Everyone knows the unwritten NFL rules when it comes to running backs, injury returns, and aging patterns. Adrian Peterson is doing everything he can to smash all of them.
Peterson’s astounding 2012 return from an ACL blowout earned an MVP award and set a new ceiling for those situations. This year, Peterson’s telling us that age is nothing but a number on the roster. The latest data point came Sunday in New Jersey, when Peterson busted off 149 rushing yards and scored twice. The Redskins took down the Giants, 20-13.
It’s common to write off running backs after they hit 30, and Peterson’s well past that age — he turned 33 in March. But you wouldn’t believe it from the tape. Check what Peterson did against New York, beating a solid rushing defense in a variety of ways.
You want inside power? Peterson still has it, bouncing off the initial tackler on several occasions and plowing for extra yardage. Peterson also showed lateral agility and the ability to get outside. His first touchdown was on a short reception — a part of the game he’s never fully mastered, but Washington doesn’t mind using him on an occasional pass. Then Peterson hit the home run to clinch the game, a 64-yard touchdown gallop in the fourth period.
Peterson’s now at 587 rushing yards for the year, averaging 4.6 per carry. And while the Redskins are a surprising 5-2 in the standings, only Peterson is carrying any fantasy juice. Alex Smith has been a bust, in part because his wideouts keep getting hurt. Jordan Reed has been surprisingly healthy but shockingly unproductive — he managed just 38 yards on a seven-catch game Sunday. The Washington defense has been solid, especially on the defensive line, but it’s not a needle-mover for fantasy. Peterson is the only fantasy factor here.
In a year where most teams play pinball, we’ll keep riding with Peterson on this old-time Washington offense. Atlanta is a plus-matchup next week. Although Tampa Bay has a solid YPC allowed, Peterson should be able to get them with volume in Week 10. Whatever you paid for Peterson in the preseason, you’ve made a handsome profit. He’s pushed his way into the RB1 conversation for the remainder of the season.
• The Raiders didn’t get a win over the Colts, but Derek Carr had his best game of the year (136.6 rating, four overall touchdowns). Is this passing game better off without Amari Cooper? Freed from the need to force the ball to him, Carr spread the ball around nicely; other than dump-off option Jalen Richard, no one had more than five targets in the Oakland passing game. Carr could push back into the fantasy circle of trust in the second half of the year, especially with the putrid Raiders defense pushing him along.
• Jack Doyle wasn’t the biggest star in the Indy huddle, but 6-70-1 was a snappy return from his extended layoff (hip). With the Colts offensive line playing far better than expected, I’m optimistic that Doyle’s blocking might be less essential than originally projected. Either way, Doyle has a rapport with Andrew Luck, and I expect head coach Frank Reich to put his skill players in positions to succeed.
• James Conner draws the nasty Ravens defense in Week 9, but how can anyone bench this guy? That goes for the Steelers, too. Conner bagged another 212 total yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s romp over Cleveland, giving Conner four 100-yard games and nine touchdowns on the year.
Remember, Le’Veon Bell has never scored more than 11 times in any season. If and when Bell comes back, I don’t expect Conner to get pushed out of the way completely. The Steelers couldn’t be blamed if they’re fine with the status quo, either. Pittsburgh isn’t a perfect team, but their losses this year have nothing to do with Conner. He’s clearly their back of the future and of the present; I’m holding on tightly with both hands.
• Courtland Sutton isn’t getting a ton of opportunity with the Broncos, but he’s making the most of it. He posted a 3-78-0 line at Kansas City and he’s scored twice in his last four games. He’s averaging 19 yards a reception. Normally you’d file Sutton for the future and leave it at that, but maybe the future is now.
The Broncos are 3-5 and in a rebuild. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas will probably be — no matter if the team admits it or not — shopped between now and Tuesday’s trading deadline. Sutton is a long way from being a finished product, but he looks like a future star and a current contributor. I’d love to see what he could do with starter reps and targets. His Yahoo ownership lags at 10 percent, which misses the obvious upside at play. At least see what happens during the week.
• No sympathy for the Todd Gurley owners in the room. First and foremost, your man is crushing the NFL and you’re probably crushing your league as a result. Mostly, you can never fault a team, a coach, or a player when they make a decision that secures victory or improves winning chances. Gurley was ensuring a Rams victory when he decided to pass up the late touchdown against the Packers. It was the right thing to do. So long as there’s a logic to what happens on the field, outside frustration isn’t justified. Let’s worry about the teams that do nonsensical things (and the players that don’t produce) — not the smart teams with the pinball wizards.
• Tarik Cohen only saw five touches, but they went a long way against the Jets (110 YFS, touchdown). Have you ever seen an easier 70-yard touchdown reception? Cohen has now scored in four straight games. The Bears aren’t putting this genie back in the bottle; they merely recognized he wasn’t needed that much Sunday. Buffalo and Detroit are up next.
• I think the Bucs need to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick and see where it goes. His YPA is through the roof. Fitzpatrick will also make some negative plays, but Jameis Winston is simply giving the ball away too much. Not to mention, Dirk Koetter is probably coaching for his gig. He can’t think a year or two down the road — he has to think about what gives him the best shot Week 9 at Carolina. That’s probably Fitzpatrick.
• Evan Engram bailed out his day with a late touchdown, but he also let some catchable passes slip through his hands. It’s partly Eli Manning’s fault, but it’s not entirely Manning’s fault. I wanted Engram to be set-and-forget this year, but he’s stuck in the second half of that startable tier until further notice. He’s left too many big plays on the field.