Regrets? Six teams wonder what might have been with Peterson
It's a rather exclusive club within the NFL, but by now, there must be a certain exquisite agony shared by the six teams that passed on
They all had their reasons, but you have to wonder these days if they remember exactly what they were as they watch Peterson's weekly geyser of highlights and consider the ever-increasing possibility that they, in effect, selected
The Cleveland Browns, who selected third that year, are just the latest of the six to pay firsthand for their sin of omission. Facing the Browns for the first time last Sunday, on the opening weekend of the NFL's regular season, Peterson gouged them for 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns in Minnesota's 34-20 road win. It marked his fifth 100-yard rushing performance in the eight games he has played against the teams that snubbed him.
Hindsight being 20-20 and all, if we knew then what we know now, the question of whether Peterson should have gone No. 1 overall two years ago elicited a polite collection of "Duhs'' from the NFL sources I spoke to this week.
"The simple answer is I think Adrian Peterson is the best football player in the NFL, so yeah, I don't think there's any doubt he's the No. 1 pick if you could re-do that draft,'' said
That's a mouthful, but the first 33 games of Peterson's NFL career has inspired nothing but lofty declarations. As a rookie in 2007, Peterson burst onto the scene with a 1,341-yard rushing season that earned him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and ranked him second behind only San Diego's
Then came 2008, when Peterson led the league in rushing with 1,760 yards, carried the Vikings to an NFC North title and playoff berth, and started his second consecutive Pro Bowl. After his stellar Week 1 showing of the new season, Peterson is again inspiring a new round of awe and admiration throughout the league.
"Right now it may look a little like Bowie over Jordan, but I don't know anybody in the league who thought he was going to be this good,'' said one long-time NFL personnel man, who's no longer in the business. "He would easily be the first overall pick if you could project backwards, but you can't.''
Let's be honest, Peterson's early NFL experience likely wouldn't have gone quite so smashingly had he not been drafted by Minnesota, which features one of the best offensive lines in the league. And Peterson's situation probably got that much better with the recent addition of
But just in case you've lost track after two full years and one game of their third NFL seasons, let's take stock of where the supposedly superior six players taken ahead of Peterson are in comparison to the NFL's best running back, and maybe its best player, period:
He enjoyed a breakthrough 78-catch, 1,331-yard, 12-touchdown season last year, was named an NFC Pro Bowl alternate, and his career totals of 129 receptions for 2,177 yards and 16 touchdowns in 32 career games (27 starts) are rightfully viewed as outstanding production. Obviously, Detroit has gone playoff-less since drafting Johnson.
Eight times in his 33-game NFL career Adrian Peterson has faced one of the six teams that passed on him in the 2007 NFL Draft. Here's how he has fared against them:
From the league sources I talked to regarding the six picks made before the Vikings selected Peterson, the general consensus is that the first three choices -- Russell, Johnson and Thomas -- are all defensible selections given the factors that each team faced.
Oakland was desperate to find a franchise quarterback, and while it remains to be seen if Russell is someone worth their investment, the Raiders acted upon their conviction that he was. If you believe No. 1 value is there at quarterback, you have to be willing to pull the trigger. Johnson is seen as a truly special player himself, albeit on a bad team. His stock will likely continue to improve even more if the Lions can improve. And Thomas has more than filled the bill for the Browns at one of the game's premium positions, going to a pair of Pro Bowls at the vital left tackle slot and paying instant, if not spectacular, dividends.
It's the other three picks ahead of Peterson -- Gaines to Tampa Bay, Brown to Arizona and Landry to Washington -- that look worse by the minute as Peterson's star continues to find a very select firmament.
"Some of those other players are pretty good players,'' said one veteran personnel man in the AFC. "Particularly Calvin Johnson. He's putting up good numbers on a bad team. He was the highest rated player in that draft. But Gaines Adams, it wasn't close then and it's not close now. And Levi Brown, that's almost laughable. And Arizona needed a running back. They had
"Brown was a good player, but he was not thought of as a great player by any stretch. I don't know how Arizona didn't take [Peterson]. Can you imagine how good that offense would have been last year with Adrian Peterson? You think they might have won the Super Bowl? And I guess Washington didn't take Peterson because they already had [
Two very obvious factors worked against Peterson going higher in the 2007 draft: Teams largely draft for need in the NFL, even at the top of the first round. And Peterson entered the league with legitimate questions about his durability, after suffering a series of injuries at Oklahoma. Peterson had knee and ankle injuries in college, and a broken collarbone cost him six games of his junior season, after which he declared for the NFL Draft.
After Peterson's medical exams at the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2007, there were questions within the league about whether he might require surgery to fully repair his collarbone, which he had aggravated in returning to action in the Sooners bowl game. I learned of those injury concerns and wrote a
"There were teams scared of his injury situation and his running style, without a doubt,'' the AFC personnel man said. "The injury history was significant. So, yeah, he'd be the No. 1 pick today, but at the time, it looked like he had a lot of wear and tear on his tires. Let's face it, in this league the worst thing you can do is really miss on a guy. Sometimes it's better to hit a double than try to hit a home run.
"Now, obviously, it looks like the Vikings have hit a grand slam, but you do have team doctors for a reason. They take football decisions some times and make them easy. You can't really blame a team that didn't take him because they thought he was an injury concern. You can blame them if they took another player who they had rated higher who they shouldn't have had rated higher.''
And don't forget how much need impacted the top of 2007's first round. The Raiders thought they saw the chance to land their franchise quarterback, and waited until 2008 to fill their running back need with first-rounder
Cleveland had just signed free-agent running back
Then again, the Vikings didn't have a need for Peterson either. They had signed ex-Raven
"I give the Vikings a ton of credit for taking him even after signing Chester Taylor,'' said Mayock, who serves as the color analyst on Minnesota's preseason telecasts. "The tendency is to say, 'We have a tailback, so let's look at another need.' But the Vikings said, 'Wait a minute now. This kid is special, and he has a chance to be dominant.' That's rare.
"You can play running back by committee in this league and find guys down in the third or fourth round. But with Peterson, everything you saw on tape you see now in the league. The warrior mentality, the toughness of his running style. The only question about the kid was his injuries.''
The team that the Vikings feared the most when it came to potentially spoiling their plans to take Peterson at No. 7 was Arizona. But the Cardinals were desperate for an offensive tackle that draft season, and sources say Arizona assistant head coach/offensive line coach
Interestingly, but perhaps not tellingly, five of the six teams that picked ahead of Minnesota have undergone coaching changes -- and in some cases, general manager changes -- since passing on Peterson. Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Washington all have new head coaches since then, and Arizona's
Former Browns general manager
"We felt like we needed a quarterback because we didn't know what we had at that point in Derek Anderson and
Savage acknowledges that some within the Browns organization saw Peterson as an injury risk, and the decision came down to playing it safer rather than being sorry at some later date.
"Is Peterson spectacular? Absolutely,'' Savage said. "But he's a running back, so you just don't know. There were injury questions, and maybe over-riding all of this was that we were coming off a year when we lost [center]
"It's easy to sit here and say Adrian Peterson was the obvious pick, but there were a lot of moving parts. He might be able to defy the odds, but he does take a lot of pounding. We'll see how long he can last.''
Even if Peterson's NFL career winds up being more of a shooting star than a slow-burning flame, league sources say the Vikings' pick will be worth if it he leads the franchise to that elusive Super Bowl championship. Titles justify almost all in the NFL.
But as one league source who lauds Minnesota's foresight cautions: "The jury's still out on this thing. I hope the guy is around 10 years. But it's too early to pass judgment. Remember the