Minnesota Vikings: How Adrian Peterson Became the Greatest RB in Modern NFL Era

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Minnesota Vikings: How Adrian Peterson Became the Greatest RB in Modern NFL Era
Andy King/Getty Images
After six NFL seasons, Adrian Peterson is in position to become the NFL's best running back. Ever.

It was a move that left some pundits following the Minnesota Vikings scratching their heads in 2007.

When the organization selected Adrian Peterson seventh overall in that year’s NFL draft, it was doubling up on a position that seemed well off.

Chester Taylor, then 27 years old, was coming off a 1,216-yard season with six touchdowns. The position appeared set for the near future.

With questions at quarterback and in the defensive backfield and players like Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn and Pittsburgh’s Darrelle Revis available, some wondered what Minnesota was thinking.

At that time, Peterson wasn’t the clear-cut slam-dunk prospect he is viewed as today.

He was considered an injury-prone back with an upright running style—which was supposed to leave him even more injury prone in the NFL—according to Sports Illustrated—but who had the potential for greatness should he prove able to stay healthy.

Since then, Peterson has set the NFL single-game rushing record (296 yards), fallen nine yards short of setting the single-season rushing record, been named the 2012 MVP after recovering from a torn ACL in less than 10 months and made the Pro Bowl in five of his first six seasons—to name just a few of his accomplishments.

He has left all his doubters prior to the 2007 draft in a trail of dust and is on a path to becoming the game’s best running back. Period.

All he has accomplished didn’t just happen overnight. It took years of blood, sweat and tears.

It was a trek that started at Palestine High School in Palestine, Texas.

Preps Years

Unlike many standout high school athletes at the top of their craft, Peterson did not play four years of varsity football.

He wasn’t eligible for the varsity squad his sophomore season, which left just his junior and senior seasons to leave an impression on collegiate recruiters.

As is the Adrian Peterson way, he did not disappoint.

Over his final two seasons, Peterson rushed 498 times for 5,011 yards (10.1 yards per carry) with 54 touchdowns—including 2,960 yards on 252 carries (11.7 yards per carry) and 32 touchdowns in his senior season in 2003.

Prior to Peterson’s senior season, it was evident he could have his choice of colleges.

Rivals.com rated him as its No. 1 running back and No. 1 overall prospect for the class of 2004. The site reported Arkansas, Miami (Fla.), Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC and Oklahoma all offered Peterson a scholarship.

The decision wasn’t easy for him. It came down to Texas and Oklahoma, with Peterson's announcement coming after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a game in which he rushed nine times for 95 yards with two touchdowns.

 

College Years

From the moment Peterson stepped foot on the Oklahoma campus expectations were high.

He entered college with a man’s body (6’2” and 210 pounds) and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash while bench pressing 295 pounds and squatting 480 pounds, according to Oklahoma athletics.

His physical tools set the tone for what went down as one of the greatest freshman seasons in NCAA history.

On his way to finishing as the runner up in the Heisman vote, the best finish ever by a freshman at that time, Peterson rushed 339 times for 1,925 yards (5.7 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns.

His rushing total toppled the mark set for freshmen by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (1,863 in 1996) and broke the Oklahoma single-season record set by Billy Sims in 1978 (1,896 yards).

The bar was set for Peterson to become one of college football’s best running backs. Ever.

Instead, the aforementioned injury bug bit and did not let go.

It started with a dislocated left shoulder in the fall of his freshman season. It was a nagging injury that Peterson played through and had surgery on in the offseason.

As a sophomore, a sprained left ankle limited him in three games and cost him another altogether.

The biggest bite came his junior season, when a broken collarbone suffered in the final play of an October affair cost him seven games.

Despite the injuries, Peterson rushed for 1,108 yards on 220 carries (5.0 yards per carry) with 14 touchdowns as a sophomore and 1,012 yards on 188 carries (5.4 yards per carry) with 12 touchdowns as a junior.

Injuries left him 73 yards shy of breaking Oklahoma’s all-time rushing record set by Sims, but he decided he had proven all he could in college and made the declaration for the 2007 NFL draft.

 

NFL draft

Unluckily for Peterson—but luckily for Minnesota—the future star entered the NFL in what was considered a talented draft class with prospects like Calvin Johnson, JaMarcus Russell and Joe Thomas.

Peterson was fighting an uphill battle to become a top-five pick with talents like that but he was also fighting himself.

He did right by posting a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but struggled to shed his injury-prone label.

That combined with the upside of talents like Johnson and Russell and the safety of taking a player like offensive tackle Thomas allowed Peterson to slip out of the top three and deeper into the draft than many expected.

Tampa Bay at No. 4 (Cadillac Williams) and Washington at No. 6 (Clinton Portis) were set at running back prior to the draft. And when Arizona selected offensive tackle Levi Brown at No. 5, the stars were aligned for the Vikings to make what would become one of the greatest draft choices in league history.

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