The greatest of the great don’t come around often. Dudes such as Cris Carter and Floyd Little and Dan Fouts are in the Hall of Fame, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are probably headed in that direction, and more power to them. But there should be a separate wing for the players who weren’t just compilers or borderline cases, but rather were wonders. Adrian Peterson is in that group. He basically defined his position for a decade. Any list of the top 15 greatest running backs of all time that doesn’t include him is null and void.
But in 2017, he looks cooked.
The New Orleans experiment was a disaster. After a summer of puff pieces about how amazing Peterson looked, the Saints only waited about a month to trade him to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional draft pick — probably a sixth- or seventh-rounder — thereby sparing AP the indignity of being released. I’ve loved Peterson’s game for as long as he’s been in the league, but I came into 2017 skeptical, comparing his trip to the Big Easy to a similar move Earl Campbell made at the end of his career. It turned out even worse than I feared. So now we ask ourselves: Does Peterson have fantasy value in Arizona, and what about the two running backs he leaves behind in New Orleans?
First let’s talk Peterson, and the question we have to ask ourselves is: Was Sean Payton’s offense merely a terrible system fit for Peterson, or does he have nothing left? I re-watched all AP’s 2017 film and there sure didn’t seem to be much in his tank. There’s no burst, no snap on his runs. It’s not like he had tons of room — the Saints’ offensive line is middling at best — but the cumulative effect of seeing each carry back-to-back was that I was watching some generic bigger back, an Alfred Blue, a Dwayne Washington, a Matt Jones: still big, still capable of power runs, but no acceleration, no punishing of tacklers. Just another guy.
One single run against the Patriots in Week 2 spoke volumes: fourth-and-short in a blowout, Drew Brees audibled to a pitchout on the left side, and AP scampered frantically toward the sideline trying to outrace immortal linebacker Elandon Roberts. Peterson made it, but only barely. In the past, he’d have dusted the 4.6 Roberts. It was sad.
I’ve written before about the Adrian Peterson crouch. AP had Le’Veon Bell levels of patience when Bell was in middle school. He’d approach the line and stop, crouched, assess the defense and then continue. His legs were so strong. There wasn’t much pitter-patter in his feet, and he could accelerate like nobody else. None of that is present on his Saints film.
Do I think it’ll go differently with the Cardinals? I don’t. It’s obviously a better depth chart. Arizona released Chris Johnson — a veteran who looked even more finished than Peterson — and AP should be a candidate for a bigger workload ahead of the likes of Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams. But the Cardinals’ line is almost certainly worse than the Saints’, the quarterback is worse, and I think the best we hope for is that like any bigger back, Peterson lucks into some short-yardage scores. He should be owned in all leagues, but only in the way that we rush to own any midseason RB who has a chance at a big workload. That’s fantasy football: the dart throw we all try, hoping the new guy can eke out a few TDs. But my guess is we won’t even get that from Peterson in the desert.
Now let’s talk about something that’s more fun: what’s left behind in New Orleans. Last Friday on my podcast, we talked through our favorite trade-acquisition candidates, and Alvin Kamara made my list. Great call, even if it was for the totally wrong reason! Here’s hoping you took that advice, because the rookie figures to see a consistent usage uptick. On film, Kamara does pop. About a month ago on that same podcast, I listed five players whose Week 1 film had already changed my opinion, and Kamara made that list, too. All summer, people sold him to us as a scatback, but there’s no question he’s more than that: Kamara catches it well and looks dangerous in space, but he’s also been tough between the tackles and generates the kind of force that pile-drives defensive backs.
Mark Ingram is still the Saints’ lead back, and for the moment he’s the one you’d rather own. But Payton’s offense has a history of generating fantasy value out of two RBs. Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister in 2006, Bush and Pierre Thomas in ’08 and ’09, Darren Sproles and Thomas in ’11 and ’13 … you can see some overlap with the Ingram/Kamara combo. Both men catch it well, both have some power to their games, Ingram is probably the touchdown maker, Kamara is probably the change-of-pace option. Beginning this week, my running back ranks have both men as clear fantasy starters, though of course, once we see how Payton deploys his freshly minted duo, we’ll make adjustments for the rest of the year. Right now I’m bullish on both the veteran (Ingram) and the rookie (Kamara), but if anything, Ingram owners will be looking over their shoulders, because Kamara is the future. I don’t think Payton makes either guy a weekly focal point, but honestly, if it’s going to be anyone, it’ll probably be the kid.
As for Peterson? I fear that five years from now, when AP is getting his yellow blazer and we’re all looking back on his impossibly great career, video of him wearing Saints and Cardinals helmets will merely make us sad.
Christopher Harris runs HarrisFootball.com, where you can find more info on the “Harris Football Podcast,” with new episodes every weekday.
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