Risk-taking Peterson owners have earned fabulous rewards

Pat Fitzmaurice
Risk-taking Peterson owners have earned fabulous rewards

We Americans fancy ourselves as a nation of risk takers. Those who act boldly and defy conventional wisdom are lionized as visionaries when they succeed. We pay far less attention to the risk takers who fail miserably, and when they do come to our attention, they are not looked upon with sympathy. “They got what they deserved,” we cluck to ourselves. “What a stupid idea.”

Fantasy football often punishes the risk takers. Oh, sure, bold strokes are occasionally rewarded. Those who picked up Chargers WR Danario Alexander a week or two ago despite the fact that his knee ligaments are made of fettuccine (and not even al dente fettuccine, mind you) were rewarded when he went for 134 yards and a touchdown last week. But fantasy owners who take extravagant risks, particularly in the early rounds of their drafts, are usually punished for their temerity. “They got what they deserved,” we tell other league members in gossipy conversations. “What a stupid draft pick.”

Some of the bold visionaries within our leagues are reaping lavish rewards this season. They are playoff-bound, perhaps title-bound. They defied logic and made a daring investment that many deemed foolish, and it has worked out marvelously. And so I pose a question to these courageous American risk takers:

What on earth were you thinking when you drafted Adrian Peterson?

Does my tone betray my true feelings toward Peterson owners? Well, I’m sorry. I’m still trying to come to grips with what’s happening here. I’m still trying to process the fact that the people who ignored medical wisdom and drafted Peterson much earlier than orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists would have advised are benefiting so greatly from a risk that might have made the late Evel Knievel shake his head in disapproval.

When you read stories about entrepreneurs who imagined the unimaginable, who took great risks to pursue their vision and ended up fabulously wealthy, you feel a little jealous, don’t you? Why didn’t you think of that? You could be sitting on a beach in St. Bart’s right now with a fruity drink in your hand, waiting on a call from your accountant. Darn right I’m jealous of Adrian Peterson owners.

And let’s face it. The people who own Peterson this year are the kind of people who think you can get rid of the flu by eating chicken soup. They’re the kind of people who favor hangover remedies that involve Tabasco. If you had a witch doctor in your league, he would own Adrian Peterson this year.

An athlete isn’t supposed to return to peak form so soon after a devastating knee injury. Not even an extraordinary athlete. Peterson tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee last season in a Week 16 game in Washington on Christmas Eve day. Less than nine months later, he was scoring a pair of touchdowns in the Vikings’ 2012 opener. Jerry Rice tore his ACL in the 49ers’ 1997 season opener, returned to action in Week 16 and promptly fractured his kneecap. Rice admitted that he returned far too quickly that year, and this past August, he opined that Peterson was making a similar mistake by trying to rush back into action too soon.

It’s not unheard of for an athlete to return less than nine months after a blown knee, but how many of those athletes are in peak form upon their return? Conventional wisdom has it that it takes an athlete close to a full calendar year to get back to 100 percent after tearing an ACL, if not longer. So it made sense to expect that Peterson wouldn’t handle a full workload early in the season. Surely he would share rushing duties with backup Toby Gerhart for the first month or so, Peterson’s number of carries would slowly but steadily increase, and he would be getting back to something approaching full capacity, oh, right about now.

Peterson leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards. He has 123 more rushing yards than his closest pursuer, Marshawn Lynch, and the rest of the pack is more than 200 yards behind. Peterson has run for 100-plus yards in four consecutive games, scored at least one touchdown four games in a row, and totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage in eight straight contests. He is gaining 5.8 yards per carry. He is getting 19.5 rushing attempts per game and is on pace to finish the season with more than 300 carries. He also has 29 receptions. He is a strong candidate for league MVP.

It seemed as if Gerhart might make for a sensible investment this season. He played well last year after Peterson’s knee injury and in a few other games when Peterson was out, rushing 109 times for 531 yards and finishing the year with more than 700 yards from scrimmage. Gerhart has carried the ball 32 times in 10 games. He hasn’t had more than one carry in a game since Week Five.

I have never owned Adrian Peterson in a fantasy league. It’s certainly not because I haven’t wanted to; I simply haven’t had the chance. In Peterson’s first five years in the league, I never picked early enough in any fantasy draft to take him. All of my leagues conduct a random draw for draft order, and I haven’t pulled a top-two draft slot for more than half a decade.

This year, I had the opportunity to draft Peterson in every league. His injury created uncertainty, and uncertainty created opportunity. He was still taken within the first 20 picks in all five of my leagues, but I had a chance to grab him in each one, and in each one I passed. I doubted Peterson’s ability to come back and play at anything close to peak effectiveness.

A great many of the risk takers who drafted Peterson will qualify for the fantasy playoffs thanks largely to the numbers being amassed by their Minnesota-based superhero. If Peterson extends his rampage into the late weeks of the regular season, many of his owners will win league championships.

We risk-averse fantasy owners can begrudge Peterson owners for their success, for hitting the jackpot with an audacious maneuver that so easily could have blown up on them, leaving their season in ruins. These swashbucklers can claim to have had complete confidence in Peterson’s recuperative powers all along. They can claim to have envisioned the sort of near-miraculous season Peterson is having — and who’s to say they didn’t actually have such a vision?

The rest of us are left to second-guess ourselves. Our reasoning for not drafting Peterson was so sound. But is our cautiousness a flaw? Do we need to take more risks as fantasy owners? Do we need to occasionally set aside what we consider to be rock-solid reasoning to pursue visions of grandeur? Do we dare to eat a peach?

For now, set these questions aside and congratulate the Peterson owners in your league for a successful outcome. As Americans, we’re compelled to admire the risk takers — at least when the risk yields rewards.