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First Down: Yo Adrian! Why drafting Peterson could put owners down for count

Brad Evans
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Peterson's return from a devastating knee injury remains an uphill battle. (USP)

Freak. Superhuman. Intelligent machine.

That's what Adrian Peterson is. At least, to those who believe his astonishing recovery from a catastrophic knee injury last Christmas Eve is nearly complete.

It's true the quick-healing rusher's protoplasm, as one trainer recently described it, is "different from the rest of the world." He's darting past teammates in sprinting drills, making rudimentary cuts and experiencing no residual pain roughly six months into his recovery. To owners who continue to acquire his services in the second or, in some rare cases, first round of drafts, the optimism is intoxicating.

However, the smart player knows better than to drink and draft.

To be fair, local reports do inspire confidence. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and Peterson himself are adamant he will run out of the Metrodome tunnel Week 1 versus Jacksonville. Whether or not he'll be the starter, though, is another story. According to beat writer Tom Pelissero, the four-time Pro Bowler could actually play second fiddle to Toby Gerhart, at least initially:

Peterson is nearly six months into his rehabilitation from knee reconstruction, and coach Leslie Frazier says he's on pace to meet his goal of playing in Week 1. But it's a given Peterson will be limited in the early going, and there's no way of knowing when or if he'll be himself in 2012. Gerhart has bulked up and is in line to carry the load out of the gate.

Tuesday, Frazier added fuel to that fire noting his prized back will be eased into action when training camp opens in roughly six weeks:

Frazier sounded confident, but cautious, as he discussed Peterson's situation.

"He looks good," Frazier said. "He's moving around without any hitch, he's doing a lot of good things. What you don't know is how he's going to be when you put pads on and someone comes and they dive at his ankle or they look as if they're going to grab his knee. That you can't predict.

"But based on where he is today, everything is moving in the right direction. I don't know if we'll put him on the practice field anytime soon when we get to Mankato. But everything indicates there's a very good chance he may be ready for that Jacksonville game (to open the regular season on Sept. 9). We're still far enough out that you really can't say that right now."

Reading between the lines, it seems like the Vikings' plan right now might be to open camp with Peterson on the physically unable to perform list. That move would make him ineligible to practice and not open the door for Peterson to talk his way onto the field.

And therein lies the problem. Uncertainty is rather pronounced. Put your faith behind the Purple Jesus this year, and your fantasy season could turn hellish in a hurry.

When at full-strength, there's no questioning his viability. He's an explosive, fierce runner that routinely outruns or outmuscles the competition. Without a doubt, he's the greatest back of his generation, a living legend. In each of his first five seasons in the league, he's finished inside the RB top-six in per game average. No rusher has offered that kind of consistency.

Still, the weight of his current situation is heavy. Unless he makes dramatic improvements during training camp and in preseason action, Frazier will almost assuredly exercise caution during the first few weeks of the regular season. After all, Gerhart is more than capable of shouldering the load. In five starts last year, the backup splashed the invisible pool twice, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 90.6 total yards per game. His 3.0 yards after contact per attempt ranked seventh among RBs that played at least 375 snaps. The kid is a bull moose.

Even if available for the start of the season, other factors are working against Peterson. To wit:

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Defensive shortcomings. The Vikings were in a giving mood last year defensively. They ranked second to last in total defense (28.1 pts/game allowed) and 21st in total yards surrendered. On paper, Minnesota is easily the worst team in the NFC North entering 2012. Unless rapid improvements are made, early, insurmountable deficits could again become commonplace, especially against the powerful likes of Green Bay, Detroit and possibly Chicago, which could damper Peterson's overall workload. Keep in mind the RB saw a 26.7-percent reduction in touches after halftime last year. If he doesn't rack fantasy points in the first two quarters, he will likely suffer late.

Lack of versatility. Entering last season, Peterson was supposed to become more involved in the pass game. Instead, he was an afterthought, reeling in just 1.5 receptions per contest. Due to the emergence of Gerhart, it's unlikely he'll eclipse 25 receptions even if he suits up all 16 games. In a way, he's turned into Michael Turner, a classic ground-exclusive grinder who offers little additional value via the vertical game.

Schedule. Though the Vikings' retooled offensive line is encouraging — the presence of rookie Matt Kalil should help immensely — Christian Ponder will continue to mature and disgruntled wideout Percy Harvin is sure to stick around, the schedule sways favor. Not only do the Vikes play the Packers, Lions and emerging Bears twice each, they also clash against San Francisco (Week 3), Seattle (Week 9) and Houston (Week 16), teams that boast rigid run defenses. Overall, Peterson has the 13th-hardest schedule among fantasy backs. Ugly.

History. Thumbing through the annals there are numerous examples of backs who suffered a similar injury at a similar point on the career arc who bombed the year after surgery. Jamaal Anderson, Terrell Davis and Deuce McAllister are just a few examples. Medical advancements and Peterson's almost mythical self-healing powers lend encouragement, but the past doesn't inspire much hope for a rapid turnaround.

Bottom line: It's certainly plausible AP won't resemble his old dominating self until the second half of the season, which could be too late for his investors to salvage enough wins to sneak into the virtual playoffs. Only if he slips to Round 3 in 12-team drafts (Current ADP: 17.1, RB12) is he worth the dice roll. And that's unlikely to happen. For casual players, the brand name is simply too appealing despite the enhanced risks.

Savvy gamers already have the former All-Pro Sharpied on their do not draft list, a brainy move. The rusher's floor is lower than most think. Marshawn Lynch (13.5 ADP), Trent Richardson (13.9), DeMarco Murray (13.9) and Jamaal Charles (20.4) are more desirable options at a similar price point.

For those who want to prevent fantasy heartache, it's best to avoid Peterson like the plague.

Fearless Forecast (14 games): 227 attempts, 1,003 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 121 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise and be sure to check him along with Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski on The Fantasy Freak Show (Now on iTunes) every Friday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio

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