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Vikings' decision in '07 to look past Peterson's injury looks genius now


Given the likelihood that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson would be selected No. 1 overall, were the 2007 NFL draft rerun tomorrow, it hardly seems like much of a nail-biting, big-boy decision to grab him up with the seventh pick that year.

Rick Spielman even suggested as much when I asked him to break down the Vikings' selection of the player who, after two short seasons, ranks as the league's best at his position. "There wasn't much of a thought process once Peterson was there at seven,'' Minnesota's vice president of player personnel said.

It's the breezy and politically correct answer now, particularly if Peterson happens to read or hear it, for it suggests that the swift yet punishing back already likened by SI's Peter King to Walter Payton was a no-brainer sitting there on April 28, 2007, after six others' names had been called. Turns out, when all the spinning plates, rotating tumblers and hovering question marks of your typical NFL draft are accounted for, Peterson's selection was very much a brainer.

As talented and drool-worthy as Peterson was coming out of Oklahoma that spring, there was a looming durability issue. Each of his last two seasons had been shortened by injuries; a high-ankle sprain as a sophomore, followed by a broken collarbone on a jubilant dive into the end zone the following year. That made some scouts wonder if Peterson ever would approach the numbers he put up with the Sooners -- 4,045 rushing yards, 747 carries, 41 touchdowns -- as a pro.

"The biggest thing with Adrian coming out was the collarbone concerns,'' Spielman said. "I don't think it was anything with the ability part, but it was, 'Coming in, are you going to have to have surgery for him right away? Is that collarbone going to break the first time he gets hit in the preseason?' Those are all the 'if' factors that you're gambling on a little bit.''

The Vikings might have been inclined, too, to stick one of their draft-board "red dots'' on Peterson for character concerns, if going solely by his father Nelson's eight-year term in prison for dealing drugs. But they were convinced by research and direct contact that wasn't passed via DNA -- Minnesota running backs coach Eric Bieniemy had tried to recruit Peterson to UCLA while working on the Bruins staff, developing a relationship from sunny California that paid dividends four years later in the Upper Midwest.

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Eventually, the Vikings also got over any medical doubts, both from his past or potential ones in his future suggested by the tailback's upright, hit-seeking running style.

"[Durability] wasn't an issue as far as I was concerned,'' sniffed senior consultant and "trainer for life'' Fred Zamberletti Thursday.

"Gut feeling,'' is how Spielman described the organization's final verdict. "Sometimes it's just a gut feeling. And we do everything where it's fully discussed. Myself and Brad [Childress, Vikings head coach], we'll sit down and go through, 'Are we willing to take the risk or not?' And if we are, and that's what's best for the Minnesota Vikings, that's what we'll do.''

All that was left, then, was for Peterson to last long enough. The first four selections that day were quarterback JaMarcus Russell to Oakland, receiver Calvin Johnson to Detroit, offensive tackle Joe Thomas to Cleveland and defensive end Gaines Adams to Tampa Bay. (That last one despite former Bucs coach Jon Gruden's draftsmanship tout of Peterson as perhaps "the best back I've ever seen coming out of college.'') Spielman had been worried about the Browns but quickly shifted his fretting to Arizona at No. 5. The Cardinals coveted Peterson but had a pressing need along their offensive line, so they took Penn State's Levi Brown.

"Once he got past Arizona,'' Spielman said, "Washington was No. 6 and we were calculating that they didn't need a running back because they had [Clinton] Portis and they had [Ladell] Betts. ... You try to weigh out what teams are going to do in front of you, what teams could potentially jump you. Washington ended up taking [LSU safety LaRon] Landry.''

There are those who will tell you that the Vikings would have taken Landry themselves, if the Redskins had passed. Of course, neither Spielman nor Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, sitting next to his personnel man that day in the draft room, will admit to that now. "I don't know if you want to call it a relief [that Peterson fell to No. 7], but I know Zygi was extremely excited about it,'' Spielman said.

What's not to like, given Peterson's 3,101 rushing yards in two seasons (including a league-best 201,760 in 2008), his 23 touchdowns, the NFL-record 296 yards he ran for as a rookie against San Diego, and his charisma and spotless off-field record.

The only sweaty palms lately in picking Adrian Peterson (or not) came Friday, when he was one of nine finalists vying to be named cover guy of the Madden NFL '10 video game. Let's just say that the six players chosen ahead of him in April 2007 were not among those nine finalists.