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Last season saw Peterson, who was coming off a catastrophic knee injury, run for the second-most yards in a single season.
Putting the injury aside, it was an amazing feat, as Peterson had a career-high yards-per-carry average of 6.0 (his highest since his rookie-season number of 5.6) and the second-highest total of carries (348) in his career.
It's very hard to bet against Peterson, who has set a goal of 2,500 yards for himself.
And yet, here we go.
Why He'll See a Drop-Off
The fact is that no running back who has topped 2,000 yards has ever replicated it. Not Eric Dickerson, not Jamal Lewis, not Barry Sanders, not Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson nor O.J. Simpson.
In fact, each of those backs had his yards take a nosedive the year after he ran for 2,000.
Dickerson, for instance, ran for just 1,234 yards. Lewis barely broke 1,000. Johnson amassed just 1,364 yards. Sanders had a very solid follow-up year, accumulating 1,491 yards and then retiring. The trend continues, and some (like Davis) dealt with injuries.
However history isn't the only—or even the biggest—reason Peterson will see a slide in his totals (which I still expect to be around the 1,500-yard mark).
His team will be.
If everything goes to plan, this team will not need him to run the ball 348 times. The Vikings are committed to improving their passing game, as evidenced by the additions of wide receiver Greg Jennings and rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to replace the departed Percy Harvin.
They expect bigger things from quarterback Christian Ponder and a step forward from the guys they retained from the 2012 campaign—players like wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright, as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph.
This will actually make Peterson's life easier in many ways, as when the passing game works, defenses can't show eight and nine men in the box to stop him. I expect his yards per carry to drop a little but still hover around 5.0.
He's just not going to get the opportunity to carry the ball as much, and I don't expect him to do so enough to make 2,000—forget 2,500. Even if he kept the 6.0 yards per carry, he'd need to carry the ball over 330 times to top or approach 2,000 yards, and that's just not what this team is looking to do.
In fact, if he has to carry it that many times, something has failed elsewhere.
Why I Might Be Wrong
There is, of course, every chance that things fail elsewhere.
Maybe Ponder doesn't show the ability to utilize a vertical threat like Jennings. I've been charting Ponder's passes for a look at how this pairing will work, and while I still have work to do, Ponder simply didn't throw long often last year. When he did, his accuracy was very hit-or-miss.
I'm not fully convinced he can consistently hit his deep threat.
Or instead, maybe Jennings is too tapped to hold up his end of the deal. Maybe he gets hurt again, as he was in 2011 and 2012. Maybe Simpson continues to play more like his 2010 self than the 2011 version.
Perhaps Rudolph starts dropping balls again or Wright doesn't continue to show the flash he did in the latter half of 2012. Maybe Patterson is too raw to have an impact this season.
All of those things are possible.
If that's the case—if all hell breaks loose in the offense again this year—this team is going to lean on Peterson. I can't imagine that defenses will have an easier time stopping him now that he's 100 percent than they did when he wasn't last year.