Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was the right choice for the 2013 NFL MVP award, but fans should not hold their breath waiting for another non-quarterback to take home the same honor in the coming seasons.
Peterson broke a five-year streak of QBs winning the MVP. With offenses continuing to favor fast-paced passing attacks and committees of running backs, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for ball-carriers to stand out.
It will take a remarkable and historic effort for a running back to win MVP going forward, and the task has been made that much harder by the standard Peterson set with his performance in 2012.
Until Peterson’s name was announced on Saturday, the only two other running backs to win the award in the past 11 seasons were Shaun Alexander in 2005 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Both players had to set the single-season record for touchdowns to earn the honor.
While the Vikings star did not equal this achievement, what he did this past season is arguably more impressive.
He finished the year with 12 touchdowns and 2,097 rushing yards, which is just eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record. But the circumstances in which he recorded these numbers are truly remarkable.
After tearing both the ACL and MCL in his left knee, expectations for Peterson in 2012 were significantly lowered. Common knowledge suggested that skill position players cannot come back at full speed in the season following such an injury.
But Peterson delivered extraordinary results and did so with very little help. Minnesota ranked 31st in passing yardage during the regular season, and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder’s 81.2 passer rating did not cause much excitement.
This was a team that went 3-13 in 2011. The only other dynamic offensive weapon on the roster is Percy Harvin, and he was lost for the season after Week 9 with an ankle injury.
Harvin’s absence allowed opposing team to put nine or even 10 defenders in the box at times to stop Peterson. But even without the team’s best receiver, Peterson still racked up 1,140 yards in the final seven games of the season.
What position will next year's MVP play?
Deciding whether Peterson’s 2012 campaign was more impressive than the MVP-winning performances from Alexander and Tomlinson is splitting hairs, but all three seasons make fans shake their heads in wonder and amazement.
This is now the standard for running backs with MVP aspirations. Any ball-carrier who does not approach Dickerson’s record for rushing yards or Tomlinson’s record for touchdowns has little or no chance to beat out the long list of talented quarterbacks for the award.
Even if a running back has a historic season statistically, the player may still require some other factor working in his favor, such as Peterson’s recent injury or lack of offensive help.
Peterson is completely deserving of this honor, as his production this season was remarkable on multiple levels. But it is unlikely that he, or any other running back, will be able to be this impressive next season or for several years in the future.