September 29, 2010
By: Andrew Thell
- This is the best I’ve seen Adrian Peterson look in two years. There was talk about AP working hard this offseason on two things: ball control and patience. It’s looking like that work is paying serious dividends. AP led the NFL in fumbles over the last three years, and down the stretch last season he struggled to find running room to showcase his trademark speed, power and moves. With season totals of 18 TDs and over 1,800 total yards, it’s easy to forget that he looked downright bad down the stretch in 2009. He was dancing behind the line, getting tackled for losses with regularity, being forced outside far too often and not hitting the seams he usually turns into big gains. Between Week 7 and the NFC Divisional playoff game, a span of 11 games, Peterson topped 100 yards rushing just once and sported a yards-per-carry average over 4.0 in just two contests (at home versus the Lions in Week 10 and with just 9 carries in a Week 17 laugher versus the Giants).
It wasn’t all his fault though. The offensive line was perhaps the best in football three years ago, but in 2009 featured a new, inexperienced and very undersized center in John Sullivan who was often abused by opposing DTs. In fact, the whole line looked a year older and a step slower last season, which was a big part of the reason Brett Favre had to go into gunslinger mode. This year, behind the same line which still doesn’t look especially strong, he’s rocking a 5.6 YPC, which is tied with his rookie season as the best mark of his career, and is churning out 130.7 yards per game, easily the best mark of his career.
Peterson has looked good doing it, too. He’s following his blockers, taking what the defense gives him, making excellent cuts and reads, letting the play develop before him, and then decisively hitting the smallest of creases and seams with authority. And, knock on wood, he hasn’t put the ball on the ground yet. Minnesota will need to lean on him as much as ever this season, especially in the passing game, and the way he’s responding nobody is looking foolish for using the top-overall pick on All Day.
- Sometimes teams have to lower their expectations. Not everybody can have the prototypical franchise running back, there aren’t enough APs to go around, and for some NFL and fantasy teams a guy who can turn in a workman-like effort has to be enough. When that’s the case, a big bruiser who isn’t a home-run threat can get the job done. In Cleveland, Eric Mangini has found that guy in Peyton Hillis, who isn’t going to break any game-changing runs but also isn’t going to hurt his team. Cleveland just needs a guy who can take what the defense gives and churn out modest production with consistency. Hillis can do that. He can also handle goal-line work, blocks well and is a surprisingly good receiver out of the backfield. He’s not a great back, but right now in Cleveland he’s good enough.
Hillis is likely long gone in your league, but his example might be one fantasy owners and NFL coaches can learn from. It’s looking very possible Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New England could follow suit with 250-pound LeGarrette Blount, 250-pound John Kuhn and BenJarvin Green-Ellis, who is only 215 pounds but chugs along like a much bigger back. All three of these teams struggle mightily in the run game and lack anybody who could emerge as an elite option on their roster, but could soon just settle for a big guy who’s good enough. None of these guys have the athleticism or skill set that gets fantasy owners excited, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be useful flex plays on a regular basis.
More observations from the first three weeks after the jump …