Did Adrian Peterson Break the Rushing Yards Record?

The recent NFL Season saw Adrian Peterson put an incredible individual effort in not only carrying the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs, but coming only 9 yards short from breaking the rushing yards record of Eric Dickerson, but may have missed it due to the technicality in measurements, not because he didn’t actually make it.

Some say that Peterson’s miraculous comeback from an ACL tear was too good to be true, if you know what I mean, but we prefer to believe athletes were amazing for natural reasons, at least until proven guilty. Peterson ran for 2097 yards, going for an incredible 199 yards on the final day of the season against the Green Bay Packers, getting the win that got the Vikings into the playoffs.

Peterson scored 12 rushing touchdowns on the season, and had 10 games of over 100 rushing yards, including a streak of 8 games with at least 108 yards in a game, including two of running for over 200 yards. He averaged 6.03 yards per carry for the season, which started out relatively slowly for Peterson.

But did the measurements of the NFL, giving half a yard rushes a full value – either 0 or 1 and so on, keep Peterson from breaking the record? According to Jeremy Scheff, there’s a 15% chance Peterson actually ran for more than what Dickerson did in 1984.

The assumption Scheff used was that the length of every rushing attempt could fall anywhere within -0.5 and +0.5 yards of the reported total; for example, a carry reported as 6 yards could just as easily be 5.7 yards or 6.4 yards or whatever.

based on that assumption, he took the actual rushing totals and added a random error for each carry to come up with one realization of what true unrounded yardage total could have led to the total in the record books. After plenty or repetitions for both Peterson and Dickerson, here’s what he came up with:

This pretty much means that there’s a chance Peterson did run for more yards during the season than Dickerson’s record. According to Scheff, from these simulations, it was straightforward to assign probabilities to these possibilities by testing which player had more simulated years as the overall rushing champ. He found that 85% of the time, Dickerson came out on top. This means that there is approximately a 15% chance that Adrian Peterson actually broke Dickerson’s record, but it was not noticed due errors accumulated by rounding the lengths of rushes to integer values.