Vikings running back Adrian Peterson knows a lot of people doubt he can ever return to his past greatness, but he doesn’t understand why.
Peterson told Josina Anderson of ESPN he’s perplexed by that talk. Peterson notes that he has previously recovered from a serious knee injury to have an MVP season, and he notes that in 2015 he led the league with 1,485 rushing yards. He sees no reason he can’t come back again and have another big year in 2017.
What Peterson may not want to admit, however, is what athletes often can’t admit to themselves: He’s getting old. Yes, he led the league in rushing in 2015, but even that year he was beginning to slow down toward the end of the season: Over the last eight games of 2015, counting the playoffs, Peterson averaged just 3.67 yards per carry. And at the start of 2016, before he suffered the torn meniscus that would allow him to play in just one more game all year, he was even worse: Peterson totaled 31 carries for 50 yards before suffering that meniscus tear in Week Two.
And the reality is, while Peterson still led the league in rushing at age 30 in 2015, for an NFL running back the difference between 30 and 32 is huge. There have been 25 running backs in NFL history who gained at least 1,000 yards at age 30. Only two of them, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith, also gained at least 1,000 yards at age 32. And neither Payton nor Smith suffered a serious knee injury at age 31, as Peterson did.
So while Peterson may have no doubt that he can return to form, it’s easy to understand why others doubt him. Every athlete gets old eventually, and for Peterson, that time has come.