What To Expect From Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is one of the most intriguing players entering the 2015 NFL season. Here we have the best running back of the past decade — and the most surefire non-quarterback fantasy asset as well — coming back after a year away from football.
He just missed a season. He just passed the dreaded 30-year age mark for running backs. There’s a disconnect between Peterson and the Vikings. There’s so much not to like.
But it’s Adrian freaking Peterson. You can’t stay away. I can say this with certainty because he’s currently the first player being taken in fantasy drafts, per average draft position (ADP) data from Fantasy Football Calculator. So what should you expect?
You can probably expect more of the same from Adrian Peterson. In other words, production befitting of the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts.
Peterson could add a new wrinkle to his game this season: More receiving out of the backfield.
ESPN recently reported that Peterson believes he’ll be more involved in the passing game this year. We’ve heard Peterson sing this song before, mind you. Two years ago, Peterson said he wanted more receptions, and one year ago he said he’d be happy to trade carries for receptions.
But 2015 will be Peterson’s first real year with Turner as his offensive coordinator. It’s not unreasonable to think this is the year Peterson really does exchange carries for catches.
From 2007-2014, the typical team-leading NFL running back caught an average of 35 passes per season. Turner’s running backs have averaged about 46. (We’re counting Cleveland’s Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya as one running back in 2013, and Minnesota’s Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon as one running back in 2014, as they split duties — something Peterson will not be doing.)
Peterson has averaged just under 30 receptions per season throughout his career. The Turner effect alone should passively add about 10 to that, bumping Peterson up to 40. Add on the expected “carries for catches” swap, and Peterson could push past 50 receptions this season. His current career high is 43.
All of the above is on top of the typical ground production we’ve come to expect from Peterson. Somewhere in the range of 1,250 rushing yards is completely reasonable to expect.
Last year, Vikings running backs combined for 336 carries, 1,339 yards, and nine touchdowns. Of those totals, Peterson only contributed 21 carries for 78 yards.
Throughout his career, Peterson has hovered around 75 percent of the Vikings’ carries. Additionally, in several of those season he didn’t play a full year. He actually may see closer to 77 percent or 80 percent of the Vikings’ carries this year.
If Minnesota carry the ball one or two more times per game this year compared to last — simply because Peterson is back and is better than what they had to work with last year — the Vikings figure to end the season with around 350 total carries. If Peterson gets 78.5 percent of those carries, he ends with somewhere around 275 carries.
This would mean Peterson would carry the ball about 17 times per game, just under his career average of 19-20 times per game. But that’s about right for a 30-plus year-old back — and remember, we are assuming he’s going to “trade” some carries for catches.
Throughout his entire career, Peterson has averaged 0.42 fantasy points per snap (PPS), and he has averaged 44 snaps per game (a rate that has actually slightly increased over the course of his career).
If we assume an average career year for Peterson in terms of snaps per game and points per snap, it means we can expect Peterson to score about 296 points this season.
If he notches 50 receptions (as previously speculated) at 8.2 yards per reception (his career average), that gives him about 400 receiving yards. Throw in a receiving touchdown or two and Peterson will score about 100 points through the air this year.
If we think he’ll score about 300 fantasy points total, and 100 through the air, that means he’s expected to score about 200 on the ground. 1,250 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns would do the trick.
It’s impossible to know for sure if the year away from football will leave Peterson rejuvenated or rusty, but all of the above projections take the middle ground; they assume an average year for Peterson. The nearly 300 expected fantasy points means Peterson is a very safe bet to finish in the top five among running backs once again.