Former Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is set to visit the New England Patriots on Monday and there is valid reason for both excitement and concern.
In Peterson’s 10-year NFL career, he has been named to seven All Pro teams, his 11,747 rushing yards and 97 rushing touchdowns are the most by any player over the past decade, and his 4.86 yards per carry ranks third for running backs with 500+ attempts (Jamaal Charles, 5.45; Darren Sproles, 4.91).
Peterson is one season removed from a league-leading 1,485 rushing yard and 11 rushing touchdown season as he was named First Team All Pro, but a knee injury limited his contributions in 2016.
There’s no question that Peterson has been an All Time talent at the position, but there are some concerns about how much gas he has left in the tank after 2,418 career rushing attempts and whether he can fit in the Patriots offense.
And then there is the concern of Peterson ‘s child abuse case, where Peterson used a switch to create “open wounds” and “cuts and bruises to [his] child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands,” and where the child told authorities that “Daddy Peterson [an NFL athlete] hit me on my face.”
Peterson still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong as he “maintains his innocence” and “does not believe his actions constituted abuse.” (For the record, “physical abuse” is defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child.” Peterson was disciplining his children in the same way that he was disciplined. That is important context and is also why it would be important for Peterson to understand that beating your child is wrong.)
This is not okay, and signing Peterson would make the Patriots claim of avoiding draft prospects with histories of domestic violence ring hollow. It’s not a matter of whether Peterson’s actions against a four-year-old- which were not a one-time occurrence- are “less bad” or “worse” than Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon or former Ravens RB Ray Rice punching a woman- it’s that all are categorically unacceptable.
But going back to Peterson as a player, there are questions of how he would plug into the Patriots offense. Peterson was the worst running back out of the shotgun in 2015, he struggles as a pass blocker, and he’s limited as a receiver. He’s a dinosaur in a passing league.
I think these concerns are overblown.
First, the Patriots rushed the ball 482 times in 2016, the third most in the entire league. The Patriots run the ball a lot.
Second, 77% of those rushing attempts came from under center, and it’s not hard to see that most of those other rushing attempts came with Dion Lewis or James White in the backfield. RB LeGarrette Blount was running from under center, just like how Peterson would operate.
Third, Blount wasn’t doing much pass blocking, either. That’s what Lewis and White are for, and Blount still had a good role in the offense.
Fourth, Peterson averages roughly 2 receptions per game, or 32 per 16-game season. He’s not James White, but he’s still a valid target out of the backfield. Blount has just 19 receptions with the Patriots over his 49 games. Peterson might be a limited receiver, but he’s a much bigger threat than Blount.
All the concerns about Peterson the Player should really boil down to two factors: 1) Will he sign a team-friendly contract?; and 2) Is his 2016 injury a concern relative to LeGarrette Blount?
Because there’s no doubt that a healthy Peterson is a better player than a healthy Blount in every facet of the game, and that Peterson can absolutely slide right into Blount’s old role in the offense without much of a hitch...right?
For this, I present two tables.
Adrian Peterson's yards per carry depending on how many "games since" you go (including playoffs) pic.twitter.com/wxzziEIW9m— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) December 16, 2016
@ArifHasanNFL LeGarrette Blount's yards per carry depending on how many "games since" you go (including playoffs), h/t @ArifHasanNFL pic.twitter.com/tUWUa5Qd41— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) April 3, 2017
It would seem that Blount saw a serious decline in production over the final ten games of the season, while Peterson was seriously limited by his injury. But pre-injury Peterson seemed to be running pretty evenly with 2016 Blount, so perhaps their contributions as rushers might not be a different as one might expect.
The current theory is that RB LeGarrette Blount could sign with the Giants, since New York is still looking to add a “big physical runner;” this is the first team really linked to Blount since the start of free agency. Any connection between the Patriots and Peterson could push Blount to sign with the first offer that comes his way if he believes his time with the Patriots is over.
Blount will definitely be cheaper than Peterson, but while their rushing and blocking contributions might be equal, Peterson adds slightly more as a receiver. Is the difference in salary worth the receiving ability? Can the Patriots ignore Peterson’s off the field transgressions?
Heck, is Rex Burkhead honestly just a better option than either player?
The Patriots will answer these questions over the coming days.