Friday, September 28, 2012

Taking stock of the 2012 version of Adrian Peterson

I think we all expected Adrian Peterson to be a different running back in 2012.

Tearing the ACL and MCL in your left knee will do that to a guy. And it stood to reason that Peterson probably wouldn't be the breakaway threat – a guy who could rip off a 60-yard run at any given time – roughly nine months after having major surgery on that knee.

While Peterson's recovery has been terrific, and his workload has been heavier than expected, to my naked eye he doesn't look superhuman anymore. His four yards per carry average in three games (I know, small sample size) is by far the lowest in his six years in the league, and it seems to bear my theory out. The extra gear – that patented Peterson "burst" – isn't there. This takes some getting used to.

It's a bit early, but I decided to track each Peterson carry in his first three games and break down his yardage for all of those 58 carries. Here is what I found:

0 to negative yards: 6 of 58 (10%)

1 to 3 yards: 25 of 58 (42%) 

4 to 9 yards: 23 of 58 (40%)

10 to 19 yards: 2 of 58 (3%)

20 or more yards: 3 of 58 (5%)

Peterson's longest run in his first three games has been 20 yards. He's done it twice. In his first three games last year, he already had a run of 43 yards and a run of 46. I don't think this in itself proves Peterson has less juice than he once did. I'm just sayin'.

As you can see above, 82 per cent of Peterson's runs have been in the one- to nine-yard range. I would expect almost every running back in the NFL has splits like this - long runs are hard to come by in this league. But because I don't have access to the play-by-play numbers from 2011 (but if you can find them, by all means, provide me the link), I can't tell if this is a significantly higher percentage for Peterson than last year or previous years, or if any of the percentages cited above are much higher or lower than in the past. My plan is to track Peterson's carries in this way throughout the season and try to find some trends at the end of the year when the sample size is complete.

Another thing I tracked (and will continue to track) in this exercise is what direction Peterson has been running in. For simplicity's sake, I just classified the runs as either going up the middle, to the right and to the left. Once again, here is what I found:

Runs to the middle: 30 of 58 (52%)

Runs to the right: 16 of 48 (28%)

Runs to the left:  12 of 58 (22%)

What those results tell me is the Vikings like to run Peterson in the area where their best offensive lineman is - center John Sullivan - with some help from guards Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson. They also don't like running to Johnson and left tackle Matt Kalil's side (run blocking has not been Kalil's forte so far). But these stats could also be an unstated admission by the Vikings coaching staff that getting to the corner and cutting left or right is not Peterson's strength right now. Instead, he's more effective as a straight-line runner.

As TBird noted in this post, Football Outsiders running back statistics show Peterson is having the best success rate on runs of his career at 53 per cent. So is Peterson more of a grind-it-out and move-the-chains type runner post-surgery? I'd say he is, and it's something he should be good at doing. Peterson's always been a powerful, violent runner. This running style plays to one of his strengths.

I think we all yearn to see the guy who ripped up the Bears in 2007 or shredded the Packers at the Metrodome in 2008.I don't think we'll see that guy this season very much. And while the 2012 Adrian Peterson might provide Vikings fans with less thrills and chills down the spine, that doesn't mean he's been any less effective as a runner than he was before his left knee was hurt. He's just a lot less flashier.


  1. I always think about Gale Sayers. The guy whose running-in-the-open-field highlights can still inspire awe came back from an injury and won a rushing title despite having no run longer than 28 yards.

  2. And he was pretty much done the next year, wasn't he?