He is part Jim Brown, with a dab of Eric Dickerson and a smidge of Emmitt Smith. In an era in which runners have become (wrongly) thought of as archaic, and have taken a back seat to quarterbacks, Peterson is reminding us just what a great runner can do. He can be an engine, a source of steadiness set against the topsy-turviness that is the quarterback position.
No other runner in the sport now is having the kind of impact Peterson is. The only way you'd find DeMarco Murray these days is if he wore a name tag. Remember how good Eddie Lacy was supposed to be? Benched. Even the phenomenon that is rookie Todd Gurley is being outclassed by Peterson, who is almost a decade older. Peterson is averaging 106.8 yards per game, 5.5 more than second-place Gurley (who's slowing down), 14.1 more than third-place Le'Veon Bell (who's hurt) and an amazing 25.2 more than fourth-place Chris Johnson.
What's happening with Peterson is scintillating. It is eye-popping. It is also disturbing.
Disturbing, in that so many seem to have forgotten what Peterson did to get himself suspended last year, deleting the brutal images of the injuries he inflicted on his own son from their memory banks, the way they empty the cache on their web browser.
We can appreciate what Peterson is accomplishing as a player, but let's not forget what he did as a father.
Just as we don't forget what we know about Greg Hardy or what we know about Ray Rice.
No, I'm not asking for Peterson to wear a scarlet A. But it would be nice to see a little more introspection from the sport and the fans that follow it, as well as the media that covers it. What Peterson did was child abuse, and here we are, just a short time later, in some ways acting like what he did never happened.
Go back in time, to that horrible moment when the pictures of Peterson's beaten son were released. It was disturbing stuff.
These paragraphs from Roger Goodell's letter to Peterson (via NPR.org), after the NFL disciplined him, are worth noting again:
First, the injury was inflicted on a child who was only four years old. The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant, and your actions clearly caused physical injury to the child. While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse—to flee, to fight back or to seek help from law enforcement—none of those options is realistically available to a four-year-old child. Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.
Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete.
Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct. When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not "eliminate whooping my kids" and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child's mother. You also said that you felt "very confident with my actions because I know my intent." These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future.
In beating his son, as Goodell noted, Peterson struck him "in the ankles, limbs, back, buttocks and genitals, leaving visible swelling, marks and cuts on his body and risking severe and long-term damage. The visible injuries were such that a local pediatrician in Minnesota, upon examining your son, felt obligated to make a child abuse report to the police. According to contemporaneous media reports, police and medical examiners termed the cuts as 'extensive' and as 'clinically diagnostic of child physical abuse.'"
Whenever I see Peterson make a big run or read the fawning coverage of how this 6'1", 220-pound professional football player is physically dominating other professional football players, it remains difficult to reconcile with those pictures.
So, yes, Peterson's greatness cannot be denied. He's tied for the most career 200-yard games. His 98.7 yards-per-contest average is only bettered by Brown (104.3) and Barry Sanders (99.8).
We can remember how talented he is. Just as long we don't too easily forget what he did.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.