Why Adrian Peterson remains unsigned
Adrian Peterson was the league’s MVP in 2012, and is only a season removed from being the league’s rushing champion, but can’t find a new team after the Vikings cut loose his bloated contract.
It sounds illogical, but the reason is simple: Peterson has become a two-down player at a time when the league is trending in the other direction. He is an anachronism in a league that more closely resembles college spread offenses than at any time in the past, and teams are having a hard time projecting a fit that justifies any kind of big money.
League wide, teams passed 57.9 percent of the time in 2016. Only one team – the Buffalo Bills – rushed the ball more times than they passed it, and that flips on its head if you look at called pass plays, because QB Tyrod Taylor took off scrambling from the pocket on a pass play 51 times during the season. When you add scrambles and nullified plays back into the mix, the league actually calls pass plays 61 percent of the time, so a “two-down” player – already seen as a knock on a player — is becoming perilously close to a one-down player in today’s NFL.
Further complicating things is Peterson’s notorious dislike for running from the shotgun formation, preferring instead to carry from a traditional tailback spot and receive the ball from a QB who was under center at the snap. Again, this just doesn’t fit with today’s NFL. In 2016, teams lined up in shotgun formation on 64 percent of snaps. Pistol (a modified, shortened, shotgun formation with the running back directly behind the QB instead of offset to one side), accounted for another 3.5 percent, meaning teams only lined up under center on 32.5 percent of snaps, or less than one third.
On passing plays last year, NFL teams were in the shotgun 80.5 percent of the time.
Just 5.2 percent of Peterson’s career carries have come from the gun, and that is just the first way that he is ill-suited for passing downs.
For his career, he has surrendered 64 total pressures and nine sacks as a pass-blocker, despite often being kept off the field in obvious passing situations. His last full season saw him allow 10 total pressures and rank 52nd in the league in pass-blocking efficiency despite 20 backs playing more passing snaps than he did.
As a receiver, he is little better, seeing an average of just 38 targets over his career when looking at full seasons only. He has just three seasons with a reception longer than 34 yards, and four with one longer than 22 over his career, and has dropped 32 of the 313 passes sent his way since he entered the league (only 279 were deemed catchable).
Peterson may still be dangerous with the ball in his hands, but teams need to do a lot of work to put him in those situations in 2017. Right now he makes sense only as part of a backfield committee, for a team that already has an established receiving back. New England made some sense, but for Bill Belichick’s notorious hatred of fumbles — Peterson has put the ball on the ground 42 times over his career, and that is unlikely something Belichick would sign up for in a hurry. Buffalo would make some sense, given the degree to which they look set to run the ball in 2017, but they have already invested heavily in their backfield. It is a lot of work to find a ready fit for Peterson going forward, and that’s why he remains unsigned.