Two house-keeping notes before we get to today’s post. First, today’s a pretty big day for our friend Neil Paine: he’s getting married. I’ll be there to celebrate with him in Philadelphia, but I know you guys will be with us in spirit. Congrats to Kaitlyn and Neil!
And another set of confetti must be reserve for the seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013: Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Curley Culp, Dave Robinson, and Bill Parcells. Tonight, those men will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a must-see event for any football fan.
Today’s post focuses on one player already enshrined in Canton and one future Hall of Famer. As a general disclaimer, it’s best not to take too seriously what comes out of the mouths of football players, especially this time of year. That said, Adrian Peterson, part-cyborg, part-Minnesota Vikings running back, recently told Dan Wiederer of the Minneapolis Star Tribute that he thinks he will break Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record:
Q Forget about Eric Dickerson’s record for a minute. Last December, we talked about Emmitt Smith’s record and I told you you were on pace to get there in Week 4 of 2019. You said sooner and promised to come back with a timetable. Emmitt had 18,355 yards. You’re now 9,506 away. We need a week and a year. When do you get there?
A Man. Oh boy. I have to do some calculations. I’ve been in the league seven years. I’m already right around [9,000]. Calculate it out … Let’s think. Maybe get a couple 2,000 yard seasons … I’ve got … Hmmm … 2017.
Q What week in 2017?
A Man. I better go late. I’m already getting too far in front of myself. I’ll say Week 16. There it is. Week 16 in 2017. Whoo. That’s pushing it, huh? But hey, pushing it is the only way to do it. You know it.
Just to break it down for you in full, that gives Peterson 79 games to amass the 9,506 yards he needs to reach Smith. That comes out to a per-game average of 120.3 yards per contest with the assumption that Peterson avoids injury and doesn’t miss a game between now and Week 16 of 2017. Yes, it’s pushing it indeed. But good fun to consider, right?
Let’s talk reality. Peterson has rushed for 8,849 rushing yards in his six-year career, and was 27-years-old last year. The first problem for Peterson is that he was 937 yards behind Smith’s pace before Peterson even entered the league. That’s because Peterson, born in March, entered the league at 22, while Smith, born in May, entered at age 21. Unless you think we should compare the two by seasons and not age — and more on why that’s a bad idea later — we need to give Smith full credit for one extra year. In fact, here’s a chart comparing the two players in career rushing yards through age X. Smith also rushed for slightly more yards from ages 22 to 27 (9223-8849) than Peterson, but when you factor in his age 21 performance, Smith has a big lead on Peterson through age twenty-seven. You might recall I presented a similar chart when comparing Jason Witten to Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice.
Through age 27, Smith had rushed for 10,160 yards, 1,311 more yards than Peterson currently has gained. Peterson has been productive, but he both gave Smith a head start and has been less productive from ages 22 through 27. Therefore, Peterson needs to be not just better, but 1,312 yards better than Smith during his age 28+ seasons. How likely is All Day to gain the necessary 9,507 more rushing yards to pass Smith?Earlier, I said it’s important to compare players by age and not by season. That’s because Smith is the career leader in rushing yards after turning 28, with 8,195 yards. If you count by seasons, Peterson is only 107 yards behind the Cowboys great, but Smith blows everyone out the water in terms of rushing yards in seasons seven+, too. And since Peterson is a year older than Smith, counting by seasons wouldn’t adequately recognize the eventual age-related decline Peterson will suffer.
To rush for 9,507 yards after your 28th birthday would seem close to impossible.2 Smith had a head start on Peterson (at age 21), rushed for more yards at the same ages (22 through 27) as Peterson, and then accumulated the most rushing yards ever from 28+. Footballguys.com projects Peterson (subscriber content) to rush for 1,552 yards this season, which seems like a pretty reasonable projection. That roughly matches the average number of rushing yards by the 14 running backs with the most rushing yards at age 28 since the merger:
Age 28 Yr
Those running backs averaged 1,545 rushing yards in their age 28 season, but just 2,662 rushing yards after their age 28 season. Even if Peterson had a 2,000-yard season in 2013, and followed that up with Curtis Martin numbers from age 29+, he would still be over 2600 yards shy of Smith.
As incredible as Smith was through age 27, his production after turning 28 is arguably more impressive. Considering that Peterson is already over 1,000 yards behind Smith, his odds of capturing the record are really, really low. That’s not a knock on Peterson, who is clearly the game’s best running back today. Instead, this post should serve as a reminder of how impressive Smith’s totals truly are.
Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams