However, in less than six years in the league, a case can be made that Peterson has been one of the most dominant backs in the history of game, especially considering that he plays an era dominated by passing yards, not rushing yards.
Since Peterson joined the league in 2007, no team has more rushing yards than the Vikings' 12,076 – 381 more than the Carolina Panthers. They are tied with Carolina for best average gain per rush (4.7 yards) in the span and the Vikings (largely Peterson) lead the Panthers by 13 carries of 10 yards or more – 354 for the Vikings , 341 for Carolina.
A total of 81 games into his career, he has already shattered the half-century of Vikings' individual records. In Week 1, he passed Robert Smith for the all-time rushing lead and already has him more than 700 yards into the rearview mirror. Last week, he set the record for career 100-yard rushing games with 30, breaking Smith's old record of 29. He owns four of the top five career rushing seasons and is currently on pace for 1,550 yards, which would be the second-highest single season in franchise history. He has four of the top five franchise single-game rushing records, including the NFL record of 296 yards vs. San Diego in 2007. Seven times the Vikings have had a player rush for 12 or more touchdowns in a season and Peterson accounts for four of them (Chuck Foreman has two and Terry Allen has the other). With 94 combined yards Sunday, he will pass Randy Moss for third place on the all-time franchise list (Moss has 9,496 combined yards) and is just 962 yards short of Darrin Nelson (9,496) and just 3,007 yards of Cris Carter's once-thought-to-be-untouchable franchise record of 12,410 yards.
While Peterson has monopolized the Vikings franchise rushing records, in terms of dominance in his era, there is no questioning that Peterson is the pre-eminent running back of his time. Since joining the NFL in 2007, not only does he lead the league in rushing yards (7,527), nobody else is within 1,200 yards of him – second is injured Maurice Jones-Drew with 6,327. His 68 rushing touchdowns is 14 more than second-place Michael Turner. His 71 total touchdowns are 11 more than Jones-Drew, who remains second. His average of 93 yards a game is more five yards a game better than second-place Chris Johnson. There are different players in many of the rushing categories, but only one guy in first place in all them – Peterson.
He may already be a Hall of Famer based on the dominance over the peers of his own era, but, when used in a comparative basis against the all-time leading rushers, Peterson is moving his way up those lists as well. When the 2012 season began, Peterson was already in 62nd place on the all-time rushing list. In the first eight games of the season, he has worked his way up to 49th on the all-time list. If he replicates his numbers from the first half of the season, he will end 2012 in 36th place on the all-time list, passing players like Priest Holmes, Larry Csonka, Roger Craig and Herschel Walker.
But perhaps the best measuring stick is comparing Peterson across the lines with the most prolific running backs of all time. With 7,527 rushing yards, Peterson currently ranks 14th all-time in that category, but legends are going to be falling on almost a weekly basis that will likely have Peterson in seventh place on the all-time list for this stage of his career. He needs just 105 yards to pass Thurman Thomas, 189 to pass Clinton Portis, 194 to pass Edgerrin James, 228 to catch overtake Curtis Martin, 287 to pass Eddie George and 291 to pass Shaun Alexander. If he does that, he would clearly cement himself in pretty elite company.
Of the top six players on this list, five of them are already in the Hall of Fame and the other will be inducted on the first ballot he becomes eligible – Eric Dickerson (9,915), LaDainian Tomlinson (9,176), Emmitt Smith (8,956), Barry Sanders (8,672), Walter Payton (8,386) and Earl Campbell (8,296).
If there is a downside to Peterson's quest for Canton it is that, of the legends on that list, only two of them (Smith and Payton) played in a Super Bowl and Payton didn't do until the tail end of his career. Super Bowls enhance a player's chance of making the Hall of Fame, which explains why a player like Lynn Swann, who never had a 1,000-yard receiving season in his career, is in the Hall of Fame.
Swann may be the poster boy example of how team success enhances Hall of Fame credentials. Swann is 198th on the all-time receiving yardage list with 5,462 yards and will almost surely be passed by Vincent Jackson (5,380) and Brandon Lloyd (5,219) by season's end – dropping him to 200th – and likely would have been passed by Nate Burleson (5,169). In time, Swann's ranking will be dwarfed, but already trails players with no chance of getting into the Hall of Fame unless they buy a ticket to get in. Swann trails such trivia answers as Chris Burford, Vance Johnson, Dan Abramowicz, Jessie Hester, Louis Lipps, Sean Dawkins, Carlos Carson, Quinn Early, Marty Booker, Darnay Scott, Brian Blades, Haven Moses, Curtis Conway, Carroll Dale, Laveranues Coles, Eddie Kennison and Ricky Proehl, former Vikings Anthony Carter, John Gilliam, Jake Reed, Derrick Alexander, Sammy White, Steve Jordan and Ahmad Rashad and running backs Marshall Faulk, Larry Centers, Ronnie Harmon, Keith Byars and Eric Metcalf. Clearly team success and big postseason games got Swann into the Hall and overshadowed his pedestrian overall production.
Peterson still has a ways to go in order to kick in the door at Canton, but, given his dominance and production, it could be argued that if A.P. decided to "pull a Jim Brown" and walk away from the game tomorrow, he has put up enough numbers to be a Hall of Famer. It would seem it's only going to be a matter of time before Peterson has piled enough yardage to cement his induction, but Vikings fans should enjoy what they have now, because they're able to witness it while it still going on at a high level. Some feared A.P. wouldn't be the same following his horrific knee injury last year, but his renaissance season and miraculous comeback start making you think that there is a lot gas left in the tank and, by the time all is said and done, his Hall of Fame induction will be a mere formality.
VIKINGS-SEAHAWKS BY THE NUMBERS
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.