Adrian Peterson: What must he do to catch Emmitt Smith?


Adrian Peterson is still a long way from having a legitimate shot at breaking Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record.

NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith doesn’t sound all that worried about his record being broken by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson…or anyone else for that matter.

When asked recently if he thinks anyone but Peterson has a shot at eclipsing his mark of 18,355 yards, amassed over 15 seasons, Smith sounded pretty smug (via ESPN):

"“If he doesn’t get it, I don’t know who’s going to get it,” Smith said. “He’s still got a lot of yards to go. I’m not going to lie to you.”"

The words of a man who is pretty well convinced he’s going to own the all-time rushing mark for a very long time.

Of course if you ask Adrian Peterson, he will tell you he absolutely has a shot to break the record. Peterson tends to be pretty confident when it comes to setting goals.

Realistically however, this is one goal that will probably remain forever out of Peterson’s reach.

After rushing for 1,485 yards in 2015, the third-highest total of his 9-year career, Peterson has 11,675 yards. That puts him 6,680 yards behind Emmitt Smith.

Peterson would have to play six more seasons to match Smith’s total of 15 years in the league. If Peterson does play six more years, he’d have to average 1,113 yards over those years to catch Smith. Adrian is currently 30 years old and would be 36 at the end of this hypothetical run.

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Smith himself was 35 in his final season and averaged just 965 yards over the course of his last six years. Smith’s durability was legendary and thanks to this he still managed to run for over 900 yards in two of his final three years, with one year of just 256 yards sandwiched in between.

Peterson himself has been fairly durable over the course of his career, missing significant time due to injury in only one season, the 2011 year when he tore his ACL. Peterson of course missed most of the 2014 season for reasons having nothing to do with injury.

That missed 2014 season is one reason some people think Peterson can make a run at Smith’s rushing title, the argument being that by sitting out 15 games, Peterson’s body got a chance to bounce back and this should allow him to remain strong deeper into his 30s.

But the truth is that no one really knows how Peterson’s lost season will ultimately affect his durability. Peterson did come back in 2015 with a good season, but it’s also true that he broke down physically late in the year, suffering multiple ailments including a back injury that prevented him from running with his typical power in the Vikings’ playoff game against Seattle.

Did Peterson’s missed year contribute to his inability to finish off the 2015 season strong? Who knows.

Some will argue that Peterson is a physical freak who defies all projections of what a running back can do after his 30th birthday, but the plain truth is that no one knows how long Peterson can actually last.

Peterson’s toughness is unquestioned, and there’s no doubt he has the will to pursue the record until the bitter end, but no man has unlimited pain tolerance or indestructible ligaments, tendons and bones.

And let’s not forget that this isn’t just about Adrian Peterson, it’s also about the Vikings as a team. Would it really serve the Vikings’  interests to help Peterson pursue this record?

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Adrian won’t get close to Smith’s mark unless the Vikings are willing to keep handing him the ball with overwhelming frequency. However, given the realities of today’s NFL, the Vikings might be better served scaling back Peterson’s carries in an effort to create a more diversified, less predictable and perhaps more effective offense.

When all is said and done, Peterson’s quest for Smith’s record may be derailed more by the nature of today’s professional game than any factor related to his health, durability or desire. Emmitt Smith has good reason to be confident about his record standing the test of time.