Adrian Peterson is back in Vikings purple. The 30-year-old former MVP returned to team OTAs this week after an off-season standoff that followed his suspension for child abuse charges, which ultimately cost him the final 15 games of the 2014 season. The early buzz from the team is that Peterson has shown no signs of rust after a long layoff from football, and many expect the Vikings to contend for the playoffs if he returns to his old dominant self. But as Peterson prepares for his ninth season, will he ever again be his old dominant self? The writers and editors of SI.com's NFL staff set the over/under for Peterson's 2015 season at 1,200 rushing yards and made their picks.
Don Banks: Take the over and let it ride. There are precious few absolutes in the NFL, but betting against Adrian Peterson is a move only the foolhardy would make when it comes to his on-field performance. Be it in his race to 2,000 yards rushing in 2012 or his ACL surgery rehabilitation schedule earlier that same year, Peterson has proven himself one of those rare athletes who seems immune to the standards and expectations that apply to everyone else.
Watch out, NFL. Peterson now has a cause in the form of his comeback. After missing all but one game last season in the wake of child abuse charges, Peterson will be supremely motivated to make up for lost time this year, and his MVP year of 2012 reminds us of what an energized Peterson is capable of. I fully expect we’ll see the highly-driven “All Day” version of Peterson in the Vikings backfield this season, with him bent on proving he’s still the league’s most elite running back and that hitting age 30 won’t translate into his game hitting the wall.
With the Vikings and second-year head coach Mike Zimmer having quickly built a potential playoff contender around him, look for Peterson to elevate his performance accordingly, adding the big-play ground game threat that will serve to make defenses even more wary and respectful of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s right arm. While Peterson clearly lost in his long and eventful stand-off with the Vikings organization this offseason, failing to huff and puff his way out of town, that will be his only real setback this year. Both he and Minnesota look locked and loaded for a successful 2015.
Chris Burke: Over. Take it to the bank.
Of Peterson's eight NFL seasons, he has failed to top the 1,200-yard plateau just twice—in 2011, when he missed three games with an ankle sprain and later blew out his knee, and 2014. He reached that mark in both 2013 and 2011 despite playing fewer than 16 regular-season games.
The risk of another injury may be heightened a bit by his age (30) and the fact that he essentially sat out an entire season, but a healthy Peterson still has to be counted as an elite running back. Better yet, he's returning to a Vikings team that's far superior to the one he last saw. With Teddy Bridgewater and his receivers capable of beating teams through the air, Peterson will find more room to maneuver. Peterson has time to build a rapport with Bridgewater after rejoining the team this week, a move that eliminates any urge the Vikings might have to ease him into things come September.
Rested and motivated, Peterson's set up for a huge year. If Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata can combine for 1,100-plus yards, as they did in 2014, Peterson should have no trouble topping 1,200.
Doug Farrar: Under. The most common argument for the rejuvenation of Peterson's career is that he basically took the entire 2014 season off—whether he wanted to or not. Therefore, he's not supposed to be effected by the near-inevitable decline that happens for running backs when they reach 30, as Peterson did in March. But when you look at his career before 2014, the drop-off was already starting. His 2013 rushing yardage went from 2,097 the year before to 1,266, his yards per carry plummeted from 6.0 to 4.5, and he had to settle for five 100-yard games after enjoying 10 the year before. Sadly, this reflects the productivity curve for most backs who are relied upon to carry the load for multiple years, especially after the kind of knee injury Peterson suffered in 2012.
Peterson is at the place in his career where he's going to need help from those around him to maintain a high level. Teddy Bridgewater is a fine young quarterback, but his targets are still in question and Minnesota's offensive line has been problematic. That didn't matter for Peterson when he was at his best, but unless he can pull off a miracle, we're past that. The only way I'd take the over on Peterson and 1,200 yards is if he had been traded to Dallas, where the best run-blocking line in the NFL resides.
Ben Eagle: Over. Doubt Peterson at your own peril. Remember when everyone worried about how he would perform after tearing his ACL and MCL in 2011? You may not because Peterson blew the league away in '12, rushing for a league-leading 2,097 yards just eight months after surgery. Put simply: Peterson is an athlete unlike any other.
The circumstances are certainly different entering '15. Many fans will never forgive Peterson in the wake of the child abuse charge he pled no contest to, and that cloud will likely hang over him for the rest of his career. But on the field, Peterson has overcome much bigger obstacles before. Hungry and healthy, he'll be the centerpiece in Minnesota and should easily cruise past 1,200 yards in challenging for the league rushing title.
Bette Marston: Over. Only twice in his career has Adrian Peterson not rushed for 1,200 yards, and both seasons were shortened by injury and suspension. When he’s not hampered by those two things, 1,200 yards rushing is his production floor.
Despite being out of football for a year, Peterson still has the ability to lift any team’s rushing game. In the last full season that Peterson played with the Vikings, the team struggled at the quarterback position, leaning on Peterson for much of their offensive production. But with Bridgewater and Minnesota’s group of receivers able to move the ball through the air, defenses won’t be spending all of their time focused on stopping the RB.
Yes, Peterson will be 30 this season, so he’s not going to be running down Eric Dickerson’s record again any time soon. But he can and will return to his average level of pre-suspension performance this season.
Amy Parlapiano: Over. The Vikings went without their best player for fifteen games last year, while relying on Bridgewater to lead the offense, and they still finished with a 7–9 record. They know they have a shot the playoffs this year. They also know that shot depends on what Adrian Peterson can do upon his return. Not counting last year, Peterson has had only one season in his eight-year career with less than 1,200 yards, and that was in 2011, when he played only 12 games and still finished with 970 yards. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has expressed his excitement over working with Peterson, and the two should be a good fit.
Peterson will have a chip on his shoulder this season. He wants to show he deserves a revamped contract, one with guaranteed money. And he wants to make a statement that despite his damaged reputation, he’s still one of the NFL’s best backs. He’ll get plenty of chances to prove that this year, and I think once he gets on the field again, despite a season lost to controversy, he’ll do just that. Minnesota’s offense may be led by Bridgewater, but as long as the team chooses to hold onto him, it still belongs to Peterson.
Eric Single: Under. Peterson had a pretty quiet day in the Vikings' Week 1 rout of the Rams last September. He was held out of the end zone and averaged 3.57 yards per carry, which would rank among the five worst single-game efforts within most of his first seven seasons. The Vikings fed Peterson a steady diet of first-down carries, as they have throughout his career, and kept him involved even as the score got out of hand. He finished with 21 carries for 75 yards in a 34–6 win. If Peterson had avoided suspension and replicated that quiet day 15 times, he would've finished 2014 with exactly 1,200 yards.
Even a season composed of entries from the bottom third of Peterson's range of possible outcomes would land him among the league's top 10 backs. Having said that, I expect teams to key on Peterson like he's the same 2,000-yard beast from 2012, and I don't trust the Vikings to dial down his workload until they absolutely have to, even though they have more avenues to do so than they did a year ago. That should make for a lot of stress on a body that hasn't run the gauntlet of regular season play in nearly 18 months.