Should the Minnesota Vikings Let Adrian Peterson Run as Much as He Wants?
Peterson, the eventual league MVP, ran for 2,097 yards at a 6.0 yards-per-carry rate and averaged a Madden-on-rookie-mode 159.8 yards per game over the last 10 contests as the Vikings went 6-4 and squeezed into the playoffs.
He carried the ball 348 times and had 40 receptions for a grand total of 388 touches.
Only the Houston Texans' Arian Foster had more carries (351) and more touches (391).
As if his epic campaign wasn't exceptional enough, Peterson told the following to Sports Illustrated, via NFL.com: "I'll let the chips fall where they may. I've got my bar set for 2,500 yards." And NFL.com recently reported that Peterson "wants to be a bigger part of the Vikings' pass attack."
But if the Vikings want to go beyond the first round of the postseason, they must do two things: keep their franchise running back fresh and field a more balanced offense in 2013.
Peterson is 28, which historically has been the age when running backs begin their decline.
In a 2012 column, Bleacher Report NFL Lead Writer Ty Schalter used data discovered in 2000 by then ProFootballReference.com researcher Doug Driner that was centered around what percentage of running backs tended to improve statistically from one year to the next.
Citing Schalter, "He found that backs mostly improve up to age 27—as many improve as decline at age 27—and from age 28 on, they mostly decline."
Obviously, just because running backs tend to see their production and efficiency decrease after the age of 28 doesn't automatically mean that Peterson—often jokingly called a Cyborg—will do the same.
But nearly all players tend to lose speed, explosiveness and athleticism as they get older, and in running back years, Peterson is certainly not young.
That thought coupled with 1,754 career carries and 1,931 career touches at a high injury-risk position, and it's hard to argue that Peterson—who signed to a seven-year, $96 million deal with $36 million guaranteed in 2011—won't see his carries and touches scaled back.
The Vikings made the playoffs last year with Peterson receiving nearly 350 carries and 390 touches.
Why can't do they do it again?
Well, in theory, they could, but it would be quite the risky offensive philosophy to again give their handsomely paid, 28-year-old running back a similarly heavy workload.
How many carries should AP get in 2013?
At some point, Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder will have to take a step forward—unless the Vikings truly believe they can be the first team in today's NFL to ride a running back to a Super Bowl title and think said running back wouldn't get injured at some point.
The only way Ponder will develop or utterly flame out—the latter paving the way for a presumably better signal-caller to be signed in free agency or drafted—is if he gets more opportunities and doesn't rely on Peterson in nearly every game and critical moment.
With newly acquired receiving weapons Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, it appears the Vikings are ready to "test" Ponder in 2013 and potentially beyond.
Peterson probably could be relied upon nearly as much in 2013 as he was in 2012, because many of the running back career-arc rules simply don't apply to him.
But doing so would likely have a negative effect on his long-term viability and would stunt the Vikings' growth as a team.
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