From a touchdown perspective, Adrian Peterson has never had a legendary season. His career high was 18 in 2009, which is great, sure, but it's also his best season and is tied for only 33rd all-time among running backs. He's been a top back, but he's never had one of those legendary scoring seasons we used to see.
What he has been, though, is a machine. Among active running backs, Peterson's 18-score season is only tied for fourth-best -- behind LeSean McCoy's 2011, DeAngelo Williams' 2008 and Jamaal Charles' 2013. But McCoy's second-best season featured 11 total touchdowns; Williams', seven; and Charles', nine. Peterson's second-best scoring season had 13 touchdowns, and he's never scored fewer than 10 in a season.
The following chart shows the best one- through seven-year scoring numbers (i.e., a guy with 10 scores, then 2, then 10 would only have 12 as his best two-year number) for a select group of running backs: The 10 highest-scoring running backs in NFL history, the 10 highest-scoring active backs and a few select active guys that, if I didn't include them, you guys would've had questions:
LeSean McCoy *
Jamaal Charles *
(*Some players don't have seven full seasons, so any extra years were filled in with zeroes; they still weren't leading Peterson.)
Peterson's peak of 18 scores is only tied for 11th-best among guys on this list. It's reasonably pedestrian. But as the years add up, he climbs up the list, and the only running backs who have a better seven-year stretch than Peterson's are all-time greats.
I'll say it again: Adrian Peterson has never had a season with single-digit touchdowns. Charles has only one above that number; McCoy has two. Even regular, long-term active stars like Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson and Marshawn Lynch have had seasons of well fewer than 10 scores.
The question then becomes how long Peterson can keep it up. He's 29 now, with 2,239 touches in seven years, nine missed games and a few significant injuries (primarily late in seasons). Everyone gets old eventually, and Peterson will someday score fewer than 10 touchdowns in a season.
The Minnesota Vikings know this, of course -- they picked wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round a year ago, then in this year's draft took quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round and running back Jerick McKinnon in the third. For a team that has leaned on a single star for several years, the Vikings at least have plans in place to diversify that talent base in 2014.
So can Patterson build on his impressive late 2013 performance? Can Bridgewater meet the hype that had him as a first overall draft pick in some early mocks?
And, most importantly, can Peterson continue being his machine self?
The Vikings have Bridgewater in camp, and he comes with a strong pedigree. They also still have former first-round pick -- and generally accepted bust -- Christian Ponder, and the guy who started for them down the stretch last season, Matt Cassel.
In a dynasty league, Bridgewater is obviously the player to target in fantasy league. But in redraft leagues, it gets much dodgier.
Let's dispense with Ponder straight away. The subpar incumbent was benched twice last year. In three NFL seasons, he hasn't had one with 3,000 passing yards or 20 touchdowns yet. It'll take more than a single guy getting hurt or being ineffective for Ponder to get back into things; it'll take two.
As it stands now, Cassel is the starter on the Vikings' quarterback depth chart. He's had his moments in his career -- 2008 with New England, and 2010 with Kansas City -- but overall he's been a backup masquerading as a starter. A good backup, to be sure, but a backup. Still, he's the best experienced quarterback the Vikings have on the roster.
And then there's Bridgewater, who might be the best experience-irrelevant quarterback on the roster. The rookie out of Louisville was a possible first overall pick when the college football season ended last year, then saw his draft stock fall quickly as questions about his pro day, his hand size and his heft affected leaguewide perspective. That said, he was a very successful quarterback at Louisville, and there is history of successful college players defying such scouting reports.
However, it looks like the season will start at least with Cassel as the Vikings' No. 1 quarterback. If that happens, and he remains in place most or all of the season, it's hard to imagine any Minnesota quarterback is worth owning -- Cassel is without significant upside. On the other hand, if Bridgewater shows enough to take over to start the season or in the first few weeks, it will be because he's proving himself.
I didn't rank Cassel at all among quarterbacks, though some of our rankers did have him at the bottom of the top 32. Bridgewater, meanwhile, is my No. 28 quarterback. He has the upside to be a QB2 if all goes perfectly, but there are enough question marks about him and his situation that it makes sense to look elsewhere unless it's a really deep league.
Well, there's Peterson. I know at the top I started talking about his inevitable eventual decline, and that's true. On top of that, there were a few small warning signs about Peterson last season. His yards per carry were the second-lowest of his career, and worst since 2009. His yards per catch also sat at a second-worst level. So did his yards per game; so did his touchdown total.
Despite all that, and despite missing two games, Peterson still finished seventh among running backs in fantasy points in 2013, and every running back who finished ahead of him played at least 15 games. So yeah, he's going to fall back eventually, but I'm not sure I'm confident predicting it quite yet.
Behind Peterson, the team has rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick out of Georgia Southern, and Matt Asiata, who no one had heard of before his three-touchdown game in Week 15 last season. Asiata's two games a year ago were amazing contrasts -- in his first, he scored three touchdowns, but had 30 carries for only 51 yards, a measly 1.7 yards per carry. It seemed like he'd need to score to be successful. And then in his second outing, his carries fell to 14, but he ran for 115 yards, a full 8.2 yards per rush. That showed there was some potential there, but the fact that it took until a meaningless Week 17 game to show anything worth planting a flag on wasn't reassuring.
McKinnon seemed like a reach in the third round, and he comes with a fair number of cons. He's strong and quick, which are two of the best traits in a running back, but he's probably not yet ready to be a regular contributor.
I've said it a hundred times this offseason: The top three running backs for 2014 are Peterson, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy, and you can rank the three of them in just about any order. My order of choice is Charles-Peterson-McCoy, and our other six rankers all went with Peterson third. Ultimately, though, you can justify Peterson anywhere in that group, and I won't argue.
Toby Gerhart always had skill in Minnesota, but was only fantasy-relevant when Peterson was out. The same will hold true for Asiata and McKinnon. To start the season, Asiata will likely be the primary backup. He's not a guy I'm reaching for as a handcuff -- even if I own Peterson, I'd rather just get another team's regular No. 2 than Asiata -- and he'll need a Peterson injury to see the field much.
The Vikings didn't have even a top-30 wide receiver last year. That is in part because of the team's struggles at quarterback, but it's also because Greg Jennings was hurt, Jerome Simpson was disappointing and Cordarrelle Patterson took time to develop.
Heading into 2014, Jennings is healthy, Simpson reupped and Patterson has a full year under his belt. Theoretically at least, things should be a lot better with the team's receiving corps, especially with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- who has a history of successful offenses under his tutelage -- in the fold.
Through 12 games last year, Patterson had 283 total yards, two touchdowns and 46 fantasy points, good for less than four fantasy points a game. Then he finished with 344 yards, five touchdowns and 61 fantasy points down the stretch.
Most expect Patterson to continue on his hot production to end the season and become a top-flight receiver. Anyone taking him, though, has to at least acknowledge the risk inherent in him -- he's still going to have a subpar quarterback, several contenders for touches and his successful resume is basically one month long.
Jennings comes with the better track record, but he hasn't played a full 16 games since 2010, and his real success came when he was paired with Aaron Rodgers, who is a fair piece better than the Minnesota options.
Simpson and Jarius Wright are the Vikings' next tier of options. There's not much reason to think that, if the entire receiving corps stays healthy, either guy will be a help to a fantasy team. On the flip side, if one of the team's receivers does go down, either guy could be at least a decent bye-week fill-in. I'm not drafting either receiver, but I'm keeping them in mind.
As for Patterson, I don't trust him enough to draft him at a slot where I would have to start him. He's my No. 28 receiver. I'm in the minority on that, as five of our other six rankers had him between 17 and 22, while the sixth slotted him No. 48. Patterson is a low-end flex option until we see more. Jennings, meanwhile, would be in the late 50s among wide receivers. I might take him late on the off chance he gets some of his Green Bay magic back, but I don't want to rely on him.
The arrival of Norv Turner in Minnesota has led people to claiming Kyle Rudolph will be an upper-tier tight end this season -- after all, his tight ends in San Diego and Cleveland were successful, and Turner likes a high-powered offense.
Of course, Turner had Antonio Gates in San Diego and Jordan Cameron in Cleveland. We can't conclusively say, based on a single year, that Cameron is definitively superior to Rudolph, but he probably is. Meanwhile, there's no question about Gates. I'm not saying the people claiming Rudolph will be a top tight end are necessarily wrong, but I am saying that "Rudolph+Norv=good" is far too lazy.
Rudolph averaged only 5.6 fantasy points a game through the first half last year, before a broken foot ended his season. He hasn't topped 500 yards in a season and has barely over a thousand in his three years.
I do think Rudolph is an interesting tight end, with potential to rise. That said, he's only my No. 14 tight end to start the season. His ceiling might be a bit higher than some of the guys ahead of him, but his floor is far lower.
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