Monday, December 3, 2012

Purple Reign: Rating Adrian Peterson Properly

The two most prominent terms in sports used to evaluate athletes are underrated and overrated. Aside from pouring through all kinds of statistics  new and old, there is no one, undisputed mathematical formula that can figure out exactly how an athlete should be rated. Even I  had a hard time thinking this at first: Adrian Peterson is underrated.

Your first thought: Are you serious? It's AP. All Day. Purple Jesus. He had over 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in three years at Oklahoma. The man who holds the record for most rushing yards in one game (296) his rookie year. He got to the five thousand yard club faster than any running back in NFL history after three seasons.

What people tend to take for granted is Peterson's durability and that it was once in question. He came into the 2007 NFL Draft with many naysayers saying he was too injury prone. His junior season ended after seven games when he broke his collarbone landing in the end zone awkwardly after a huge run. Just to prove he's not human, he came back for the Fiesta Bowl that season and scored a touchdown against Boise State. He went seventh to the Minnesota Vikings - or otherwise known as six spots after JaMarcus Russell, who ended up eating himself out of the league.

The average length of a career for an NFL running back is four to six years. They take the most hits with impacts similar to those of car crashes  every time they go towards the line of scrimmage.  Production begins to dip in the fourth year (if they are still around), and certainly by the sixth year they'd need new legs. Sometimes its not whether they are healthy enough, but whether they can keep  production where it needs to be.

In his rookie season, Peterson sprained his LCL against the Packers in week ten. He went back to the laboratory, changed his battery, and was back just one month later on the way to over thirteen hundred yards and twelve touchdowns.

Peterson remained free of any major injuries until last January against the Redskins when he went down with the ultimate nemesis of athletes: a torn anterior crucial ligament. Many doubted he could return on time, or at all or the upcoming season. After all, a torn ACL used to end careers permanently years ago. With the help of modern medicine and the will of a thousand men, AP was back ahead of schedule for the 2012-2013 season.

In a 2012 world, society thrives on hype, and when a player fails to live up to it, we dump them unceremoniously and move on to the next flavor of the month. Chris Johnson had 2,000 yards in 2009, 1,364 in 2010 and 1,072 in 2011. In 2009, people wanted to dub him the next Barry Sanders based off one good year. Sanders  put together remarkable numbers season after season and retired in his prime. There is never going to be another Sanders, just like there will be no other Adrian Peterson. We are very quick to rush to judgment. His remarkable 2009 campaign set an unattainable standard to meet again in 2010, yet even after 1,364 yards we were dying to turn on him and call him a bust. We give no credit to the defenses; that they possibly did their job- you know, watching game film- and adjusting to stop Johnson.

In a  time when consistency is rare, Peterson is almost automatic. He keeps defenses guessing, and breaks off long runs, and never shying away from contact even post injury. The simple fact is that even after six highly productive seasons, "All Day" is on pace to have outdo any of the previous seasons, even after a torn ACL less than a year ago. His carries are down, which means less wear, allowing him to go deeper into the season feeling more fresh. His yards are up  (1,446) and his yards per carry are a career-high 5.8. Marshawn Lynch is second to Peterson- and trails by three hundred yards. Anyone who is saying that they expected this would be a flat out liar. If he ran for at least 1,000 yards and a handful of scores, most would deem that a successful comeback.

The argument can be backed up by statistics, but eventually it boils down to the respective opinions of the people holding the debate, as well as the eye test. How does he look overall when one watches him? Does he have the same quickness and agility as he did before his injury? He struggled his first five games of the season, only getting to the hundred yard mark once. He finally eclipsed it against the Cardinals on October 21st when he ran for 153 yards, and has hit the hundred yard mark  in six straight games. His most recent gem was a 210 yard effort in a loss to the hated Packers, including an eighty-two yard touchdown run. It was his first 200 plus yard game since his record setting game in 2007.

Underrating can be defined as "to underestimate the extent, value, or importance of someone or something." It's hard to think one could underrate the leading rusher in the NFL. Maybe it is because he isn't on a team headed for the post season. But without Purple Jesus, the Vikings would be scratching and clawing for wins instead of overachieving in the first half of the season on the way to a 5 and 3 record. Christian Ponder has had some truly unwatchable games, yet with Peterson behind him and  wide receiver Percy Harvin flanking him it makes you forget what the team lacks.

We tend to expect great things from great people, but what Peterson is doing is beyond fathom. If six years is the maximum average for an NFL running back, than we shouldn't take the years Peterson has left in him for granted.

AP's value to his team and rating amongst football fans cannot be measured approximately using a magic formula written on a window by Russell Crowe. But it is possible to see through eleven games that he has shattered any and all expectations thought of him with sheer desire, determination and dedication.

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