Stop the Excuses: Adrian Peterson is the Top Fantasy Draft Pick

2013 regression? Sure, but Adrian Peterson is still the best in the business.

My buddy lived in a seven-man suite – three rooms – during his freshman year of college. He didn’t choose who he was living with; the six other guys were chosen randomly by the school. They were forced to live MTV Real World style, like most other college freshman.

The one roommate, Terrell, wasn’t a nice dude. He was always getting into trouble, and was consistently rude to the rest of the guys. Chris and Barry, on the other hand, were fun to be around. The rest of them – Jamal, O.J. and Eric – were pretty mediocre. They minded their own business, but never really contributed much to conversation.

I guess it was to be expected out of a random sample of six guys. There were a handful of annoying ones, but a couple who were friendly as can be. It’s not as though my friend took the feelings he had towards these roomies and used it to describe the rest of the massive university. It was a sample. It was six guys. No big deal.

You see what I did there?

Adrian Peterson is part of an elite group with six other running backs who have rushed for 2,000 or more yards in a single NFL season. It’s elite – no, it’s historic – because so few players have actually accomplished the feat.

Yet, even with our small sample, there have been countless columns using this small set to help project Adrian Peterson’s 2013 real and fantasy potential. But just like my friend didn’t project a feeling towards every student at the university after just meeting a handful of guys, why are we doing this for Adrian Peterson based on just six running back performances?

He’s still the top runner in the NFL. He still should be the top fantasy running back. Don’t let these small examples ruin what is real.

Adrian Peterson the Runner

Before I dig into the 2,000-yard rushing club, let’s first look at how well Adrian Peterson has been throughout his NFL career running the football.

YearGamesAtt.YardsTDsRush NEP Rank

Among 200-plus attempt runners since 2007, Peterson has ranked in the top 10 in Rushing NEP (Net Expected Points) in all but two of his six seasons, and in the top 15 in each one. In other words, he has consistently been contributing more points to the Vikings output than the majority of 200-plus tote running backs.

While you may be thinking this is fairly average, keep two things in mind. First, remember the lifespan and longevity of a standard NFL running back. The fact that AP has been so consistent for six years reminds you that he’s physically built like a dinosaur. Moreover, and the second point to consider, he’s actually gotten better through the years. He was the best runner in terms of Rushing NEP last year, and even though he tore his ACL two seasons ago, his 12-game sample listed him as the second-most efficient running back in the NFL.

From a raw statistics standpoint, there’s no one better in the league. A healthy Adrian Peterson is a lock for 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns, something you can’t say about any other running back in the league. Face it: He’s the best in the business. If you disagree with me there, then you’re not watching the same brand of football that I am.

Adrian Peterson Will Regress

The definition of historic is “famous or important to history”. Anything important to history is clearly unique in some way, and something unique is, quite simply, difficult to duplicate.

AP’s 2012 season was historic. As noted, only six other running backs have ever accomplished a 2,000-yard rushing season, so it’s not as though it’s easy to achieve.

And when you’re on top – no, when you’re way on top – the only direction for you to move is downward. If Adrian Peterson were to do better than he did last year, we’d be seeing complete, absolute history. Don’t assume that will happen. In fact, bank on it not happening.

But just because it won’t happen again doesn’t mean that AP can’t have a great football season. Our projections have him at over 1,700 rushing yards on 344 attempts, which would still rank as a top running back in fantasy. He doesn’t need to reach 2,000 yards again to warrant his first overall selection. Remember that.

Adrian Peterson Versus Doug Martin

If you’re not taking Adrian Peterson, then you’re more than likely looking for the upside-play in Doug Martin. Though a few analysts have Arian Foster as their top guy this season, the majority of “non-first overall Adrian Peterson” fantasy footballers are snagging the Buccaneers second-year man instead.

The number one reason for taking Dougie, amongst plenty of smaller ones, is because his total yardage from scrimmage last season, 1,926, bested any season of Adrian Peterson’s outside of 2012. And, of course, Martin was a rookie, making that metric even more attractive.

However, keep in mind that yardage totals rarely tell us an entire story. Though Martin was great last year, his rushing NEP total ranked him seventh amongst 200-plus carry backs, three spots worse than Adrian Peterson’s rookie year. Moreover, his total NEP, which adds both rushing and receiving metrics, was seven points less than Peterson’s 2007 rookie season total.

So if he had more yardage, why was he less efficient? Monster games. That’s the big knock against Martin, after all. He rushed for 128 or more yards in five of his 16 games, including his crazy 251-yard performance against Oakland. But in the end, Martin ran for fewer than 60 yards five times, which isn't good from a consistency standpoint.

This isn’t to say Dougie won’t be a huge fantasy asset in 2013. We have him as our fourth overall selection, so clearly he’s doing something right. But instantly comparing him to one of the best based on raw numbers may not be the smartest thing in the world to do. You want to talk about regression? Why can’t Martin – who’s played in just 16 NFL games – regress too?

The 2,000-Yard Rusher Decline

“But Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,000 yards last season, and 2,000-yard running backs have historically accumulated bad performances following their historic season!”

Remember my college buddy and how he didn’t relate his middling feelings towards his suite mates to the rest of the people he met on campus? Sample size, my friend. Sample size.

Let’s take a look at those six running backs and see exactly how they performed during their 2,000-yard rushing season to the next.

PlayerYearYardsTDsFantasy Point Decline
O.J. Simpson19732,00312-
O.J. Simpson19741,125352%
Eric Dickerson19842,10514-
Eric Dickerson19851,2341234%
Barry Sanders19972,05311-
Barry Sanders19981,491436%
Terrell Davis19982,00821-
Terrell Davis1999211290%
Jamal Lewis20032,06614-
Jamaal Lewis20041,006751%
Chris Johnson20092,00614-
Chris Johnson20101,3641129%

As you can see, each running back saw a significant drop in rushing yardage, and in turn, a dip in touchdown production. As a result, their fantasy seasons weren’t nearly as good as they had been during their 2,000-yard seasons.

I’d like to point out, however, that not all of these running backs were irrelevant to the fantasy world after running for 2,000. In 1974, O.J. Simpson finished as the 10th-best fantasy football running back. The 14 people who drafted him first overall back then still saw a decent return on investment.

In 1985, Eric Dickerson also finished as the 10th-best runner. Not bad for a guy who lost 34 percent of his fantasy total from the previous season.

1998 saw Barry Sanders finished as the 10th-best runner, too, (this is kind of getting weird), and that was with just four rushing touchdowns. Sanders rushed for the fourth-most yards on the ground in 1998, the season after running for over 2,000.

And lastly, Chris Johnson from 2009 to 2010 saw a 29 percent dip in total fantasy points, but he still ended up being the eighth-best fantasy option at running back.

In other words, four out of the six running backs who rushed for 2,000-yard seasons followed up their campaigns with top-10 running back finishes.

The two runners who didn’t finish well, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Davis, missed significant time due to injury. While plenty of Peterson skeptics are pointing at those situations saying, “See, it’s tough to stay healthy after running so much!”, I’m going to sit and point back saying, “Running backs get hurt. Often.”

Don’t let a dip in production cloud your judgment. The healthy runners (and, to be fair, Dickerson actually missed time the following season too), have been more than fantasy worthy the year following their monster season.

Regression Occurs When History is Made

I can’t stress this enough: When history is made, it’s nearly impossible to repeat, let alone replicate soon after. It’s not just running backs who have trouble performing at a high level after monster years. Wide receivers do, too.

Here’s a look at the top-6 non-2012 Calvin Johnson wide receiver performances – in terms of yardage – over the course of NFL history, and how these receivers did the following season.

PlayerYearYardsTDsFantasy Point Decline
Charley Hennigan19611,74612-
Charley Hennigan1962867844%
Jerry Rice19951,84815-
Jerry Rice19961,254837%
Isaac Bruce19951,78113-
Isaac Bruce19961,338732%
Herman Moore19951,68614-
Herman Moore19961,296927%
Marvin Harrison20021,72211-
Marvin Harrison20031,2721021%
Torry Holt20031,69612-
Torry Holt20041,3721018%

Imagine that. Wide receivers, too, saw a significant drop in fantasy production after posting top historical numbers. All six wideouts were completely healthy the following season, too, and their declines actually align with some of the 16-game running backs mentioned above.

Another thing to remember when looking at this list: These wide receivers, as a whole, would be considered as better compared to their positional peers than the running back group above. This is a subjective assumption, sure, but what this means is that they're more capable of posting a top performance because they're better. This isn't the meat and potatoes of the argument, but something to note nonetheless.

Forget the Past – It’s Adrian Peterson

There will be a regression. Fine. That’s to be expected.

Will there be an Adrian Peterson injury? Maybe. But it won’t necessarily have to do with what 2,000-yard rushers have done before him. A sample of six is about as significant as a George Clooney girlfriend. You just can’t take much from it.

It’s fine to talk about Peterson’s aging body, or the fact that his age correlates to the start of a running back decline. Just don’t connect 2,000-yard rushing seasons – historic ones – to Peterson’s 2013 prospects. Not only have these runners actually been better than most think the following season, but the examples are far too small to draw any sound conclusions from them.

Adrian Peterson tricked you last season. You drafted him in the second round, and he turned around and rushed for the second most yards in NFL history.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.