As the NFL has tried to stretch the interest level of fans from a four-month sport into a year-round pastime, the intelligence of the fans is being tested.
Of course the NFL is the most popular sport in the nation, as the league's numerous releases about television ratings would back, but with the 12-month interest comes increased pressure for reporters to write about the sport on a 365-day basis. It seems some just can't help themselves. That stretches from the local products to the national level.
NFL Network only contributes to a vicious cycle with its annual tradition of naming the top 100 players and several variations of incessant lists ranging from most overrated to underrated and comeback possibilities. The betting community also gets involved with futures odds on everything from the coming year's MVP to over-under proposition bets on yardage totals, sack totals and just about anything to which their impressive numbers-crunchers can attach a bet.
Locally, the Vikings have been attached to a few of those story-stretchers. Will Adrian Peterson be named the best player in the league? Even Peterson didn't think he would be named the best player because of what Peyton Manning accomplished last year, but of course he had to be asked about it recently. It was just one of countless questions players are posed that fall under the category of "What do you expect them to say?"
Kyle Rudolph knows the feeling.
"A couple weeks ago there was an article where I said I want to be the best tight end," Rudolph said in April. "What do you expect me to say? That's the goal."
For players that have that kind of potential, of course it should be the goal. And with the mentality of an NFL player, many of them do feel they are best. In some cases, they actually are.
But then when they answer that way it generates headlines. First locally. Then the bloggers get into the act, repeating and regurgitating the headlines with their slant on the topic. And the NFL's media products weigh in with their own analysts, some of them former scouts.
But think about it: In some cases, the NFL analysts are weighing in on stories that the NFL started with their own lists. It's a seemingly never-ending cycle of starting a list, getting player reaction, reacting to the reaction and recycling the list. As the Sam Adams commercial would say, "BRILLIANT!" Well, brilliant if page views are the only goal rather than actually informing the fan. Go ahead with the lists, and even the analysis on them. It can be a (sometimes) interesting way to keep the NFL offseason talk advancing, but, please, don't put took much stock, shock or angst in a player giving an opinion on where he ranked … or might rank. It's really wasted breath, because … well, what should you really expect them to say.
In Rudolph's case, he knows he still has a lot to prove. He fractured his foot last year and couldn't complete the season. And he doesn't have the established quarterbacks that fellow tight ends like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski or whichever other tight end someone might place atop their list. Still, Rudolph has reasons for his hope of topping that list someday.
"You look at this offense and the way (offensive coordinator Norv Turner) uses the tight end, I got here right away and got into the playbook, trying to get as familiar with it as possible because the sky is the limit in this offense," Rudolph said. "He has such a unique mind for not only that position but everyone in our offense. I feel like we have a lot of weapons in that locker room and he knows how to use everybody and he knows how to get the ball in everybody's hands. I'm excited and I can't wait to get going."
Rudolph should be excited, and so should nearly every player on offense. But Rudolph shouldn't be taken to task for having the self-confidence to say he can be one of the top tight ends in the league. He can. This isn't some third-rate tight end trying to create headlines. Under the right circumstance, Rudolph really could have a breakout year, just as Jordan Cameron came out of nowhere last year for a 917-yard output with Turner running the Browns offense.
And why wouldn't Peterson think he's the best back in the league, even if LeSean McCoy tried to lay claim to that title with his words – and his league-leading 1,607 yards rushing last year. Peterson has indicated McCoy doesn't really believe he is the best back in the league and just said that because he was asked about it.
Really, it doesn't matter. The Eagles should be thrilled with the possibilities with McCoy, but Peterson has bigger goals than being the best running back in the league at this time, or of all-time. No, Peterson, the only back to lead the league in rushing yards twice since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007, wants to be the best player in NFL history.
"It's always something that drives you. The number one drive for me is winning a ring. That's my number one drive. And then after that, it trickles down," he said in an extensive interview for the Vikings Yearbook. "Being the best running back. Being the best player to play. With that, being able to break (Emmitt Smith's all-time) records, too. Those type of things give you the landmarks to reach and conquer this and conquer that. That's what keeps guys going, especially the ones that want it. There are a lot of guys that are satisfied with just coming in, playing five or six years, eight years, and getting paid. I want to be remembered."
Peterson will be remembered, as one of the best running backs to play the game – maybe ever – even if he isn't listed as the top player in this year's top 100.
Even so, expect him to be asked about that expected perceived slight, and then for that reaction to generate headlines. And, eventually, training camp, preseason and the regular will be here and topics that really matter – like, you know, the games – can actually be discussed. In the meantime, fine-tune your filter for those simply trolling for clicks over substance.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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