As a true freshman at Oklahoma in 2004, Adrian Peterson ran for 1,925 yards and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. At that time, he was ready for the NFL.
But the NFL wasn’t ready for him. League rules say a player must be three years out of high school before he can play in the NFL. Peterson, however, says he was keenly aware that Maurice Clarett had sued for the right to get into the 2004 NFL draft, and he says that he was rooting for Clarett and ready to turn pro himself if Clarett had won.
“I can tell you, when that situation happened with Maurice Clarett, I was elated,” Peterson told SI.com. “I was like, ‘Yes, thank you Jesus,’ because I just knew that was the route I was going to take, and I would have taken it. Think about the type of year I had my freshman year [at Oklahoma]. Come on. Like, I’m out of there. I’m in the NFL already.”
Peterson still believes he would have been a higher pick in the 2005 NFL draft, after his freshman year, than he ended up being the seventh overall pick. He’s almost certainly right about that: In 2005 running back Ronnie Brown went second overall, Cedric Benson went fourth and Cadillac Williams went fifth. It’s hard to believe NFL teams wouldn’t have seen Peterson as a better prospect than at least one of those three.
“The one guy I used as an example was Cedric Benson,” Peterson said. “He was a senior my freshman year, and I out-performed him that year, so I was just like, If he could go play in the NFL, why couldn’t I? He went [fourth] overall, and you’ve got a guy that’s younger, with less wear and tear on his body. Where do you put me if he went [fourth]?”
The NFL rule doesn’t appear to be going away. But it’s a bad deal for players like Peterson, and like Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who might be the first overall pick in this month’s draft if he were eligible. The NFL rule cost Peterson millions of dollars, and he’s justified in still being bothered by that.