April 28th, 2007 should be one of those dates that Vikings fans across the land remember. It might not be as high on the list as January 28th, 1960 (the day the Minnesota was granted an NFL franchise), January 11th, 1970 (their first Super Bowl appearance) or even January 17th, 1999 (NFC Championship Game loss to Atlanta) but it should be listed up there as one of those franchise changing dates in history as that was the day that the Minnesota Vikings drafted an injury riddled running back out of the University of Oklahoma with the 7th overall pick.
It didn’t take long for Adrian Peterson to take the league by storm. He began turning heads early running for 103 yards in his first game while sprinkling in a 60 yard touchdown reception. Shortly after that he was in the record books with his famed 296 yard game against the San Diego Chargers. It was clear that the team had a franchise changing player on their hands.
The following ten seasons saw the Vikings doing their darnedest to feed the beast while remaining balanced, a task that has proven easier said than done. It’s that thinking that has some people thinking that Adrian was a God send for this organization while a faction of others believe the franchise couldn’t get to the next level because of the attention that he demanded. It really was a darned if you do, darned if you don’t sort of scenario…and now it appears that it’s come to a close.
The last five years have been one gigantic head game between Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. Both sides know the value that he brings to the football field but neither has proven to fully understand how to quantify it. With off the field situations playing into the equation as well the question about how much does Adrian really have left in the tank has been asked year on end over that stretch of time and each year it seems to waver back and forth. He’ll lead the league, then seemingly forget how to hit a gap, get the top running back salary in the land and miss time with injuries.
But it’s been the head games over the years that I think have worn thin with the fanbase. Picture Ben Dogra sitting on a throne in a Tampa Bay Buc’s hat back in the day or more recently Adrian Peterson’s cryptic tweet about the New York Giants. With the two sides still assumed to be a few million dollars apart on the old negotiating table, it’s time to start thinking about what life after Adrian Peterson could look like here in Minnesota.
Fortunately for those who suffer from long-term memory loss, we got a little glimpse of that last season since Adrian missed most of the year. Unfortunately for those same people, it’s tough to glean much off of a 5-0 start where the team looked unstoppable and then a 3-8 finish where they struggle to move the ball up and down the field.
But alas, we embark on this journey together and it’s my goal that we return that way as well!
Looking back at this most recent example of 2016 we have to factor in everything that was going on. Early on you had a team that was winning games thanks to their defense. The offense was doing its part but with Bradford still learning and Peterson out, it was a blank canvas to start the year. Then there was the offensive line, a hodge-podge set of bodies that didn’t expect to see much time and certainly had no expectations of playing next to the guys they ended up playing next to. In fact, by season’s end, the Vikings had fielded a total of 8-different offensive line combinations. That makes it pretty difficult to find any rapport with the guys you’re relying on up front. Bradford held his own and showed some aerial promise while the emergence of Adam Thielen and the re-emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson proved that there are some options through the air.
So that’s the state of the offense as of now.
On the ground, the in-house options to replace Peterson are average at best. Your scat-back option of Jerick McKinnon may be the most explosive but his slight frame has him often dinged up. Still, he’s an average pass blocker, has good patience in the backfield and can catch the ball decently in the flats. Matt Asiata brings the boom as your power runner and goal line back but his lack of speed and explosiveness limits him between the twenties. You could consider the combo package, an attack the Vikings rolled with last year and again the year Peterson was away from the field with family issues, but you tend to tip your hand a bit based on the personnel with those two in the fold proving again that the best bet would be an all around back that can block, duh.
Looking the free agent route, fantasy footballers will recognize a few names as your third and fourth running backs on a roster. We’re talking Latavius Murray, Danny Woodhead, DeAngelo Willams and the like. The only free agent I’d be interested in sniffing around this year might be Mike Gilislee. Even then, the 26 year old backup running back is restricted so he might not even see the market.
This leaves your best bet likely starting over and coming through the draft. But wait, the Vikings have no first round pick and a gigantic mess to fix on the offensive line so we’re likely talking a 3rd or 4th round back at the earliest. Okay…so here are those guys…Wayne Gallman, Joe Mixon and Kareem Hunt. Not exactly the big name guys you were hoping for huh?
I would still argue that the Vikings would be in an okay position going forward with any of those names listed from any of those scenarios above. Sure it may not be ideal, but they’ll still compete and with a playoff caliber defense anything can happen.
Bradford brings a new x-factor to the table, one that we’re not used to seeing here in Minnesota. Whether it’s short west-coast offense style passes or an over the top shot to a receiver deep, the offense should be balanced in 2017 which starts ever play with the advantage of knowing the play-call over your opponent. In a game where everybody on the field was the best player at their high school and most of them the same in college, that’s sometimes all the advantage that you need.
Life without Adrian Peterson will admittedly be different for Vikings fans. But it would appear that the love loss and the loss in production from him (at least last season through three games) should make that pain sting a little less.