In his first two seasons, Peterson has averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game, joining Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell as the only runners in NFL history to accomplish that feat. In those 30 games, he has averaged 20 carries per game and has 23 touchdowns to show for it.
While his body of work is impressive, what is more frightening for opponents is what he has been able to accomplish on a regular game-in, game-out basis. As a rookie in 2007, Peterson had more than 20 carries just twice, yet had six games with more than 100 yards rushing and two games in which he set franchise records – rushing for 226 yards against the Bears and, less than a month later, establishing a new NFL record with 296 rushing yards against San Diego. If not for a knee injury suffered against the Packers in the ninth game of the season, his totals would likely have been much higher. In his final four games after returning from the injury, he had just 54 carries for 144 yards – less than three yards a carry. Even so, he finished his rookie season with 238 carries for 1,341 yards in 14 games with promises of bigger things to come in his second season.
He backed up that prediction with deeds. After rushing more than 20 times just twice as a rookie, A.D. had more than 20 carries 11 times in 2008, including each of the last five games. He had 100 yards rushing or more in 10 of 16 games and had 80 or more rushing yards in 13 of those. He was held under 75 yards rushing in just one game and the Vikings won that one with a 30-27 victory at New Orleans. When all was said and done, he had 363 carries – an average of almost 23 carries a game – for 1,760 yards (a 110-yard average) and 10 touchdowns.
The standard that Peterson has set is nothing short of amazing. At his current pace, Peterson will finish the 2009 season with more than 4,600 rushing yards. In just two seasons, he is already ninth on the Vikings all-time rushing list. He needs just 74 yards to pass Michael Bennett into eighth place on the all-time list. And 152 yards will move him past Tommy Mason in seventh. With 1,131 yards, he moves into sixth place, surpassing Darrin Nelson. With 1,220 yards, he passes Dave Osborn for fifth. And, if he can gain 1,546 yards this season, he will sit alone in fourth place, passing Ted Brown.
By 2010, he will likely pass Bill Brown (5,757 yards) and Chuck Foreman (5,879). The only goal that may not be within reach over the next two years is Robert Smith's franchise-leading total of 6,818 yards. It should be noted that it took Smith eight years to amass his total and Peterson, if he stays healthy, could eclipse that in less than five.
While it's clear that Vikings fans love No. 28, what he has been able to accomplish is nothing less than astounding. All of the other players in the top 10 career rushing total needed a minimum of five seasons to get there and most of them took markedly longer. Peterson could find himself in fourth place on the career list in just three seasons and pass players along the way in considerably less time.
Although the media continues to harp about what a difference Favre could make with the Vikings, the reality of the situation is far simpler. Peterson is the focus of the offense and whether the QB is Favre, Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson, that simple fact isn't going to change.