A player showing up to OTAs typically isn’t a noteworthy activity. There are always players who skip them for a large variety of reasons from contract disputes to just having a preference of working out with their own trainers. Tuesday morning was a little different when Adrian Peterson suddenly walked into Winter Park, the Vikings practice facility. It was the first time Peterson has been on the field with his teammates since week 1 of the 2014 season.
After an off-season filled with a lot of back and forth, accusations of being disrespected and unsupported, as well as numerous trade demands and speculations, very few people expected Peterson to just suddenly show up to the team facility, yet that is exactly what happened. He unceremoniously flew into the Twin Cities Monday night and was at the team facility just a few days after his latest twitter rant about his situation. The Vikings welcomed him back with open arms and it seems all of the issues are behind them at this point. How the public reacts might be a slightly different story, but let’s keep this strictly about the football and fantasy impact of his return with a spotlight on a few players.
It has been nine months since Peterson has played organized football, which is the longest time away from the game he has ever had, including his recovery from the ACL injury. Added into the extended period away from the game you have the fact that Peterson just turned 30 years old this spring. With him at the proverbial cliff for running back production and having an extended absence from the game, could he disappoint fantasy and football fans alike? I suppose that is possible, but I don’t think it is very likely.
[inlinead]Keep in mind exactly who we are talking about here. This is Adrian Peterson, the best running back of this generation and one of the best to ever play the position. This is the guy who has a career yards per carry average of almost five yards (4.96 if we are being picky), almost 100 rushing yards per game played and scores just shy of one touchdown per game. For guys like this, the normal rules of time don’t apply. Jerry Rice posted a 1000 yard season at age 40. Walter Payton had some of his best seasons at age 30 or older. These are the kinds of players we should be looking at when talking about Peterson’s career path, not your normal NFL running back.
I think Peterson can and will be an elite running back in the NFL for a few more seasons. How many? I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t think the normal rules apply to him. With a young quarterback taking the next steps this year and some other new additions to the offense, Peterson should once again regain his role as one of the most productive running backs in football. He’ll continue to be the focal point of the offense and might even catch a few more passes this year than in years past. If his current fantasy owner is a bit scared by the big “three-oh” in the age column, I would definitely try to scoop him up at a discount.
For all of hoping to get a look at the super athletic McKinnon in a lead role, we are going to be waiting a little while longer. Don’t panic on him just yet though. McKinnon just turned 23 years old and was a little raw as a running back prospect. Getting to watch the best running back in the game today in action for a full year or two is only going to help McKinnon in the long run. He already averaged almost 4.8 yards per carry last season, so there is definitely a lot of potential there. Unfortunately, he won’t get much of an opportunity to shine this season because Peterson rarely comes off the field. If you are a rebuilding team, this might be the perfect time to contact the McKinnon owner and see if they are disheartened enough by the news of Peterson returning to sell McKinnon at a discount.
I’m not going to say Bridgewater was great as a rookie, because he wasn’t. However, Bridgewater did show a lot of improvement as the season went on. His best games by pretty much every metric came over the last six or seven weeks of the season with only one exception. That is what you want to see from a rookie quarterback. When you add in some new weapons in the passing game, a healthy offensive line, and the return of Peterson the arrow continues to point up for Bridgewater. I still don’t think he will ever be an elite quarterback, but I think he can be a very solid NFL starter especially with someone like Peterson keeping defenses honest. I’m expecting QB2 level production out of Bridgewater in 2015, which makes him valuable in 2QB leagues, but little more than a backup in standard leagues.
Dallas Running Backs
Peterson grew up in Texas and has made a few comments over the years about playing football in his home state. Mix in Jerry Jones’s affinity for making a big splash from time to time and you get a whole lot of trade rumors involving Peterson going to Dallas. For cap reasons I didn’t think it was ever a real possibility, but it was fun to think about Peterson behind that offensive line with Dez Bryant lined up out wide. Now that this seems to be a non-existent pipe dream for Cowboy fans, it is time to realize their leading rusher for the 2015 season is most likely already on their roster. Someone is very likely going to post a career year behind one of the best run blocking lines in the league. The question is if it will be the often broken Darren McFadden, the often foolish Joseph Randle or a dark horse candidate like Ryan Williams or Lance Dunbar. I don’t think any of them are the long term solution for the Cowboys at the position, but one of them will likely win people an awful lot of fantasy games this year. If I was forced to own one, I would go with Randle, but he is far from a sure thing no matter what he tells the Dallas media.
Arizona Running backs
The other spot often talked about as a landing spot for the disgruntled Peterson was the desert of Arizona. Andre Ellington didn’t live up to expectations last year, and the Cardinals made an awful lot of noise this offseason about wanting to either improve upon him as a starter or wanting to find a complement to pair with him. Peterson returning to the Vikings has to put all of the Ellington owners at ease. His only real competition right now is going to be rookie David Johnson. While I like Johnson, I don’t view him as a bell cow running back in the NFL. I think the most likely outcome at this point in time is for a committee situation to take shape in Arizona with Ellington getting the majority while Johnson takes on the minor role. How large the shares are will depend on Ellington’s healthy as well as Johnson’s ability to transition to the NFL. If I had to guess, I would expect a 75/25 kind of split between the two, but it could go as far as a 50/50 split if Ellington gets nicked up or Johnson progresses better than I expect.