Today's feature column for ESPN Insider looks at Adrian Peterson's chances of breaking the all-time rushing yardage record. We also have some additional content here that did not fit into the ESPN piece.
It may sound hard to believe with Adrian Peterson signed through 2017, but there is no guarantee the reigning MVP is still on the Vikings in a couple of years. He may be lucky to be on any NFL roster given the league-wide desertion of older backs. Last season, just 5.3 percent of the league’s running plays were carries by a running back in his 30s. That is the lowest in the 32-team era and part of a recent downward trend:
|NFL Rushing Attempts by 30-Plus Running Backs (2002-12)|
|30+ Pct. Runs||30+ Pct. Yards|
After 2005 when Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, and Marshall Faulk retired, we have seen a shift towards youth and the running back by committee approach. Just 13 running backs, all either 30 or 31 years old, combined for the 734 carries and 2,798 yards in 2012. Of the 13, only Fred Jackson (Buffalo), Ronnie Brown (San Diego), John Kuhn (Green Bay) and Vonta Leach (Baltimore) are returning to the same team in 2013. None have a significant role in carrying the ball for their team.
Two more changed teams (Leon Washington to New England and Greg Jones to Houston) and seven are currently free agents, including Michael Turner and Willis McGahee. Those two led the Falcons and Broncos, also known as the two No. 1 seeds, in rushing last season. However, McGahee struggled with fumbles and Denver drafted Wisconsin’s Montee Ball while Turner (ranked 40th in DYAR) could cite his lack of speed and receiving ability for doing him in with Atlanta.
With running backs like Frank Gore, Steven Jackson (now in Atlanta) and DeAngelo Williams all playing at age 30 this season and the likelihood some of those free agents will get signed soon, we should see a small increase in the rushing numbers for older backs, but clearly things are not what they used to be.
Even if they can get it, one can only wonder if the Vikings (or any team) would still want 250-plus carries from Peterson when he’s 31 or 32. (Insert a Tommy Lee Jones monologue about Peterson fixing to make a fire out there in the dark as we fade to bl--)