Adrian Peterson – The Next Running Back MVP

Over the last 20 years, 7 running backs have won the MVP award. With the league becoming more and more pass and quarterback oriented, the fact that Adrian Peterson seems to be one of the players in the discussion to win the award in 2012 is quite an achievement.

Maybe it’s also the fact that he came back this season from an ACL and MCL tear, while helping a team that won only 3 games last season stay in playoff contention in what is probably the toughest division in the NFL.

Still, it’s a long shot. The MVP is probably going to either Peyton Manning for the fifth time, which is more than anyone else in the history of the NFL, or to Tom Brady for a fourth time. Either way, that sounds completely boring, while Peterson’s numbers and performances this year have been simply electrifying  and even a bit surprising, considering the very limited passing game he’s had with Christian Ponder at quarterback.

All the running backs who have won the MVP since 1991 except for one, Barry Sanders (1997), had a passer with at least 3400 yards and a Passer Rating of 90+. Barry Sanders in 1997? 2053 yards, 6.1 per carry, scoring 11 touchdown. He averaged 128.3 yards per game. This isn’t the first time Peterson is compared to the greatest running back to ever play in the NFL (in our opinion).

13 Games into the 2012 NFL Season, Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing with 1600 yards, averaging 123.1 yards per game, 6 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns to his name. Very similar to what Sanders produces 15 years ago for the Detroit Lions.

Taking a look at other running backs who have won the MVP, Peterson seems to be with the right kind of numbers to win an MVP.

In 1991, Thurman Thomas (Buffalo Bills) won with 1407 yards, 7 touchdowns averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. In 1993 Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys) was the winner after rushing for 1486 yards and 9 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 per attempt. In 1997 it was Barry Sanders, sharing the award with Brett Favre. In 1998 it was Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos with 2008 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt.  In 2000 it was Marshall Faulk with 1359 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. In 2005 it was Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks with 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 per attempt. In 2006 came the last running back to win the award. LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers ran for 1815 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

I don’t think there’s any doubt Peterson is as talented and as deserving as any of these other players, except for maybe Barry Sanders at his best. The problem is the current trend in the league, which has given the award five consecutive times to quarterbacks – twice to Peyton Manning, twice to Tom Brady and once to Aaron Rodgers. It seems that passing numbers are what rule the NFL these days.

But maybe because of that, a strong finish from the Vikings (with a very rough schedule) and especially Peterson might take the spotlight away from what we’ve gotten used to seeing – quarterbacks tearing apart secondaries. Almost boring at this point in the evolution of the sport. Peterson is the special, alternative choice. Running backs need to be recognized again, and Peterson is the perfect poster-child for what seems to be a dying breed.

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