Most weekdays from now until the Packers and Seahawks kick off on September 4th, The Big Lead will detail one reason we are excited for football season to begin. Including today, we’re 17 days away from NCAA and 24 from NFL.
Few things are as certain as death, taxes, and an Adrian Peterson long touchdown run. Big runs in the NFL are memorable, but often infrequent. Let’s put Adrian Peterson’s penchant for breaking big runs in some perspective.
Peterson has more touchdown runs of 50+ yards than any back in NFL history, through the same age. With 13 long touchdown runs in his first seven seasons, Peterson is just ahead of Jim Brown before age 29 (12). Barry Sanders has the most all-time, because he had four long touchdown runs at age 29 (including three of 80+ yards), and added two more the next year before retiring. Thus, Peterson is only two more bursts through the line from beyond midfield from tying the all-time mark.
Even more remarkable is the consistency with which Peterson has done it. He has had at least one such run in every year he has played in the NFL. To put that in contrast, consider that Eric Dickerson had one touchdown run of over 50 yards–in his entire Hall of Fame career. Thurman Thomas also. Marcus Allen, known for his memorable long touchdown in the Super Bowl against Washington, had only two others in the regular season. The great Walter Payton did it three times.
Adrian Peterson, at this point, can be compared to the greats of all-time. How does he stack up? He certainly owns the highlight reel runs.
Here’s a comparison against 8 other backs that I think are in the discussion, to see how Peterson stacks up. I ranked them 1 to 9 (with ties in some categories) for how they compared to each other in yards from scrimmage, rushing yards, total touchdowns, yards per carry, and in how many times they were selected all-pro or led the league in a category, before age 29.
Peterson is in the discussion, but probably not a top five back overall. If you take out receiving, Peterson would probably be in the top 3, though. Of course, one of the counters to this: Peterson’s teammates. After all, he didn’t play with the same teams that Emmitt Smith did.
Teammate discussion is always difficult. For now, let’s just look at how many offensive teammates were pro bowlers, separating all the other offensive starters from the quarterback.
Peterson does have worse teammates. Emmitt Smith always gets dinged for having good teammates. Jim Brown and Thurman Thomas had it pretty good, too. At least in terms of pro bowlers, Peterson is 8th, but close to several others like Dickerson, Tomlinson, and Sanders. Peterson hasn’t played with the best quarterbacks. He did get two years with Brett Favre though, including 2009. Three of the backs didn’t play with a single pro bowl quarterback before age 29.
While a teammate comparison does close the field down for Peterson when deciding if he is top five all-time, it also brings Walter Payton rocketing up the board by the same rationale. Payton, amazingly, did not play with a single offensive player who made a pro bowl until he was 32 years old (1985). After age 29, Payton had three seasons with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, once his teammates got better, and at an age when many great backs declined or walked away from the game. (I once tried to make the case for Payton #1 among running backs).
So Peterson this year is playing for his place among the greats. For the eighth year in a row, he will try to wow us with another long touchdown run and highlight reel plays. It’s a high standard–Emmitt and Walter were the two best backs from this group after age 28–but if Peterson can put up a few more great seasons he will be in “the discussion.”
Barry had three 80 yard touchdown runs at this age. AP is fully capable of matching, and setting the all-time record for 50+ touchdown runs.
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