Minnesota Vikings: What if Adrian Peterson breaks down?


The Minnesota Vikings are once again counting on Adrian Peterson to be a huge part of their offense, but what will they do if the 31-year-old breaks down?

The Vikings are entering territory few teams in NFL history have dared to explore. This year, the Vikings will count on a 31-year-old running back to be not only their primary ball carrier but their overall #1 offensive weapon.

How many backs Peterson’s age have had this much responsibility placed on their shoulders? Emmitt Smith, Frank Gore and Fred Taylor leap to mind as recent examples of RBs who were still productive past their 30th birthdays, but none of those three men was asked to carry as much of the load as the Vikings will expect Peterson to bear in 2016.

31-year-old Fred Taylor ran the ball 223 times for a 2007 Jacksonville team that went 11-5, but that team also had Maurice Jones-Drew, who himself carried the ball 167 times while adding 40 receptions.

At 31, Frank Gore posted 1,106 yards on 255 attempts for a 2014 49ers team that finished just 8-8. Emmitt Smith at 31 ran 294 times for 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns but that year’s Cowboys team, due in large part to a combination of QB injury and overall lack of receiving talent, finished just 5-11.

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In other words, there aren’t too many examples of teams pulling off what the Vikings will attempt in 2016.

Peterson of course has accomplished the seemingly impossible in the past. Less than a year after suffering a catastrophic ACL injury, Peterson returned to run for over 2,000 yards. A year after being suspended for 15 games, he returned to lead the league in rushing for the third time in his career.

We’re used to Peterson doing things running backs aren’t supposed to be able to do, but even Adrian Peterson has a breaking point.

What will happen to the Vikings if Peterson this year finally reaches the point where his body can no longer take the pounding? The Vikings frankly can’t afford to find out. To me, they must soon begin the process of minimizing the potential impact of a Peterson drop-off.

Early in the season, the Vikings must begin establishing a new identity centered around Teddy Bridgewater and their other young offensive players.

The Vikings must find ways to get Jerick McKinnon involved in both the passing and running games. They must find ways to get the ball in the hands of their big tight ends Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt. They must get rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell into the flow as quickly as possible, and continue to develop Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright.

In short, the Vikings this year must at least begin the process of putting together a well-rounded offense that can function with Peterson in a lesser or perhaps non-existent role.

It would be a truly awful situation if the Vikings placed too much load on a 31-year-old running back and he broke down and they were unable to continue functioning.

Some would argue that the Vikings should have long-ago accelerated the process of moving on from Peterson, perhaps by bringing in a future bell-cow running back via the draft, or maybe by trying to load up on receiver talent to help out the passing game.

Next: What if the O-line doesn't improve?

The Vikes did at least make one set of moves this offseason that could help Peterson hold up longer: They addressed the offensive line via free agent signings and coaching staff changes, with an eye toward not only protecting Bridgewater but also opening some bigger holes for Peterson.

Will Minnesota’s O-line moves result in less wear-and-tear on both quarterback and running back? Time will tell.

Hopefully Peterson is as much of a physical freak as many believe, and his production will remain at a high level at the age of 31. If his production doesn’t remain at that high level? The Vikings might look very silly for continuing to count on Peterson past the reasonable expiration date for a running back.