Adrian Peterson is still only 29 and has only suited up for seven NFL seasons, but he’s probably done more before his 30th birthday than any other active non-quarterback in the NFL. I mean, only Calvin Johnson probably comes close.
That has us wondering if Peterson is already worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If he were to suddenly pull a Barry Sanders and walk away from the game tomorrow, would AP make the Canton cut? Let’s break it down.
In terms of sheer rushing yardage, he’d be in trouble. It appears 12,000 is the magic mark there. Of the 14 backs who have rushed for 12,000 yards, 11 are in the Hall of Fame, and LaDainian Tomlinson and Jerome Bettis will be enshrined soon enough. Peterson has 10,115 yards, ranking 27th all time. Of the 14 backs who have accumulated between 10,000 and 12,000 yards, only two are in the Hall of Fame.
But his peaks have been extremely high. Obviously, there was that 2,097-yard 2012 campaign. But that alone doesn’t carry you. Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis and Chris Johnson all had 2,000-yard seasons but there’s a chance none will wind up in Canton. But Peterson also had 1,760 yards in 2008 and is one of only seven backs to hit that 1,700-yard mark twice. Four of the other six backs are in the Hall of Fame. Davis and Larry Johnson are not. But let’s keep in mind that Davis had just 7,607 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, while Peterson is over 10,000 with 5.0 yards per attempt. Johnson did nothing aside from those two big seasons in 2005 and 2006.
He could be an exception. Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Floyd Little are all Hall of Famers despite accumulating fewer than 10,000 yards. Those are the only three exceptions from the Super Bowl era. But Peterson would probably be a fitting fourth. Csonka had a lot of team success and was a Super Bowl MVP, Floyd was a perennial Pro Bowler and Campbell was an MVP, just like AP.
Here’s the clincher: Among Super Bowl era backs with at least 8,000 yards, Peterson has the second-highest yards-per-attempt average. His 4.98 average is just 0.01 yards back of leader Barry Sanders and is more than a quarter of a yard better than Tiki Barber’s mark of 4.71. The fourth guy on the list is O.J. Simpson.
The difference is how long it’ll take. If Peterson were to retire today, he wouldn’t likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A couple more good years and he’s a lock to be inducted as soon as his waiting time is up. Either way, he’s already worthy of a spot in Canton.