Despite finishing fifth in rushing average and sixth in total rushing yards last year, Adrian Peterson is still considered by many to be the best running back in the NFL. When it comes to running the ball, that's true.
Still, one of the question marks about Peterson's game when he entered the league as a rookie in 2007 remains four years later – how good is he catching the ball out of the backfield? While Peterson ranks among the top players running the ball, he remains ranked near the bottom of running backs catching the ball.
Peterson made a concerted effort to cure fumbling issues – he fumbled more and lost more fumbles than any other non-quarterback in 2009 – and was successful in that improvement venture. In 2010, he lost just one fumble, a pronounced turnaround from the previous season, when he fumbled seven times and lost six. This year, receiving may have to be the focus of his improvement if he is to take that next step to becoming a better and more complete running back.
In a study by the web site Pro Football Focus, the Saints' Pierre Thomas didn't drop any of the 29 catchable passes thrown his way in 2010 and the Ravens' Ray Rice dropped just one of 76 for a 1.32 drop percentage. Peterson wasn't nearly as proficient. Not only did he finish out of the top 10 of the 41 running backs in the study, he finished in the bottom five, dropping six of 42 catchable passes for a drop percentage of 14.29. It is worth noting, however, that Peterson did have 36 receptions last year, despite the drops.
"Reinforcement for the idea that, as good as pure runner as Adrian Peterson is (and there may not be a better one), he still needs to improve on his work in the passing game," Pro Football Focus' Khaled Elsayed wrote. "He finished with the fifth worst percentage of drops, just below Rashard Mendenhall (12.9%) and Jamaal Charles (11.54%)."
Peterson's pass-catching struggles weren't just a one-year trial, either.
Once again, Thomas led the way, dropping only one pass in 112 attempts, according to the PFF study. Over the three-year period from 2008-2010, Peterson actually dropped in the rankings when compared to 2010. For the three-year study, he dropped 19 of 122 passes for a 15.57 drop percentage.
If you are searching for a silver lining, there might be two. The first is that he improved slightly last year compared to his last three years combined. While the percentage is negligible, there are other leading runners that are also struggling to catch the ball consistently, including the king of rushing yards last year, Houston's Arian Foster.
Foster led the league with 1,616 rushing yards in 2010, but he finished 19th among running backs with a 7.04 drop percentage. Despite that flaw, he still received high marks from PFF as a receiving back because of his ability to make defenders miss, a quality Peterson also possesses.
Peterson will continue to be considered one of the best running backs in the league, but to be considered one of the best all-around backs, he will have to improve his pass-receiving skills.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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