The Quick look at Peterson
You're going to hear that Adrian Peterson is too old or too "old school" of a running back to help a team or have a fantasy impact. This is false.
Football is a difficult arena to expect the truth to manifest in full display. Peterson struggled during his final year in Minnesota due to poor line play and a poor scheme fit to what makes Peterson good. Peterson is at his best as a single back or I-formation back seven yards deep in the backfield and in an offense that is committed to running the football at a high volume.
He performed well in Arizona if you're not only looking at the box score but the actual execution on the field. He was fantasy-worthy in Arizona for the short time that Arizona's offensive line and quarterback remained healthy. This is the point that is lost most on the box-score jockeys who are cynical about Peterson's talent.
Here's the quick-hitting version of Peterson's potential fantasy impact in Washington:
- Washington's power run game is a strong fit for what Peterson does best.
- Peterson's ability to find cutbacks and manage eight- and nine-man boxes create play-action opportunities for Alex Smith.
- Jay Gruden has past success with power backs and likes to use two-tight end sets with Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis for run-pass binds.
- Peterson still has the short-area burst to hit creases and reach linebackers and safeties.
- Peterson still has the change of direction quickness and balance to make hard cuts and make even the quickest defensive backs miss in space.
- Peterson no longer has top-end speed, so don't expect breakaway runs. However, gains of 8-15 yards can be commonplace with good line play.
You're also going to read in some outlets that Peterson cannot run zone and that it makes him a questionable fit for the Washington offense. Peterson has been among the best ever at man blocking concepts like power, duo, trap, and counter, but some of the biggest plays of his career were the result of zone runs. It's possible that some folks who've said otherwise simply don't remember that far back.
Matt Bitonti has a solid grade for a healthy Washington offensive line. As long as that line remains healthy, Peterson is capable of 280-300 carries, 1,200 yards, and 10 touchdowns in this offense if the team fully embraces a power game.
It's more likely that Washington gradually ramps up Peterson's playing time in September and if he performs well, he could become the focal point of the ground game. A more modest and reasonable upside is that Peterson earns about 220-240 carries, 1,000-1,100 yards, and 6-8 touchdowns, which is still starter-worthy production.
The key will be determining how much Washington intends to use him. If they see him as depth, to spell Rob Kelly and Samaje Perine as a subpackage specialist, he'll only fulfill his late-round ADP as depth.
If the intention is to use him as the lead back, he'll be worth a pick between the 8th and 12th round and have the upside to exceed expectations as a fantasy starter. If this remains unclear when you draft, his best value is after the 12th round. Either way, expect some amount of caution with Washington's usage of Peterson early in the year to make sure he's in good enough football shape.
The deeper dive on Peterson's 2017 tape
When the Cardinals' scheme had a healthy offensive line and Carson Palmer for a short period of time, it was is a perfect fit for Peterson because he and David Johnson have a lot of similarities with their running styles. We saw this against the Buccaneers in 2017 when tackle D.J. Humphries returned to the lineup and it allowed Arizona to move Alex Boone to his natural position of right guard.
From the first carry, it was clear from the design of the play that Peterson as an I-back or single back with a quarterback under center is a great fit. When There's enough of a push downhill, Peterson will hit a crease as hard as any back in the game today (this is the one area where the Leonard Fournette-Peterson comparisons were accurate).
Note: Click the picture to see the videos on Instagram and hit the "back" arrow to return to the article or right-click the links below each photo to play the videos in a separate tab.
But most of us knew that Peterson could still be a hammer when given a chance to swing it. The real questions were about his stop-start movement and burst. Could be beat edge contain to the outside? Here's Exhibit A...
Alex Smith is a good quarterback from center and Jay Gruden has experience with a power back like Jeremy Hill. His offense uses a lot of these plays right now: power, trap, and counter remain fixtures in this offense and are all plays that are in Peterson's wheelhouse that set up the play-action passing game.
This two-tight end set that features Larry Fitzgerald tight to the formation between the two ends is something that can be done with Jordan Reed or Josh Doctson in the slot as that added blocker to seal the edge on perimeter runs like Fitzgerald does below. This will also set up play-action looks to the receiver as defenses try to stop Peterson. The believability of Fitzgerald — or Doctson or Reed — executing in either fashion with productive results puts opponents in a bind.
Note that the Buccaneers have nine men in the box to defend the play and it doesn't matter. Peterson excels at finding cutbacks and running through wraps for strong gains regardless of stacked boxes — similar to what we'll see with Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliot, Le'Veon Bell, and Todd Gurley.
Here's Exhibit B of Peterson getting the edge with the help of Larry Fitzgerald on the strong side (note, I point out the right tackle as a tight end in this video...the hazards of delivering quick analysis of almost every game on a deadline). This is another example of Fitzgerald as a blocker which sets up safeties and linebackers to ignore him or lose track of him on future plays.
These are all straight-ahead runs that exhibit downhill power or burst. Although I showed film of Peterson last year and this that illustrated that his cutting ability and burst from his cuts were still there, here's an even easier setting for those of you who need the support of a 100-yard and 2-touchdown box score to allow your eyes to believe what was already there. Sincerely, it can be difficult to believe compelling contrarian analysis. Adam Harstad has written a lot about the power of bias.
This bounce outside and cut inside is as good as any top young back with Peterson's size and style as a runner. Here's a cutback against nine in the box to bounce out the back side and outrun the speed LaVonte David up the right flat for 40 yards.
This series of cuts, reversal of field, and juke of four-time Pro-Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes on the edge is a good closing argument that Peterson is at least 90 percent of the excellent runner he was in 2015.
Peterson is healthy, quick, powerful, agile, and still has fantasy starter skills in a traditional offense that commits to him as its focus. He lacks top-end speed, but few backs break a high-number of 40- and 50-yard runs. Most good running back play generates gains of 5-15 yards. Peterson can do this.
The Adrian Peterson effect
Peterson can still command eight- and nine-man boxes and Alex Smith can leverage that frontloading of defenders to his advantage.
Alex Smith, like Carson Palmer, performs well with a downhill power game that begins with the quarterback under center and executing play-action. It didn't take long for Peterson's running to make life easier on Palmer.
Because of Peterson and his line's ability to produce against a defense cheating to stop them, Palmer gets great looks that a veteran can exploit.
Even with seven men in the box trying to play a balanced look in the red zone, the moment Palmer extends his arm towards Peterson in the backfield, it forces T.J. Ward to fly into the box and allow Fitzgerald to fly right by him from that alignment tight to the right side where he had been sealing the edge on previous plays.
Alex Smith has excellent vertical weapons at tight end (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis) and wide receiver (Paul Richardson Jr and Josh Doctson) who can win one-on-one when defenses overplay the run game. Peterson gives Washington a heightened chance to do this.
Should you run out and make Peterson an early-round pick? Not at all but the potential for him to perform as one is still there in his game. If his ADP is somewhere between the 8th-12th round or later, he's worth consideration if Washington intends to make him the lead back. If you're drafting before that's a certainty, he's a decent value after the 12th round.