Adrian Peterson’s 2012 reality season was one of the greatest in NFL history. He finished 9 yards shy of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record despite recovering from multiple torn knee ligaments and playing on a team that couldn’t manage even the semblance of a passing attack. Adrian Peterson may one day be viewed as the best reality running back ever.
The RotoViz Similarity Score App doesn’t particularly care. It just sees the relative sparseness of touchdowns and paucity of catches. It astutely views the 5.9 yards per carry average as patently unsustainable. The Sim Score ranks Peterson 8th among running backs. And since it’s just a computer program, it doesn’t particularly care that you find that ludicrous. (To see which backs rank higher and what comparable seasons those rankings are based on, try the app.)
Many people view Peterson’s projection as an example of the algorithm’s blind spots. There aren’t that many truly comparable seasons, etc., etc. I’d prefer to lend a little credence to what the app is telling us. If we’re just going to let the results get overruled by intuition, then what’s the point?
I’ve previously made the argument that Peterson isn’t actually very good before contact, an issue which also limits him as a receiver. I even used him as an object lesson in explaining why Marshawn Lynch is a strong sell.
So let’s focus on something different here. Let’s place his epic 2012 season within the context of other elite fantasy campaigns. As you look at the leaderboard since 2000, consider that AP barely finishes inside the Top 25. None of his other seasons earn a place.
|Year||Team||Games||Rush Yds||Rush TD||Recs||Rec Yds||Rec TD||Points||PPG|
|1. LaDainian Tomlinson||2006||SD||16||1,815||28||56||508||3||474.3||29.6|
|2. Marshall Faulk||2000||STL||14||1,359||18||81||830||8||455.9||32.6|
|3. Priest Holmes||2003||KC||16||1,420||27||74||690||0||447||27.9|
|4. Priest Holmes||2002||KC||14||1,615||21||70||672||3||442.7||31.6|
|5. LaDainian Tomlinson||2003||SD||16||1,645||13||100||725||4||439||27.4|
|6. Marshall Faulk||2001||STL||14||1,382||12||83||765||9||423.7||30.3|
|7. Steven Jackson||2006||STL||16||1,528||13||90||806||3||419.4||26.2|
|8. Edgerrin James||2000||IND||16||1,709||13||63||594||5||401.3||25.1|
|9. Chris Johnson||2009||TEN||16||2,006||14||50||503||2||396.9||24.8|
|10. Arian Foster||2010||HOU||16||1,614||16||66||604||2||395.8||24.7|
|11. Ahman Green||2003||GB||16||1,883||15||50||367||5||395||24.7|
|12. LaDainian Tomlinson||2002||SD||16||1,683||14||79||489||1||386.2||24.1|
|13. Shaun Alexander||2005||SEA||16||1,880||27||15||78||1||378.8||23.7|
|14. Larry Johnson||2006||KC||16||1,789||17||41||410||2||374.9||23.4|
|15. Ray Rice||2011||BAL||16||1,364||12||76||704||3||372.8||23.3|
|16. Brian Westbrook||2007||PHI||15||1,333||7||90||771||5||372.4||24.8|
|17. Ricky Williams||2002||MIA||16||1,853||16||47||363||1||370.6||23.2|
|18. Larry Johnson||2005||KC||16||1,750||20||33||343||1||368.3||23|
|19. LaDainian Tomlinson||2007||SD||16||1,474||15||60||475||3||362.9||22.7|
|20. Tiki Barber||2005||NYG||16||1,860||9||54||530||2||359||22.4|
|21. LaDainian Tomlinson||2005||SD||16||1,464||18||51||370||2||354.4||22.2|
|22. Tiki Barber||2004||NYG||16||1,518||13||52||578||2||351.6||22|
|23. Adrian Peterson||2012||MIN||16||2,097||12||40||217||1||349.4||21.8|
|24. Charlie Garner||2002||OAK||16||962||7||91||941||4||347.3||21.7|
|25. Eddie George||2000||TEN||16||1,507||14||50||453||2||342||21.4|
A Few Highlights:
- In 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson outscored Purple Jesus by 125 points. During this time period he posted 5 seasons better than Peterson’s 2012.
- In 2000 Marshall Faulk outscored AP by 105 in only 14 games. The following season he again played in only 14 games and again his total dwarfed AP’s (424-349).
- In 2003 Priest Holmes outscored Peterson by 98 points. That barely outdid his previous season where he averaged 31.6 ppg in 14 contests. That’s nearly 50% more fantasy points a game than Peterson.
The problem for Peterson is that he doesn’t even compare that favorably to some less talented players. Since 2000 he’s been outscored by relative plodders like Ahman Green, Shaun Alexander, and Ricky Williams. Larry Johnson and Tiki Barber both had two seasons better than AP.
AP Versus His Peers
It might seem unfair to compare Peterson to even recently retired runners because the game has changed. Unfortunately, Peterson’s best season also trails the best seasons posted by a number of his contemporaries.
- In 2006 Steven Jackson garnered more yards from scrimmage than Peterson last year, and he did it while scoring 16 total touchdowns and catching 90 passes.
- The much-maligned Chris Johnson set the all-time yards from scrimmage record with 2,509 in 2009. His more recent foibles warn of the potentially devastating effects of regression.
- Behind a very well-balanced resume that included 2,200-plus yards from scrimmage, 18 total touchdowns, and 66 receptions, Arian Foster averaged 3 more fantasy ppg in 2010 than Peterson did last year.
- We’re just a year removed from Ray Rice’s 2011 easily besting AP’s 2012. Rice wasn’t the consensus No. 1 pick in 2011, which just gives you a sense of how emotion impacts fantasy rankings.
If you want to be a truly elite fantasy back, you need to have the potential to catch 60-plus passes and score 20-plus touchdowns. Peterson doesn’t have much chance to reach either of those benchmarks. With a handful of young backs ready to take center stage, Peterson might need to reprise his 2012 season and make a run at CJ2K’s yards from scrimmage record just to finish in the Top 10.
For more information on Peterson’s RotoViz projection and an exhaustive look at his advanced splits, check out Weird Science: Examining Adrian Peterson’s Strange Projection.