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Can Adrian Peterson Catch Emmitt Smith?


Last season, when Jared Allen came within a sack of beating Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record of 22.5*, we took a look at what sort of odds he faced of becoming the National Football League's all-time leader in sacks. With Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson having come so very, very close to breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, I thought I'd take a look at what sort of odds the NFL's best player might have of catching Emmitt Smith for the NFL's all-time rushing crown.

As we all know, the numbers that Adrian Peterson has put up in his NFL career thus far are mind-melting. In just six seasons in the National Football League, he is already up to #33 on the league's all-time rushing yardage list with 8,849. He's the second-leading active rusher in the NFL, trailing only Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams. Jackson is currently in 26th place with 10,135 career rushing yards. (Did I mention that Jackson has been in the NFL three seasons longer than Peterson has?) In addition, as it stands now, Peterson is third in National Football League history in rushing yards/game with 99.4 per contest, bettered only by Jim Brown (104.3) and Barry Sanders (99.8).

Here are Adrian Peterson's career numbers, and what that works out to for a per-season average.

Games Carries Yards Touchdowns
Career 89 1,754 8,849 76
Average Season 15 292.3 1474.8 12.7

At first blush, the "carries" number might seem a little low. Keep in mind that his carries were limited in his rookie year in 2007 (238, as he split time with Chester Taylor), 2010 (283, when the Vikings were terrible) and 2011 (208, as he missed four games that season). For his career, in fact, Peterson only averages 19.7 carries per game. . .basically about the same as what Emmitt Smith averaged for his career (19.5). After his first six seasons in the league, Emmitt was only slightly ahead of Peterson yardage-wise (8,959 to 8,849).

Let's take a look at how many games it would take him to reach certain spots on the NFL's all-time rushing list, provided that he keeps up his career average of 99.4 rushing yards per game. The "games needed" numbers have all been rounded up to the nearest whole game.

Place Player Yards Games Needed
1st Emmitt Smith 18,355 96 games
5th LaDainian Tomlinson 13,684 49 games
10th Marshall Faulk 12,279 35 games
15th Fred Taylor 11,695 29 games
20th Ricky Watters 10,643 19 games
25th Ottis Anderson 10,273 15 games
30th Shaun Alexander 9,453 7 games

Keep in mind, those numbers are based on average Adrian Peterson games. If he performs better, obviously the "Games Needed" numbers could go down in a hurry. As you can see from the list, there's at least an outside shot that within three seasons. . .in just his ninth year of NFL competition. . .Adrian Peterson could be one of the top 5 rushers (in terms of yardage) in the history of the National Football League. He's currently 4,835 yards behind LaDainian Tomlinson, meaning he would have to average about 1,612 yards over the next three seasons in order to catch LT2. Tomlinson played in the NFL for 11 seasons.

At the very least, provided he can stay healthy. . .looks for the nearest wooden object to knock on. . .AP should be breathing down Ricky Watters' neck by the time the 2013 season comes to an end. Is catching Emmitt Smith out of the question? If Adrian Peterson can stay healthy, it might not be a question of if he can catch Emmitt. . .it might be a question of when.