One of the bigger issues as you set your draft board at the running back position is just where to place Adrian Peterson coming off his December knee injury. He’s obviously an elite talent, and even with being hampered by a dreadful offense last year, would have still finished in the top 5 among running backs if he had not missed 4 games (still finished 8th in standard scoring).
He’ll be trying to come back from an ACL Tear within 9 months if he is able to start in week 1. There are a lot of unknowns and so the best we can do is just estimate.
Among players who were star lead backs at the time, only four really qualify as even close to comparable to Peterson over the last decade: Jamal Lewis and Edgerrin James (2001), Deuce McAllister (2005) and Ronnie Brown (2007). I went through their return seasons and compared them to the previous 16 games played to get a baseline.
Now, those players all were injured prior to the end of October, so they had more time until the next opening day. That plays into whether it is realistic that Peterson is back by the first game, or if, say, a month in is a more realistic option. Thus, this is a situation where depending on when you draft, his value may change.
The four other injured players averaged 1.7 fewer fantasy points per game in the “comeback” season than in the previous 16 game baseline. Edgerrin James had the biggest drop off, while McAllister actually put up better numbers the next year thanks to the Drew Brees’ signing. If you are setting Peterson’s expectation, I think you have to regress him slightly in line with that number. (Of course, all backs regress, so it’s just a matter of degree).
Peterson averaged 13.2 fantasy points over his previous 16 games, so an expectation of 11.5 fantasy points (non-PPR) would result in 184 fantasy points over a full season, and 138 if he missed 4 games. Those numbers would have averaged a #14 finish in fantasy points over the last 4 years, and a #27 finish, respectively.
Of course, a back with an average expected finish of RB14 shouldn’t be drafted 14th at the position; he is more like a RB7 or 8 because backs never average a finish where their draft position is. Similarly, a RB27 projected finish probably dictates drafting in the mid to upper teens.
I’m probably going to be more bullish on Peterson than some, though opinion will vary on him greatly and all it takes is one person to take him. If you have a really early draft, before reports start drifting in, I suppose that you have to value him in about the RB10-12 range on the assumption that he could miss between 1 & 4 games at the start of the year before he is cleared.
Every top running back has some downside risk, it just may not be as obvious to us as knowing that Peterson is coming back from an ACL injury. We know Peterson’s–the return from an injury–but I also think he actually has upside risk. He put up pretty good offensive numbers last year considering how bad the passing offense was (bottom 5 in net yards per attempt). Four years ago, I wrote about the relationship between passing efficiency and fantasy running backs. Backs who succeed on poor passing offenses hold their value better the next year.
If Ponder improves at all in his second year, even if it is merely to below average, Peterson’s numbers should actually be improved (dependent on his health). If I’m setting Peterson’s value right now, you have to take into account the downside risk but also that upside risk of being an elite talent and having the potential for offensive development. I would have him in the RB8 range at the outset, on an assumption he could miss an average of two games to start the year. If the news starts to come out that he will be ready by week 1, I’ll probably move him to the RB4-6 range (behind Foster, Rice and McCoy, and then in the same group with Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews). Conversely, if he is going to miss the first month, he probably should be outside the Top 10.
[photo via US Presswire]