Breaking Down Adrian Peterson's Place in NFL History After Incredible Season

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Breaking Down Adrian Peterson's Place in NFL History After Incredible Season
Andy King/Getty Images

How should we judge what Adrian Peterson accomplished in 2012?

Should we analyze it statistically? Should we cite the fact that he led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs, or will likely win the MVP? Or do we simply marvel at the fact that he accomplished so much after sustaining a knee injury that many thought would keep him out of action to begin the season?

All of the above.

Statistically, Adrian Peterson's 2012 campaign wasn't the most impressive season we've seen from a running back. Not that his 2,097 rushing yards (2,314 yards from scrimmage) and 13 total touchdowns were anything to sneeze at, of course.

But as Joe Posnanski of Sports on Earth wrote, there have been nine seasons, from a statistical standpoint, that were more incredible. While I don't agree with all of his choices, here are six of his selections that I felt were more impressive than Peterson's year from a statistical standpoint:

  • In 2002, Priest Holmes of the Kansas City Chiefs finished with 2,287 yards from scrimmage, 24 touchdowns and 70 catches, and did so in 14 games.
  • In 1998, Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos ran for 2,008 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. The Broncos won their second consecutive Super Bowl that year.
  • In 1973, O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills ran for 2,003 yards and 14 touchdowns. He did so in 14 games.
  • In 1999, Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams rushed 253 times for 1,383 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns, and had 87 catches for 1,048 yards and another five scores.
  • In 1963, Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns gained 2,131 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 touchdown in 14 games. His 6.4 yards per carry is still an NFL record for running backs with at least 200 carries in a season.
  • Finally, in 2006, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers finished with 2,322 yards from scrimmage and 31—yes, 31!—touchdowns.

Now, there should probably be a few caveats added beyond pure statistics, of course.

Only Tomlinson accomplished his feat in the Golden Age of Passing. Faulk and the Greatest Show on Turf may have helped to usher in the new age of passing attacks—and Priest Holmes was on the ground floor—but today's NFL is far more of a passing league than most of the other players on this list experienced.

Something else to consider: Peterson looks like a lock to win the MVP this season. Of the above players, only Simpson, Davis and Tomlinson won the MVP. Only Davis, Faulk and Tomlinson made the playoffs.

And none of these guys had to accomplish their feats after tearing an ACL the previous December. Sure, the surgery wouldn't have been an option for some of them given recent advancements in medicine and technology, but still—we can't dismiss Peterson's superhuman recovery when evaluating his season.

For my money, Tomlinson's 2006 remains the greatest season for a running back ever, with Brown's 1963 campaign coming in at a close second. But there has never been a more impressive feat of physical accomplishment than what Peterson put together this year.

To recover from reconstructive knee surgery in nine months, actually start the season ahead of schedule, completely dominate opposing defenses and to do so consistently against eight men in the box, well, it boggles the mind.

I'm not sure there has ever been a more freakish season by an athlete ever, in any sport.

And who knows how much further Peterson can lead the Vikings? While I think the Green Bay Packers will win next weekend at Lambeau Field, do we change the way we view his season from a historical standpoint if he leads the Vikings to the Super Bowl?

I'll give Tomlinson and Brown the edge statistically. Davis had crazy stats, won the MVP and led his team to a Super Bowl victory. But from an awe-inspiring feat of physical accomplishment, nothing trumps what Peterson did this year.

He's a freak of nature. Hopefully, the history books will remember that, and not just the numbers.

 

Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are still in awe.

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