Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In this four-part series leading up to training camp, I’ll be profiling the Vikings you should target in your fantasy football leagues this year. Look for new additions every Thursday and Friday the next few weeks and stay tuned for a bonus selection at the end!

Adrian Peterson, RB — Minnesota Vikings

Adrian Peterson hasn’t had the best luck with quarterbacks. Since being selected 7th-overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, Peterson’s starting quarterbacks include (in chronological order): Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, Brett Favre, Christian Ponder, and Matt Cassel. Save Favre’s magical 2009 season, Peterson has succeeded in the face of terrible quarterback play, rushing for 10,190 yards and 86 touchdowns in his eight-year career.

With such a lack of talent at the position, it’s no surprise that defenses stacked the box with eight, and even nine defenders at times. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson faced an eight man box on 34.48% of his attempts in 2013, his most recent 16-game season. Despite the odds, Peterson finished the year with 1,266 yards on the ground while averaging 4.6 yards per carry (slightly lower than his 5.0 career average).

What’s missing in this discussion is the quarterback situation TODAY. Peterson hasn’t taken a regular season snap with Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota’s prodigal son and quarterback savior. After the first game of the 2014 season, Peterson was suspended and missed an opportunity to line up behind Bridgewater, who went on to cement himself as the team’s starting quarterback. The rookie finished the year with 14 touchdowns, a 64.4 percent completion percentage, and an above-average quarterback rating of 85.2.

The newfound success at the position opens up opportunities in the running game, as outlined by NFL.com’s Alex Gelhar in an article published following Norv Turner’s hiring:

“Turner runs a version of the Air Coryell offense, which tries to force the defense to defend the entire field through a combination of mid- to deep-range passing routes and a power running game. The offense sends players in motion to create space and allow them to avoid being jammed at the line of scrimmage so their deeper routes have time to develop. Ideal personnel include a fast receiver able to win deep jump balls, a pass-catching tight end capable of stretching the middle of the field, and a power back able to grind out yards between the tackles and catch the ball in space.”

Peterson fits the bill of a “power back able to grind out yards between the tackles”, but he’s never been known as a pass-catcher. In his eight seasons, Peterson’s career-highs receiving the ball are 43 catches (2009), 436 yards (2009), and 1 touchdown (multiple years). When Turner was hired to be the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, he made it clear he wanted to get Peterson involved in the passing game. “I would expect Adrian Peterson to catch 50/60 balls next year,” he told KFAN. Although the plan didn’t come to fruition, it should be a goal in place for a coach whose running back units have averaged 104 receptions per season and totaled 31 receiving touchdowns.

Without Peterson in the lineup, Norv Turner’s running backs combined for 82 receptions, much higher than the average of 61 with Peterson available. In addition to the increased running back targets, Bridgewater starts the 2015 season with a slew of new weapons. Mike Wallace will likely start as the Z-receiver, and Charles Johnson will split out as the X-receiver. Wallace’s deep speed will hopefully open up the middle of the field for Jarius Wright in the slot and a healthy Kyle Rudolph. In turn, those eight man boxes Peterson has grown so accustomed to will begin to fade as defenses drop more players into coverage.

Norv Turner’s system, Peterson’s return from a year away, a competent quarterback, and a number of offensive weapons spell a bright future for No. 28 in 2015. How will these factors affect his fantasy stock?

Fantasy Outlook

*All Fantasy Football statistics come from Footballguys.com (Standard FBG Scoring)*

Image courtesy of Footballguys.com
Image courtesy of Footballguys.com
ADP: 4/RB: 4

If you thought Charles Johnson’s 2014 season was short, take a look at Adrian Peterson’s stats. In one game, he scored 9.30 fantasy points. Analyzing his value from a season where he rushed the ball 21 times won’t help predict his future success. Instead, look at his 2013 output, where he rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to 209.70 total fantasy points.

Broken down, he averaged 13.1 points per game and finished the year with five 20-plus point outings. Impressive, right? Taking a look at the 2015 schedule, the 30-year-old running back should be licking his chops. An already hungry, motivated Peterson will line up against some of the worst run defenses from 2014.

Most notably, the Vikings will play the Bears in Week 8, who gave up 17.8 fantasy points per game to running backs in 2014. Then, in Week 10, they’ll travel to Oakland to take on the Raiders, who allowed the most points — 22.0 — to running backs last season. The final game in Peterson’s potentially strong stretch comes in Week 12, when the team travels to Atlanta to take on the Falcons and their porous run defense, which allowed 21 points per game to backs  in 2014.

This stretch of games, from November 8th to November 29th, may be crucial to any owner riding Peterson in hopes of making a midseason playoff push. Like Bob Henry above, I expect Peterson to have a productive year on the ground AND through the air:

237 Fantasy Points:

270 rushes, 1,260 yards, 11 touchdowns
45 receptions, 330 yards, 2 touchdowns

My guess, as many believe, is that Jerick McKinnon steals a few of those touches on third downs. At 30-years-old, Peterson is at an age where running backs begin to decline, and Turner will be smart to utilize an explosive, versatile threat in McKinnon. Doing so will eliminate any Peterson fatigue and preserve his legs for a potential playoff run in December and January.

His projected statistics put him in elite company and make him a surefire RB1 in every 12 or 14-man league. Based on Football Guys’ rankings, Peterson is just behind LeVeon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Jamaal Charles, though selecting any of these players first-overall wouldn’t be out of the question. For those in auction leagues, Peterson’s value is currently $52.

No matter how many fantasy football leagues you’re in or how worried you are about Peterson’s age,  he’s worth a top-five selection. Don’t let his age or the wear-and-tear fool you — Peterson is ready to play, and he’s coming back with a vengeance. Draft him and let your league know that you are, too.

Yesterday, I profiled Vikings WR Charles Johnson. Next Thursday, I’ll tell you where you should draft a certain second-year quarterback.