Recently, more to have fun and go along with the reporter than anything else, Adrian Peterson pegged week 16 of the 2017 to overtake the all time rushing record held by Emmitt Smith. This is quite a lofty goal, as Peterson would have to average about 1,900 yards per season without missing any games to that point. Plain and simple, that's not happening. I'm all for setting big goals and pushing yourself, but that's asking a lot in the world of the NFL. Peterson will not break the record that week and year, and I'm very skeptical he'll be able to approach it at all.
As it stands Peterson has rushed for 8,849 yards in six NFL seasons. The all time mark held by Smith stands at 18,335 completed in 15 NFL seasons. Though Peterson isn't half way, maintaining his current pace would have him breaking the record in another seven seasons. Most fans would look at this and believe this to be doable, as Peterson has already shown us he can overcome massive obstacles. When you really think about it though, getting the next 9,486 yards will again be a tall task.
Peterson is currently 28 years old and has 1,754 attempts through his pro career. Running back is arguably the most taxing position in the NFL, and 28 is statistically the age where most backs begin their decline. Peterson is coming off arguably the best season a running back has ever had, so an immediate decline seems impossible to most fans.
Most fans thought that about LaDainian Tomlinson as well. At 27 years old Tomlinson delivered his best NFL season with 1,815 yards, 28 touchdowns, and an NFL MVP award. At 28 he delivered 1,474 yards, still an outstanding mark. At 29, Tomlinson rushed for 1,110 yards. His days as a solo, feature back were over at 29. By 32 he was out of football. The same was true for Shaun Alexander, who delivered an MVP season at age 28 only to follow it up by rushing for a mighty 896 yards. By 31 he was out of football.
Peterson keeps himself in outstanding shape and has proven himself against doubters in the past, but more than just numbers lower his chances. Peterson is a contact first back. He relishes the opportunity to use his body as a weapon to gain extra yards. He refuses to run out of bounds and would rather take a shot from two defenders to gain an extra yard. Peterson had 1,019 yards after contact last season. That's outstanding, but also worrisome for his prospects of breaking the all time mark. Emmitt Smith was a master at avoiding contact and not taking big hits. That is not Peterson's game.
There are more disadvantages for Peterson though. His quarterback is Christian Ponder. If I'm a defensive coordinator I'm not worried about Ponder; I want to make that guy beat me. Defenses are going to creep toward the line of scrimmage until Ponder proves he can beat you with his arm. I understand this was an issue for Peterson last season, but as long as it continues it leads to Peterson taking more and more hits near the line of scrimmage. In contrast, Emmitt Smith played behind an outstanding fullback, arguably the best offensive line of all time, hall of fame weapons such as Michael Irvin on the outside, and hall of famer Troy Aikman at quarterback. Not taking away from Smith, as he's one of the greatest backs to ever play, but there were more opportunities to succeed and stay healthy in an offense like this.
Finally, Peterson proved he could overcome his ACL tear, but it cannot be forgotten that his knee suffered a major injury. Peterson also suffered various injuries during his college career, such as a broken collarbone that held him out for significant time his junior season. He also played through a sports hernia last season, having it surgically repaired after the playoff loss to Green Bay. His durability as he increases in age is a major issue.
Though I hope I am proven wrong, I don't see Adrian Peterson being the man to break the all time rushing record. With history, physical style, and injury history against him it looks to be a tough task to pass Emmitt. If I learned anything from last season though, it's not to give this man zero chance. if anyone can prove me wrong, it's Peterson.