears on Sunday, Peterson is averaging 157 yards over the past seven games. That's when his string of consecutive 100-yard games started. At this pace, he would finish with 2,071 yards—second only to Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105, set in 1984.  

Back to the Sanders comparison.

In 1997, Sander's ninth season with the Lions, he led the NFL in rushing with 2,053 yards—the third-highest total in NFL the history. It was his fourth rushing title. Like Peterson, Sanders was a first-round draft pick from a university located in Oklahoma—the neighboring state from where each player grew up. Sanders is from Wichita, Kansas and Peterson from Palestine, Texas. 

Both were named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.  

Following the 1998 season, Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards, his 10th consecutive season with at least 1,100 yards—and then he walked away from the game, retiring unexpectedly before the start of the 1999 season.

If something doesn't change in Minnesota, the Vikings may find themselves in a similar situation.

Looking at the first five seasons for both running backs, the statistics are eerily similar. 

The similarities go beyond just their individual rushing statistics. The record of the Lions from 1989 to 1993, during Sanders' first five seasons, was 40-40.

From 2007 to 2011, during Peterson's first five seasons the Vikings have a record of 39-41. Over those five seasons, both teams made the playoffs twice.  

When Sanders retired, his 15,269 yards ranked him second in career rushing yards—only 1,457 yards behind Walter Payton. After averaging more than 1,500 yards per season, Sanders would have passed Payton if he played one more season—certainly if he had played two.  

In his final five seasons the Lions would not get any better, going 38-42 from 1994 to 1998. No doubt the continual mediocrity of the Lions made it tough to take the pounding each year. 

After having reconstructive surgery to repair both the ACL and MCL of his left knee in January, Peterson is having the best year of his career. Having had the opportunity to interview Peterson, he doesn't seem to be a selfish player. It's never about him and his stats, and he appears to be the consummate teammate.

Through Sunday, Peterson has 8,352 yards and is averaging 97.1 yards per game. Needing another 10,003 yards to catch Emmitt Smith, it will take him until 2018 to pass Smith and become the all-time leading rusher in the NFL. 

That being the case, the Vikings need to put some talent around him and start winning, because the career rushing title might not be enough to keep him motivated.

Here's hoping that Peterson's career doesn't continue to mirror that of Sanders' and that the Vikings can become a Super Bowl contender in the very near future. Otherwise Peterson just might lose interest in the game and walk away like Sanders. Even if it means leaving before breaking the career rushing mark.