“If he doesn’t get it, I don’t know who’s going to get it,” Smith told Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPN.com. “He’s still got a lot of yards to go. I’m not going to lie to you."
Smith finished his 15-year career with 18,355 yards, breaking Walter Payton's 18-year record of 16,726.
Thirty-year-old Peterson is a little less than 7,000 yards away from Smith's mark, ending the 2015 season with a career total of 11,675. At his current pace, he'd have to play into his mid-30's if he wanted a chance at Smith's record.
It all depends on how much punishment Peterson can take over that span. Last year, he led the NFL with 327 carries for 1,485 yards. He was the only back in the league with more than 300 carries, and it was only the fourth time in his nine-year career that he hit that number.
Per Taylor, Smith ran the ball 300 or more times on seven occasions in his career, as the 5'9" back defied the odds and took plenty of punishment.
Peterson's feat has suddenly become rare in the league. In 2012, there were five different players who rushed the ball 300 times. Smith spoke with Taylor about the decrease:
It’s a reflection of the changing times in terms of how they value the running back position and how the game has changed into a running back-by-committee approach. It could be because of the CTE stuff, it could be because of how offenses use spread formations vs. the I-formation and it could be the way they rotate players in and out.
In 2015, there were 81 different listed running backs that attempted a rush in the NFL per Pro-Football-Reference.com. During Smith's first year in the league in 1990, there were 64 listed backs.
While there will be superstar running backs for as long as the game exists, they might be limited to conserve their energy or keep them healthy for as long as possible. If that's the case, then the workhorse running back will cease to exist, and Smith's record might not be broken for quite some time.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com