Adrian Peterson likely is bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. He is a generational talent, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
From a fantasy football perspective, few were as dominant. According to Pro Football Reference, his 30 games of 25 or more PPR points rank third among RBs since 2000. Among RBs with at least 100 games played, Peterson entered the season with the third-best PPR scoring average over the last 18 years.
But, as Tuesday’s trade from the New Orleans Saints to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional draft pick illustrates, Peterson’s days as a reliable fantasy starter are over. And, if you drafted him as the first Saints RB off the board before the season — it happened in my league — you made a serious error in judgment.
Simply put, Peterson is old. Not only is he 32 — turning 33 in March — he’s got some major mileage on the tires. He entered the season having touched the ball on offense 2,659 times for the Minnesota Vikings over a 10-year span. Since the 1970 league merger, only 22 players have accrued at least 2,600 touches (rushing attempts and receptions plus kick and punt returns) before their age-32 season.
Of those 22 — half of whom are enshrined in Canton — only seven posted RB2-level production of 13 PPR points at least five more times after turning 32. Essentially, RBs with as much usage in their career as Peterson rarely produce reliable starter-level fantasy points at his age or later.
Despite data to back up a general caution in the fantasy football community regarding all RBs over age 30, Peterson was an unusually high selection in ESPN leagues. By the end of August, his average draft position (ADP) made him the 23rd RB off the board, right behind 27-year-old Saints starter Mark Ingram and well ahead of third New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (57th in ADP at the position).
Through five weeks, Kamara ranks 23rd in RB points. Ingram is 31st. Peterson is 86th.
Those who rolled the dice on Peterson ignored another knock on him entering the season: his history of injuries. He played a full 16 games just four times for Minnesota. Even in college at Oklahoma, he missed eight of 26 games for the Sooners during his final two years. His list of collegiate and pro injuries includes a broken collar bone (2005), torn ACL and MCL (2011) and torn meniscus (2016).
All that adds up to an RB with too many red flags too ignore, even though not nearly enough fantasy owners heeded the warning signs. Before next year’s draft, keep expectations of such backs to a minimum and avoid them until the later rounds.