Friday, September 9, 2011

Adrian Peterson: this generation's Barry Sanders?

Usually, I am not super big making comparisons of athletes; especially when they play within the same sport. Typically, I like to compare players from two different sports. For example, I have always thought that Grant Hill was the Ken Griffey Jr. of the NBA, because I will always wonder what might have been, if either of those guys had never encounter the nagging injuries they did. With Griffey, I think we see him smashing the home run record, which never gets touched, until late in Albert Pujols career. With grant… I am not entirely sure. Maybe an NBA title somewhere along his career. But we will never know, but those are the types of comparisons I like to make.

Breaking out of my norm, I have been wrestling with one player mirror for a couple of days. No, it is not, “Is Cam Newton the next Michael Vick?” No. Although, I do think that is the best case scenario for Newton. Only time will tell. My curiousness has lately been this:

Is Adrian Peterson this generation’s Barry Sanders?

The more I think about it the more convinced I become. Adrian Peterson is a gangster talent, super good, and is never going to miss an opportunity to be great. The Viking organization knows these facts just as well as every other NFL general manager does, and that is why Adrian Peterson will never be traded or outbid by any other NFL team when his contract is about to come up. Ever. Probably for his entire career, but most definitely for the prime of his career, Adrian Peterson is going to be in Minnesota Vikings jersey. Viking fans everywhere are rejoicing. The only thing that would put him out of Minny uniform, is if he suddenly became a Randy Moss-like head case. Viking fans everywhere are solemnly nodding their heads. But he never will be a head case. Viking fans everywhere are, again, rejoicing.

But because Adrian Peterson is so good, the chances of him playing on a Viking team that will make the Super Bowl are no bueno. No bueno at all actually. I will tell you why. It is simple really. Because of how good Peterson is, the Minnestoa Vikings will never completely suck enough in order to nail that cannot miss pick (read: QB, something along the lines of an Andrew Luck). His greatness will become his Achilles heel. It will plague him, just like it plagued Barry Sanders, and therefore Adrian Peterson will never be combined with a current Top 10 quarterback. The Donovan McNabb trade is not going to take the Vikings to the promise-land. How can it? McNabb is not the player he once was, because if he were, he would still be with the Eagles or at the very least, the Washington Redskins. You realize the Redskins told themselves John Beck or Rex Grossman were better quarterbacks. It is no bueno for a third time Viking fans. Even if he does OK, who is McNabb going to throw to?

It was hard for Donovan McNabb to do it in his prime when had a money Brian Westbrook running the football and was throwing TD passes to Terrell Owens—whose on the field prowess loomed far above any other wide out in the league. Unfortunely, Terrell Owens knew that, and it pissed people off. That Eagle team was very close, but they were unfortunate to match up against the early 2000s dynasty, known as the New England Patriots. That was McNabb in his best-case scenario and it did not get done. And that was 7 years ago.

So how is McNabb going to do it now, after the semi-washed up season we saw in Washington? And how will he do it being traded to team with ZERO elite wide outs? All of these facts do not bode well for Adrian Peterson—just like it did not bode will for Barry Sanders back in the day. The numbers do not lie when you look at Barry’s Lions team seasons stacked up next to Peterson’s Vikings team seasons. They actually paint the same picture.

The Detroit Lions seasons when Barry was on the team:

1989 7-9 3rd NFC Central
1990 6-10 3rd NFC Central
1991 12-4 1st NFC Central
1992 5-11 5th NFC Central
1993 10-6 1st NFC Central
1994 9-7 3rd NFC Central
1995 10-6 2nd NFC Central
1996 5-11 5th NFC Central
1997 9-7 3rd NFC Central
1998 5-11 4th NFC Central

The Detroit Lions won their division twice during Barry Sanders career. The 1991 first place finish came in spite of the Lions losing starting quarterback, Rodney Peete, midway through the season. With the loss of Peete, the two reasons the Lions finished so well that year, came as a result of Barry’s combined 1,885 yards rushing/receiving and 17 touchdowns. The other factor was one of renewed and unbeatable fighting spirit birthed from tragedy. In a game against the Los Angeles Rams, Lions starting guard, Mike Utley, sustained an injury at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Without being able to feel his arms or legs, somehow, as he was being carted off the field, Mike Utley was able to give the fans in attendance a ‘thumbs up’—forever cementing his fighting spirit that would later lead to him creating the Mike Utely Foundation which seeks a cure for paralysis. The Detroit Lions would wear his #60 on their helmets for the rest of the season and would win their remaining six games. The Lions would eventually lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion, Washington Redskins, in the NFC Championship game.

The division-winning season of 1993, was a combination of quarterbacks Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer and again, running back Barry Sanders. Sanders was limited by injury that and only played in 11 games, yet he was able to notch 1115 yards, a paltry 3 rushing TDs, and trip to the Pro Bowl. The Lions lost in the NFC Wild Card game to the Green Bay Packers.

Now peep the four seasons the Vikings have played with AP:

2007 8-8 2nd NFC North
2008 10-6 1st NFC North
2009 12-4 1st NFC North
2010 6-10 4th NFC North

Adrian Peterson burst on to the scene in 2007 by winning Rookie of the Year, rushing for 1,342 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He would go on to the Pro Bowl that same year and win that games’ Most Valuable Player award.

The following season, when the Vikings ended up winning their division with credit being given—much like the 1991 Lions season—mainly to Peterson. Peterson played even better as a sophomore in the NFL than he did as a rookie, increasing his rushing yards by 419, to a total of 1,760. He had minimal dip in touchdowns, going from 12 to 10. The starting quarterback for the Vikings that season, was none other than Tavaris Jackson who failed to put up 2,000 yard passing and posted a 70.8 quarterback rating.

When the Vikings won the division for the second year in a row, Adrian Peterson was again solid. Racking up 1,383 yards on the ground and a gargantuan 18 rushing touchdowns. He also posted a career high in receiving yards with 436, giving him a 1991 Barry Sanders-eqse 1,819 all-purpose yards and +1 on Barry’s 17 touchdown total. The Vikings were further blessed by the arrival of Brett Favre that year, and Brett’s miracle season. For the first time in 19-year career, at the ripe old age of 40, Favre posted a 100.0+ quarterback rating on the season, with a rating of 107.2, and kept his interceptions in the single digits (7). His previous low for INTs was 13… coming from all the way back in the 1996 season. So too, like Barry’s 1993 season, Adrian had another productive rushing year, but his team was also aided by the quarterback position. The Minnesota Vikings would lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion, New Orlean Saints, in the NFC Championship game. Hmm… didn’t the Lions do something like that?

If we are honest with one another, barring the unlikely Brett Favre formula happening to McNabb—playing whole career for city that worshipped him, only be let go and then play for a random team, only to wind up on the Vikings the following season—Adrian Peterson’s saving grace is resting on shoulders of Christian Ponder. Let’s face it. That is the cold hard truth. Somehow, Ponder is going to have to become, at minimum, a Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Ryan for his franchise in order for the Vikings to find Super Bowl glory. Every championship caliber team needs a gutty quarterback and either a stand out half back or wide out. Minnesota has AP, so they can get by without a stud receiver. But they need the right quarterback to make it happen. If Ponder is not that guy, then it looks like Peterson becomes this generation’s Barry Sanders.

I guess all I need to do is figure out if saying such a thing, is a compliment or something to be sad about. Perhaps it is both.

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