Fantasy Football Forecast: Adrian Peterson

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

The Daily Norseman takes a look at how Norv Turner's new offense will impact Adrian Peterson's numbers in fantasy football for the 2014 season.

Continuing my look at the Vikings prospects in fantasy football, the spotlight shines on our most valuable fantasy commodity: Adrian Peterson.  He's been a top finisher in fantasy football almost every year he's been in the NFL, and it may be somewhat of wasted time/space to devote an article to someone that we Vikings fans will all surely draft in the first round of any re-draft leagues if we are able.  But, devote an article to him I will.  While a lot has been made of how Norv Turner's offense will affect the passing game, including Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, not much has been made around here of how his scheme will impact the running game.

First off, here are the rushing frequencies for running backs in Norv Turner's offenses, shown as a percentage of carries-per-snap for both #1 and #2 running backs in Norv Turner offenses for the past 7 years.  Seven years is significant, because 2007 was the year Turner returned to the Chargers (with an aging LaDainian Tomlinson) as Offensive Coordinator, and the year Peterson entered the league.  It also holds us to Turner's most recent trends, as the NFL has evolved into more of a passing league since the days of giving Emmitt Smith 360+ carries in the 1990s.  I've also included Peterson's carry frequencies during that same time frame when he worked with Darrell Bevell (2007-2010) and Bill Musgrave (2011-2013).  In other words, this shows what percentage of snaps were rushing attempts (total attempts are in parenthesis) in order to get a sense for how frequently Norv Turner called a rushing play depending on which back was on the field.

Year

Turner's

Team

RB #1 Carry Percentage

RB#2 Carry Percentage

Adrian Peterson Carry Percentage

2007

Chargers

38.8% (315)

58.2% (71)

50.7% (238)

2008

Chargers

37.9% (292)

31.8% (61)

50% (363)

2009

Chargers

42.9% (223)

23.7% (93)

43.6% (313)

2010

Chargers

50.7% (340)

11.8% (50)

41.3% (283)

2011

Chargers

41.7% (222)

24.2% (122)

40.9% (208)

2012

Chargers

44.2% (184)

57.6% (95)

44.3% (348)

2013

Browns

30.5% (164)

?

40.8% (279)

Total

Average

41% (248.6)

34.6% (82)

44.5% (290.3)

First, a few caveats.  From 2007-2009, we were witnessing the gradual slow-down of LaDainian Tomlinson as his raw carry total decreased every year.  That said his carry-snap percentage stayed roughly in the same ball-park, between 38-42%.  So, he was doing the same kind of stuff with his snaps, but he just wasn't on the field as often as he neared (and eventually passed) age 30.  During that same time-frame his backups were Michael Turner (2007) and Darren Sproles (2008-2009).  Sproles' carry percentage was dramatically lower than Turner's, but that was more because he was a dynamic pass catcher and had more receptions than carries during his time in San Diego.  Then in 2010, when Tomlinson went to the Jets, the Chargers leading rusher was actually Mike Tolbert due to the injuries to hyped rookie Ryan Mathews.  I combined stats for both Tolbert and Mathews as the #1 RB for the purposes of comparing 2010, with Sproles once again being the #2 RB.  Sproles left for New Orleans after the 2010 season, and in 2011 Tolbert became the backup and started one game when Mathews was injured again, which explains the sudden increase in raw carries the RB#2 stats in 2011 as Tolbert and Mathews shared a lot more time than Tomlinson and Sproles did before them.  Mathews again missed time in 2012, but by then Tolbert had moved on, and virtual unknown Jackie Battle started 5 games in Mathews absence and was also the backup before that.  So, 2012 is a messy year for comparison purposes.  But 2013 was an even messier year for determining running back trends as the Browns had no less than 5 different starting running backs during the year: Trent Richardson (for 2 games before he was traded to the Colts), Chris Ogbonnaya (who was dreadful as a half-back, and started more games as a fullback), Willis McGahee (who was old, and injured for part of the year), Fozzy Whitacker (who had come over from San Diego and knew Turner's offense) and Edwin Baker (another Turner holdover, drafted in the 7th round from San Diego the year before).  Using Pro Football Focus to determine which running back started which week, and the game logs from Pro Football Reference, I was able to piece together something of a carry percentage for that 5-headed monster in 2013.  But even then, some weeks running backs other than the "starter" actually received more carries.  So, take 2013 with a HUGE grain of salt.  As such, I didn't even attempt to calculate backup running back carry percentage, as I'm only about 50% confident that the percentage for the starters is accurate.

So, what does this tell us, if anything?  Well, from what I can gather Adrian Peterson has been used to being the primary, work-horse running back.  And his usage and workload over the past 7 seasons has been slightly more than how Turner has used his starting running backs in the past, both in terms of raw carry totals, and attempts-by-snap percentage.    In Bevell's offense, Peterson was fed the rock at an astounding rate.  Musgrave fed Peterson the ball a little less than Bevell, but still more than Turner has been known to do.  What is sort of shocking is the carry-to-snap percentage in Peterson's amazing 2012 year.  He had the 2nd highest attempts of his career, but ran less often per snap than his first two years in the league.  Imagine if he had been given the same percentage of opportunity on a per snap basis in 2012 that he was afforded his first two years in the league.   The last statistic of note to pull from the table is that the starting running backs in Turner's offenses tend to get roughly 75% of the raw carries in the backfield.

So, I'm a little bearish on Peterson's rushing opportunities with Norv Turner, which is to say that I think Peterson will begin to see a decline in rushing attempts.  This bears out (no pun intended!) especially when you look back at LaDainian Tomlinson's career with Norv Turner.  In 2007, LDT was 28 years old, and saw a steady decline in carries each of his last three years under Turner.  With Peterson being 29, I do not expect Turner to give him anywhere close to 300 rushing attempts.  The average number of carries for a Turner starting RB over the past 7 years is only 250 carries.  So, all things considered, I would expect a number of attempts closer to 250 rather than Peterson's career average of 290.  When you consider some of Turner's comments about getting Peterson the ball in space more, and trying to limit the number of defenders in the box, I think we can expect a bit of a decline in carries for Peterson.

So, that explains the rushing opportunity side of the coin based on Turner's trends over the past 7 years. But what about the production side of the coin?  For this, I'm going to consider a total team effort.  The following table shows how productive Turner's rushing attacks have been over the same time period.

Year

Turner's

Team

Rushing Yards

Rushing TDs

2007

Chargers

2039

19

2008

Chargers

1726

13

2009

Chargers

1423

17

2010

Chargers

1810

18

2011

Chargers

1864

18

2012

Chargers

1461

4

2013

Browns

1383

4

Total

Average

1672.3

13.3

Again, 2012 and 2013 can be taken with a grain of salt due to injuries and talent concerns as those numbers are substantially lower than most of the other years (with the exception of 2009).  But when Turner has a healthy stable of running backs, the results are generally pretty good.  When he has injuries and talent concerns though, the results are less than desirable.  Still, if the average is a good expectation for total team production, and a starting running back in Turner's scheme accounts for 75% of the attempts, a reasonable projection for Adrian Peterson would be 1,254 yards and about 10 touchdowns.  And surprise, this is essentially his exact output last season under Bill Musgrave.

What this doesn't account for however, is what we can expect out of Peterson as a receiver.  Arif wrote a pretty good summary not too long ago about Peterson's value in the receiving game over at Cover32, where he projects Peterson for about 50 receptions and 415 receiving yards.  This would be equal to his 2009 year with Brett Favre.  Arif and I differ on his rushing projection, and perhaps I'm letting the past 2 years of Turner's rushing trends (when he's had a who's-who cast of characters as starting running backs) lower my expectations too much.  But, I do not expect the second coming of Emmitt Smith's 360 carry seasons in 2014, not in the slightest.  If we look to LDT's age 29 year with Norv Turner (the most recent comparable talent), it paints a sobering picture: 292 carries, 1,110 yards, 11 TDs with 52 receptions and 426 receiving yards (and one receiving TD).  However, LDT's age 29 year is right on par with Arif's receiving projection, and essentially equivalent to Peterson's year with Favre at the helm.  So I think this would be an excellent projection for a PPR league (where he would get an average bonus of 3 points every week from receptions), but would probably not represent the best year-end performance in a standard fantasy league.  Do I think Peterson is worthy of a 1st round pick in a standard re-draft league?  Absolutely.  But sadly, I would not rank Peterson as the #1 running back for standard re-draft leagues this year.  Peterson's age, recent health (3 surgeries the past 3 years) and Turner's recent trends with running backs put a cap on his upside for me.

I am actually more curious about what's in store for rookie running back Jerick McKinnon.  Will he be the next Darren Sproles?  Does he even have the measurables to compare to Sproles?  Well, no, outside of his height.  According to Mock Draftable, he compares more to guys like Doug Martin, Ben Tate, Christine Michael and former Viking Jordan Todman.  All of those guys are formidable pass catchers and elite athletes in their own right, but are not Darren Sproles clones.  I like the potential that McKinnon brings as a 3rd down, pass catching running back.  If he receives the remaining 25% of a typical Norv Turner workload for carries, then he's looking at 80 attempts for 418 yards, and a few rushing touchdowns.  If he's like Darren Sproles, he could be in line for 30 receptions for another 300 yards on top of those rushing duties.  That would make him a valuable backup in deep PPR leagues.  But don't get too excited about McKinnon before we see him in training camp and the Preseason.  If McKinnon flashes this season, then definitely put him on your radar for 2015 and beyond when Peterson enters his dreaded "age 30 years."  Thankfully, Peterson's not there yet so enjoy this last year of Peterson in his 20s while you still can.

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