Hindsight, as four out of five cliché-addled optometrists will tell you, is always 20/20.
When the Vikings got Adrian Peterson with the seventh pick in last year's draft, those of us at Viking Update were thrilled. The team we were covering was getting a talent that could single-handedly change games. From the Vikings' perspective, that hadn't happened since 1998, when the stars aligned to allow Randy Moss to drop 20 picks farther than he should have and land squarely in the lap of Minnesota fans looking for a playmaker like they saw wearing other uniforms. Peterson was one of those players.
But there was a reason Moss fell on draft day. He had baggage that he brought with him – a dark cloud of suspicion that made owners, head coaches and general managers ask themselves whether he was worth the risk of taking high in the first round. By the time the Vikings were on the clock, 19 teams had passed on him – ironically, the police blotter-laden Cincinnati Bengals passed on him twice. Moss was a bad seed, or so the story went. At that time in that place, Moss was persona non grata and the Vikings were the beneficiary.
A decade later, the Vikings got another such gift – tied nicely by the six teams that passed on Adrian Peterson and made Minnesota's choice about as easy as it could be. The difference between Moss and Peterson? There were no questions about Peterson's character. A collarbone injury was all that stood between A.D. being the first pick or the seventh pick. At the time, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we projected Peterson being the Vikings' first-round pick. We were able to justify his slide to No. 7. A year later, we find it hard for any of the teams that picked in front of the Vikings to make their case.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Oakland would take QB JaMarcus Russell with the first overall selection. The Raiders didn't disappoint. However, the Raiders didn't have a deal worked out prior to draft day and the result was brutal – Russell held out until October and his rookie season was over before it had a chance to begin. Rumors that Russell ballooned to 300 pounds in the offseason didn't do anything to justify his commitment to the team or him being a true franchise quarterback. Even if you stink with the franchise tag placed upon you, if you gave your best effort, the organization couldn't ask for much more. Russell has yet to show that.
Detroit stepped up next and took wide receiver Calvin Johnson. While Johnson could turn out to be a tremendous pro – we had him rated as a true difference-maker – the complicated Mike Martz-run offense didn't match his style. While Martz is out of Detroit now and bringing his 500-page playbook to San Francisco, there was no way of knowing that in April 2007. The plan was for the Lions to be a playoff contender. Taking a wide receiver – regardless of his talent – didn't seem like a glove fit. Johnson may turn out to be a perennial Pro Bowler, but passing on Peterson – especially in light of the injury problems Kevin Jones was already experiencing – was a mistake.
Cleveland came next. While there is no questioning that OT Joe Thomas lived up to expectations, the Browns would have been a division champion if they had drafted Peterson. The combination of A.D. with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow would have been a mighty trifecta. As much promise as the Browns have heading into 2008, having Peterson in the backfield would have pushed them even higher up in the pecking order to knock the Patriots off their perch atop the AFC.
Next up was Tampa Bay at No. 4. As much as Jon Gruden loved Cadillac Williams, he knew he had damaged goods on his hands. However, the investment the Bucs made in Williams two years earlier made it almost impossible for Tampa Bay to pay the price it would take to pay top five overall picks to play the same position. Hindsight as our guide now and Williams perhaps never playing again, that proved to be a mistake.
At No. 5, Arizona may have made the biggest blunder. One year into the Edgerrin James era, the Cards knew what they had – a running back with a lot of miles on the tires who can carry the ball 20-25 times a game, but not a gamebreaker who is going to electrify the fan base. While the team spent heavily on offensive talent – QB Matt Leinart and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin – drafting Peterson would have made the Cardinals the NFC West champs. They didn't and, although OT Levi Brown may turn out to be a very good pro, they paid the price.
Perhaps the most culpable – at the time and with the benefit of hindsight – were the Redskins. While it was unlikely the ‘Skins were going to draft Peterson because they already had invested a fortune in Clinton Portis, Washington had just one pick in the first five rounds. A team anywhere outside of Minnesota could have traded up and offered multiple mid-round picks to get the Redskins off of No. 6. Whether no offers came or the asking price was too high, Washington took safety LaRon Landry and didn't pick again until the 143rd selection. While most of us don't have a quarrel with the pick, there is cause for pause as to why they didn't trade out to a team that was in need of a player with Peterson's skills.
What makes the draft scenario even sweeter for Vikings fans happened over the past few days. Peterson took part in a pair of events – one in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, and the other in Norman, Okla., his adopted hometown where he electrified fans of the University of Oklahoma. At the same time other players are taking time for themselves, Peterson provided memories that will last a lifetime for hundreds of children. He didn't do it because he was obligated to do so. He did it because that is the person he is.
Over the past couple of days, a lot of writers have tried to set the scene as to the impact Peterson's presence in both Texas and Oklahoma had on the kids who look up to him as a role model. The effectiveness of their messages varied, but the one common thread running through it all was that there were a lot of kids going to sleep knowing they had been in the presence of greatness – not just on the field, but off the field as well.
As much as we agreed the drafting of Peterson when it happened, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we now know the Minnesota Vikings got much than just a great football player. Fans got a great human being – one that might be the key to getting legislators to approve a new stadium to make sure Peterson's ascent to the podium to hoist a Super Bowl trophy doesn't happen for the Los Angeles Vikings. Players like A.D. come around once every few years. Heroes are much fewer. The Vikings got one and 31 other teams didn't. It's rare when you can say that and all you have to back it up is 20/20 hindsight.
Commentary: Vikings Got Greatness in Peterson
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