The Peterson Draft Effect

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wowed the league and its fans with a quick start to his rookie year. This year, another flashy runner enters the draft with heavy praise, but can Darren McFadden live up to the post-Peterson hype?

One of the by-products of taking an extraordinary talent in the draft is that, in subsequent years, teams and fans alike search for the "next" whoever. In the years following the drafting of Randy Moss, teams routinely took tall, fast receivers hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Almost all of them failed.

In the first draft "post-Adrian Peterson," the same problem is emerging. Talented Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is being compared to A.D. for the type of impact he can have on the game. That just isn't accurate or fair to either one. While there's no questioning Peterson's strength and speed, McFadden checks in at 6-2, 205 – a wicked combination of good height and light weight. If 2007 is any indicator, whoever gets McFadden may not be making comparisons to Peterson any longer.

The big, strong back is in vogue in the NFL. Take a look at the heights and weights of the top 20 rushers in the NFL last season. The similarities are evident.:

1. Ladainian Tomlinson (5-10, 221); 2. Adrian Peterson (6-1, 220); 3. Brian Westbrook (5-10, 205); 4. Willie Parker (5-10, 210); 5. Jamal Lewis (5-11, 245); 6. Clinton Portis (5-11, 220); 7. Edgerrin James (6-0, 220); 8. Willis McGahee (6-0, 232); 9. Fred Taylor (6-1, 228); 10. Thomas Jones (5-10, 215); 11. Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215); 12. LenDale White (6-1, 235); 13. Frank Gore (5-9, 223); 14. Joseph Addai (5-11, 214); 15. Justin Fargas (6-1, 220); 16. Brandon Jacobs (6-4, 264); 17. Steven Jackson (6-1, 231); 18. Marion Barber (6-0, 221); 19. Ryan Grant (6-1, 224); 20. Earnest Graham (5-9, 225)

Of the runners on that list, it seems clear that successful NFL running backs – at least now anyway – are 6-1 or under and 220 pounds or heavier. A player like Peterson, who is 6-1, 220, has a much thicker frame to absorb punishment. Runners that are too tall or too sleight are much more liable to be sidelined due to injury.

Referring back to the list, of the top 20 rushers in 2007, only three of them weighed less than 215 pounds – Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker and Joseph Addai. Parker and Addai were both injured during the season and Westbrook has missed time due to injury almost every year of his career. The only player taller than 6-1 in that group is Brandon Jacobs, who also missed time due to injury. The more accurate comparison for McFadden would be closer to that of Reggie Bush, who has also missed time in both of his first two seasons due to injury.

While McFadden potentially can be a great NFL running back and can probably gain 10 more pounds of muscle without losing too much speed, he's going to be a player that may never be viewed as a legitimate 20-25 carry-a-game guy. And some have the Dolphins thinking about him. Fortunately for the Vikings, they aren't in the market for a first-round running back. For whichever team drafts McFadden, the flash will be there, but will he have the ability to be the focus of the offense for 16 games? The numbers would point to "no" on that subject.


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