Adrian Peterson has never been short on confidence. He’s claimed he can rush for 2,500 yards in a season. He’s also driven to do what it take it takes to break the all-time career rushing record, even if it means playing into the next decade if his skills don’t erode.
Always the master of hyperbole, Peterson said he isn’t ready to head back to Texas and tell stories on porch just yet. In fact, just as he has made bold single-season and career-yardage predictions, it would appear that his longevity plans would be at those same unrealistic standards.
How long does A.P. plan on playing?
“If God’s willing, 10 more years,” Peterson said. “If God’s willing, I’ll just be able to walk away from the game at the highest level whenever I decide.”
Peterson came to the NFL with a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove from the outset that he was the best running back in the league and perhaps ever.
Eight years later, he’s done just that, at least with the first part. His ticket to Canton has already been punched. From here on through, he’s only adding to his Hall of Fame numbers. As he prepares to match up against the Next Big Thing – St. Louis running back Todd Gurley – Peterson spoke with the St. Louis media and stated his case for his work ethic and his impressions on Gurley as a young player who went through a similarly devastating knee injury that he has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate.
At age 30, typically running backs hit the wall and decline quickly. Asked if he felt he was still at his peak despite passing the age at which running backs routinely “hit the wall,” Peterson wasn’t shy about saying he’s still the top dog in the NFL.
“I do,” Peterson said. “I feel like I’m back to playing the way that I played – playing fast, physical and smart football. I feel like it’s been a lot of growth since Week 1.”
Gurley was expected to be selected as high in the 2015 draft since Peterson (No. 7 in 2007), but suffered a severe ACL tear Nov. 15, 2014. Less than a year since the injury, not only has Gurley returned, he became the first rookie in NFL history to rush for more than 125 yards in four consecutive games.
He cited Peterson as his motivation for his own rehab and recovery. Peterson said it meant a lot to have other players using his unprecedented timetable as the benchmark for his own recovery. He is appreciative of that, as well as respectful of Gurley’s running style, which, in many ways, is like Peterson’s.
“He’s very impressive,” Peterson said. “I like that aggression – the way he plays, just fast, physical. He’s a determined runner. He does have that combination, that nice blend of power and speed and great vision. He’s been more outstanding this year. I was doing an interview the other day and I was taking my hat off to the young guy for what he’s been able to accomplish thus far, especially coming off a major knee injury.”
With the St. Louis media obsessing on Gurley’s fast start to his career, Peterson remains the template by which all other backs are measured. Mike Zimmer spoke with the St. Louis media, who envision a replication of Peterson in Gurley, and said Gurley has a long way to go because Peterson is on a very short list of the greatest running backs he’s ever seen.
“Emmitt Smith was with us in Dallas when I was there and he is obviously an outstanding back,” Zimmer said. “Adrian is very much in the same category. I don’t like comparing guys, because they’re different players. But Adrian, he really is a Hall of Fame kind of back. The thing I like about him is the violence that he runs with. When he touches the football and he does get in space, he has a chance to go the distance. Any time you can do that, that’s the kind of back you’re looking for. I think he’s definitely in the top two that I’ve been around.”
Gurley is just scratching the surface of where his NFL career is heading. Just as Peterson was able to establish himself as the Vikings’ all-time running back in a relatively short period of time, he has worked hard to maintain the level that made him a star as a rookie and has never stopped since.
His motivation? His insistence on being the best, not just on his team, but in the NFL.
“It’s a lot of pride,” Peterson said. “It’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. People don’t see that. People just see the results. They just see the fruits of your labor. For me, it’s always personal, because I work to be the best ever to do it. I know that there’s young guys and I know that there’s people coming in and there are running backs that look up to me, Marshawn Lynch and guys like that and really take the things that we say seriously and apply themselves the same way. Those are the ones you really have to look out for, you know, (like) Todd Gurley. Those guys will be on your heels. You have to take a lot of pride in being great.”
Many around the Rams organization are looking at the first head-to-head matchup between Gurley and Peterson as being a watershed moment in Gurley’s young career. Just as Peterson established himself as the top running back in the NFL during his rookie season facing the established star backs like LaDainian Tomlinson and Frank Gore, he knows that the bull’s-eye is on him as Gurley looks to take his spot among the elite NFL running backs.
“I know that he’s going to put his best foot forward,” Peterson said. “I remember when I came in and there were backs that I looked up to that I encountered during the season, it was like, ‘Man I want to make sure that I out-do LT or this guy, that guy. I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing and I plan on putting my best foot forward. I can say a little more of effort just because I know this young guy is going to come in here pretty excited to play as well.”
For his part, Gurley is respectful of Peterson and his achievements. While he hopes to replace him someday as the NFL’s premier running back, Gurley understands how high a bar Peterson has set for the next generation of running backs and that his accomplishments will be remembered decades after his playing career is over.
“A guy as great as him, everybody is going to look at him and try to model their game after him,” Gurley said. “There’s only one A.P. He’s the gold standard. You can consider him the best.”