With the season ending injury to rookie Derrius Guice and the subsequent injuries to back-ups Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall the Redskins were desperate for running back help. Enter Adrian Peterson, one of the best running backs of all-time, and a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer when he retires. Peterson has seven 1,000 yard seasons in his career, including leading the league in rushing three separate times, with the most recent coming in 2015. Overall he has amassed 12,276 yards and 99 touchdowns in his 11 year career. The question though for the Redskins though is what can they expect from him in year 12.
Though Peterson did lead the league in rushing just three seasons ago, he’s also struggled to stay healthy and be productive since then. Over the past two seasons he has played in just 13 games, missing 13 weeks in 2016 with a torn meniscus and groin strain injuries. Peterson was traded during the year last season losing one game due to an extra bye week and 5 more at the end of the year due to a neck injury. In the 13 games he did play, Peterson didn’t do much on the field to get excited about. He managed just 601 yards and two touchdowns on 193 carries (3.11 ypc) over the past two years combined.
Peterson though has been written off before, and bounced back to show the league he was still a major threat on the ground. Though the last two years were largely forgettable for Peterson, he did have two strong games last season with over 100 yards rushing and a yards per carry average over 4.00. Peterson against the Buccaneers and 49ers last year showed that he hadn’t fully lost it and he could still have some big games.
The biggest concern for Peterson might be how one dimensional he has become. Though never a big pass catching back, Peterson was at least okay early in his career as a receiver. Now his involvement and production in the passing game is minimal, and it becomes a bit of a “tell” to the defense as to what is coming. At times that can help set up a big play action pass, but most times he’s going to liability when you try to throw with him on the field. That is something the Saints saw with Peterson a year ago, when defenses essentially knew what was coming when he was on the field. New Orleans offense was far more effective with either Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara on the field. With defenses stacking the box when he’s out there, it could hurt his rushing production as well. Peterson is known as a guy who is a volume back, and when he was in his prime it made sense to give him the ball 25-40 times a game. Now though that isn’t too advisable and it’s definitely not the strength of the Redskins offense, which is built to win through the air.
Beyond his limitations in the passing game, Peterson isn’t the best fit for what the Redskins do on the ground either. The Redskins still typically run a lot of zone running plays and concepts, but that has never been Peterson’s game. Peterson is more of a downhill runner, who runs more from a power offense approach. The Redskins could tweak their offense some, but then it would further tell the defense what to expect and it wouldn’t be as interchangeable when a guy like Chris Thompson is on the field.
With the Redskins Peterson isn’t expected to necessarily be the full-time feature back as the Redskins are likely to find some committee approach to carries, especially early in the season. Chris Thompson and either Kapri Bibbs or Byron Marshall should handle most of the 3rd down work and a fair share of the passing game involvement. Peterson and either Perine or Rob Kelley figure to get most of the early down, and short yardage work.
What can the Redskins really expect from Peterson in that type of role? Peterson will likely end up with the most carries on the team, but since it could be split 4 or 5 ways it could end up being under 200 carries. If the Redskins offensive line is healthy, Peterson should hopefully be able to improve his rushing production on his carries, but it probably won’t be above 4.0 ypc. Though Peterson has struggled to find the end zone the last two years, one area he could be a major help is in the Red Zone. For the last three years Kirk Cousins was first on the team in rushing TDs in 2015 and 2017 and 2nd on the team in 2016. That has to change as the Redskins need some sort of rushing threat in that area. This is also where the play action could be the most effective as defenses will gear up to stop Peterson inside the 10 yard line and it could leave someone wide open.
It’s easy to write off Adrian Peterson that he won’t be able to help the Redskins, but that likely ignores just how bad of a situation that the Redskins were currently facing. Peterson’s rushing production should be an upgrade over what the Redskins had a year ago (though likely well below the expectation of Guice). It will only going to pay off though, if it doesn’t negatively impact the offense elsewhere. The Redskins need to make sure that Peterson doesn’t become a liability to their play calling, or he isn’t taking away snaps from a more dynamic player like Thompson. Peterson can be a positive addition for the Redskins, but expectations should be tempered as they are likely to still have a bottom tier rushing attack this season.