When the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson in 2007, the expectation was that he would be the greatest running back in the history of the Vikings. He accomplished that goal in the first game of his sixth season in 2012.
But Peterson's goals were much higher than that. His sights weren't set on the Vikings' all-time leader Robert Smith. They were set on another Smith – all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith.
Peterson, who turned 29 in March, is more than halfway to his goal with 10,115 rushing yards and is currently ranked 27th on the all-time rushing list. But, with a typical Peterson season in 2014, he could checker jump a lot of players – many of whom are Hall of Famers. There will be times where players fall to Peterson on almost a weekly basis – perhaps even more than one in the same game.
As A.P. continues his pursuit of the ultimate prize among NFL running backs, his ascent up the charts has been nothing short of shocking pace. Peterson entered the 2013 season in 35th place on the all-time rushing list. He enters 2014 in 27th place on the all-time list, having passed Ahman Green, Earl Campbell, Shaun Alexander, Joe Perry, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Ricky Williams – all impressive franchise running backs with long careers and cemented legends for the teams they spent most or all of their careers with.
The only active player still in front of Peterson is Steven Jackson, who is near the end of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Jackson is currently in 20th place all-time with 10,678 career rushing yards – 563 yards ahead of Peterson. While there is no question that Jackson will eventually become someone in Peterson's rearview mirror, he's the only one who still has his career meter running.
Passing seven of the game's best running backs was impressive last year, but Peterson is preparing to pass a lot of players who have longevity and career-achievement awards for the franchises they made their legacy with. If Peterson has a 1,000-yard season, he will go from 27th to the top 20. Depending on what Jackson does in 2014, if Peterson has the kind of 1,500-yard season he expects, he could pass 10 or more legends on his climb.
What will it take?
No. 26 – Ottis Anderson (ahead of Peterson by 158 yards)
No. 25 – Eddie George (326)
No. 24 – Tiki Barber (334)
No. 23 – Thomas Jones (476)
No. 22 – Jamal Lewis (492)
No. 21 – Ricky Watters (528)
No. 20 – Steven Jackson (563)
No. 19 – Warrick Dunn (852)
No. 18 – O.J. Simpson (1,121)
No. 17 – Corey Dillon (1,126)
No. 16 – John Riggins (1,237)
No. 15 – Fred Taylor (1,580)
It will take time for Peterson to continue his climb up the all-time charts, but once he hits the top 15, there are only Hall of Famers in his path. It's a "who's who" list including Thurman Thomas (12,074), Franco Harris (12,120), Marcus Allen (12,243), Edgerrin James (12,246), Marshall Faulk (12,279), Jim Brown (12,312), Tony Dorsett (12,739), Eric Dickerson (13,259), Jerome Bettis (13,662), LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684), Curtis Martin (14,101), Barry Sanders (15,269), Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355).
If Peterson gains 3,000 yards over the next two seasons, he will enter the Vikings new stadium in eighth place on the all-time rushing list with the opportunity to make it into the top four by the end of the 2016 season.
Since his first training camp in 2007, the Vikings have known they had one of the greatest running backs ever. It didn't take long for those with any football acumen to arrive fashionably late to the party – about Week 2 of his rookie season. Since then, he's been laying the masonry to a shrine that has been impressive – especially in terms of the lack of longevity it has taken him to surpass legendary backs.
Will he get to Emmitt? Don't doubt it. But there are some high hurdles in front of him and it may take seven more years to add to what he's done in his first seven to get the job done.
Whether he gets there or not, it's time to start recognizing what we've seen and what is still to come. Nobody else will ever wear No. 28 for the Vikings and, from the looks of things, bust-makers for the Hall of Fame may as well start getting busy.
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.
Peterson's climb to the top continues in 2014
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