Adrian Peterson vs. Chris Johnson: Which Back Is the NFL's Best?

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IApril 8, 2017

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 13:  Karl Klug #97 and Chris Hope #24 of the Tennessee Titans tackle Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings during a preseason exhibition game at LP Field on August 13, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are quite possibly the two best backs in the NFL, but who exactly is the BEST back out of the two?

This has become one of the greatest debates in many NFL circles, but actually coming to a definitive answer isn’t as easy as one might think.

On the one hand, a fan could argue on stats alone. But stand-alone stats only tell a portion of the story.

In fact, ANY singularity you bring to the table only represents segments of a greater picture; a picture I decided to analyze for you today.

Let’s start with the proverbial statistical argument.

With numbers alone, there is absolutely no separating factor here that can definitively suggest the better back—none.

Chris Johnson, in three years, has rushed for an amazing 4,598 yards and has racked up 34 touchdowns on 925 carries, while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Adrian Peterson has rushed for 5,782 yards and 52 touchdowns on 1,198 carries, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but has had four years to accomplish this feat.

So, if we simply pro-rate Chris Johnson’s numbers to a four-year average, we find slightly more carries (1,233), slightly more yards (6,131) and almost the same amount of touchdowns as Peterson (45).

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 02:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans is tackled by Eric Foster #68 of the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  the Colts won 23-20.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The thing is, we can do this all day (pun intended) with the same rudimentary result: The two backs are nearly equal.

If we, however, look at the receiving portion of each back’s game, we find that both backs are again, very similar:



Total yards


Chris Johnson




Adrian Peterson




There is a slight edge to Johnson, but we can easily chalk that up to individual coaching strategies over the years.

If we simply fast track some other areas of the debate, we can also say there is little difference in each player’s dependability since both are as dependable as a Chevy truck; we can say each player’s presence in the locker room is equally influential and we can argue that each player even has similar running styles.

But what about, real value?

What makes an NFL player valuable to his team, and could this question be utilized in determining who the better back is?

Of course it can, but you may not like the results.

A player’s value isn’t just what he does on the field, but also, whether or not the team can sustain itself WITHOUT the player.

Ryan Grant (for example) is a pretty good running back, but the Packers still won a Super Bowl without him—or even a legitimate ground game. Why? Because the team is built to absorb such a loss.

The New York Jets won several games last year when Mark Sanchez was playing at his worst because, again, the team is designed to sustain itself “with or without” Sanchez—intentionally or not.

Can Minnesota or Tennessee say the same thing? Absolutely not, meaning both backs are equally valuable to their respective teams.

So here we are, in a dead tie. But is that so bad?

Do we really have to spend hours quantifying just who the better back is? Is it even definitively possible with so many similarities between the two?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings runs against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The final result—in my opinion, anyway—is each player is of equivalent strength, value and dependability.

In other words, they’re equal.

Time may wind up being the only silent factor here; a potentially deciding dynamic that just cannot be used at the moment.

Time may also wind up keeping this argument moot—who knows?

For now, all we truly have is opinion, which is anything but definitive.

It is, however, still a viewpoint deserving to be expressed, with mine already stated.

So, who do you think the better back is?


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