Teddy Bridgewater’s only played in 17 total games with Adrian Peterson, and yet, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in a bind. Peterson’s 1,485 rushing yards led the league last year and propelled the Vikings to an NFC North title and playoff berth; the team’s first since 2009. But it could be argued that Peterson’s success affected Bridgewater, limiting the young quarterback to the role of ‘dink-and-dunk’ game manager.
This wouldn’t be an issue if Peterson weren’t on the wrong side of 30. A younger running back, like Jerick McKinnon, could learn to work with Bridgewater, adapt to the quarterback’s preferred shotgun formation, and become a liable threat in the passing game. But Peterson is Peterson, and asking an old dog to learn new tricks will only come with challenges. And challenges take time, time the Vikings can’t afford to waste with their Super Bowl quickly opening.
To burst through that window, Minnesota needs to focus on the future. Right now, the future is Bridgewater and his ability to carry the Vikings’ offense. Peterson himself admitted just yesterday that this is the third-year quarterback’s team to lead:
“For this third year we are expecting big things from him,” Peterson said. “I don’t think it’s pressure toward him, but he understands it now even more going into this next year. He’s the leader of this team when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. He just knows that and takes control.”
All signs indicate a shift from Peterson to Bridgewater: the addition of Laquon Treadwell; the hiring of Pat Shurmur; reports of Bridgewater’s improved deep ball; Peterson’s own admission that he must improve as a pass-catcher and shotgun runner.
But if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it, right? That very well may be the case in 2016, especially with Norv Turner at the helm of the offense. Peterson shows no signs of slowing down and remains a focal point of the organization. With one lucrative year remaining on his contract, there’s no reason for Turner not to run Peterson into the ground.
I’ve pitched the ball; it’s up to Vikings Territory staff — and a special guest — to answer the question:
How many rushing yards will Peterson have in 2016?
Brett: 1,485 yards
Does that number look familiar? It should – it’s the same number of yards Adrian Peterson rushed for in 2015. While it’s unlikely Peterson rushes for exactly the same number of yards in 2016, using that number specifically is more about trying to use this opportunity to make a point (and a slight dig at offensive coordinator Norv Turner).
I’m not confident that Turner will make any drastic changes to the Vikings offensive scheme. Instead of making alterations that would better suit his entire offensive personnel, I think it’s likely we see a scheme that, once again, focuses on a power running game centered around Peterson.
Eventually, the Vikings will begin to shift this offense away from Peterson, integrating McKinnon more and relying on Bridgewater’s arm. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening until either the wheels fall off of Peterson or Turner is no longer calling the shots.
Sam: 1,463 yards
I’m quite wary of the post-30 running back drop-off, but with Peterson, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves he can’t do it.
While I expect Teddy to take a step forward in year three, I worry it won’t be as large as many are expecting, and wouldn’t at all be surprised if this remains a run-first offense. And that’s not a bad thing—the fact that most the league has shifted to air-it-out mode has no bearing on what the Vikings offense can or should do. Peterson remains a formidable offensive weapon until we see tangible evidence that proves otherwise.
If Bridgewater improves but doesn’t vault into the top echelon of quarterbacks (probably a safe bet) and the team has much improved offensive line play (ditto), there will be plenty of opportunities for Peterson. I envision a version of the Lynch/Wilson-era Seahawks offense for the 2016 Vikings, and it’s not a bad thought.
Adam Patrick: 1,300 yards
In a dream scenario, Peterson’s rushing yards and carries would go down, while his catches — and Jerick McKinnon’s touches — would increase. But this is Adrian Peterson we’re talking about.
He can talk all he wants how he would like to be a better all around player, but that’s hard to believe of a player who is heading into the tail end of his career. In all likelihood, Peterson will fail to adjust to any new offensive strategies the Vikings try and implement and Minnesota will just have to go back to shift its methods back to make up for Peterson’s inabilities in other areas.
Carl: 1,000 yards
In the Vikings’ five losses last season, Adrian Peterson averaged only 14 carries per game. However, in the Vikings’ 11 wins, Peterson averaged 23.3 attempt per game en route to capturing his third rushing title with 1,485 yards for the season.
The old school philosophy of feeding Adrian the ball and letting the defense control the game proved successful enough last season that the Vikings may not look to implement major changes. Developing a balanced passing attack will be a work in progress and Peterson should once again be a focal point in the offense.
Yes, his work load will begin to diminish slightly as Teddy Bridgewater matures and Jerick McKinnon continues to emerge as a running back and pass catcher. My guess is 17 carries per game and four yards per pop equals another 1,000 yard season for ‘All Day.’
Austin: 1,200 yards
Peterson will get his touches — he always does. When you’re the (current) face of the franchise, you’re treated like the centerpiece. An influx of new thinking from Shurmur, combined with the improved play of a revamped line and Bridgewater’s progression, will limit those touches, though. Still, Peterson is a 4.5-yard-per-carry career rusher and has a knack for turning negative plays into positive gains. Despite being lower, 1,200 yards isn’t a terrible total for Peterson — he hit that in 2013 in what was an excellent, under-the-radar season by his standards. It’s time for Peterson to take a back seat to Bridgewater, and 2016 is the year it happens.
This week’s special guest is Drew Mahowald, an avid Vikings fan and regular contributor at the NFC North Barroom. You can follow him on Twitter for all things Vikings, Timberwolves, and collegiate golf.
Drew: 1,400 yards
Again and again, I’ve defended Peterson having a large role in this offense, an opinion that’s becoming the minority among fans. The greatest rusher in the NFL tallied 1,485 yards a season ago despite a subpar offensive line and an offensive coordinator as predictable as Eddie Lacy avoiding the salad bar.
A new-and-improved offensive line should help Peterson increase his yards per carry average from the 4.5 mark he managed in 2015. There will be no more Brandon Fusco blocking air at left guard, and no more T.J. Clemmings getting shoved backward on every snap at right tackle. Additionally, the hope is that Norv Turner, along with tight ends — but not really tight ends — coach Pat Shurmur bring a more balanced offense to the table in 2016. More balance plus the addition of Laquon Treadwell will force defenses to play for the pass just as much as the run, opening up more running lanes for Peterson.
The reigning rushing champion will likely see a decrease in carries this season, but he’ll also run more efficiently with an improved supporting cast taking some of the pressure off. This is why I think Peterson repeats as rushing champion and eclipses the 1,400-yard mark in 2016.