No matter how you define the Most Valuable Player of the NFL, one candidate has emerged who’s head and shoulders above the crowd in 2012. Battling back from a devastating injury in rapid time, and looking every bit his vintage, dominant self in leading his team into possible postseason contention, Adrian Peterson has run away from the NFL and the rest of the field in this year’s MVP race.
A.P. for MVP over Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or even J.J. Watt? All Day.
Since Peterson burst onto the scene as Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, he’s been a violent wrecking ball, shedding would-be tacklers and running away from safeties and cornerbacks in open space. He’s a once-in-a-generation player and is putting together a Hall of Fame career at the most battered position in the NFL – and those claims could’ve been made about A.P. prior to his eye-popping 2012 campaign.
Peterson has gained 1,812 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns through 14 games on a mere 289 carries, good for 129 yards per game on the ground and a staggering 6.3 yards per carry, (nearly identical numbers to Jim Brown’s 1963 14 game season stats) all after tearing both his ACL and MCL in his left knee Dec. 24, 2011. With two games remaining in the regular season, not only is A.P. is knocking loudly on the door to join the six other running backs who are already members of the 2,000 yard rushing club, he’s a legitimate threat to break Eric Dickerson’s 28 year old single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards – needing 294 yards, or roughly 147 yards per game to do so.
Brady or Peyton Manning would be an easy, obvious choice. Both have had stellar seasons – especially Manning, who’s led the Broncos to nine straight wins on a surgically repaired neck after missing the entire 2011 season – and it’s the belief in this corner that one of these two gentlemen will hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February. However, the MVP is a regular-season award, and thus far, no one has been better than A.P.
Peterson has shattered the mold of what an MVP should be in this pass-heavy era. Contrary to recent history, the MVP doesn’t have to be awarded to a quarterback.
Anyone who plays fantasy football knows that running back by committee or platoon is en vogue. A backfield consisting of two to three running backs of varying styles that split carries is commonplace.
Peterson harkens back to halcyon days when a top running game with an “every-down back” was a key offensive priority. Anyone who’s watched him throughout his career knows that he can get the tough yards after contact and he score from anywhere. His four touchdown runs of 60+ yards in 2012 have bumped him to ten in that category for his career, an NFL record.
In his last eight games, dating to an Oct. 21 win vs. the Cardinals, Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards – an average of 164 per game – good for the most yards on the ground in an eight-game span in NFL history. (Christian Ponder, the Vikings quarterback, has 1,093 passing yards in the same eight games.)
With individual awards, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but no player in the NFL has been more valuable to his team this season than Peterson. One determining factor of an MVP is to imagine where his team would be without him. Sans A.P., the Vikings brain trust is already strategizing about whom to pick at number one overall in April’s draft.
Minnesota ranks last in the entire league in passing yardage. Percy Harvin, the Vikings only other viable offensive threat, went down with a season-ending ankle injury in a Nov. 4 loss to the Seahawks. The Vikings have thus been even more reliant on Peterson, making his accomplishments all the more amazing and valuable. Opposing defenses are able to focus heavily on stopping him, stacking eight and nine in the box, daring him to beat them.
And he has. Peterson is the best player in the NFL and his 2012 season has been reminiscent of the Barry Sanders-led Lions. He’s a man among boys, carrying an otherwise inept offensive team to relevance, and maybe even into the playoffs.
Even if Peterson doesn’t break Dickerson’s record, he’s still earned himself the MVP award this season. Anyone who disagrees hasn’t been watching.