In 2012, Adrian Peterson came less than a first-down run short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing yards record. And while Peterson surely wants to make another run at that mark in 2013, the NFL's best running back is already thinking about Emmitt Smith's career record in the same category.
Here's what Peterson said this week at training camp in a Q&A with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Q: Forget about Eric Dickerson’s record for a minute. Last December, we talked about Emmitt Smith’s record and I told 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.
Let's break it down.
Smith ran for 18,355 yards. Peterson currently has 8,849 yards, which isn't even halfway to Smith's mark.
The 27-year-old Peterson is a six-year veteran. At the same stage of his career, Smith had 8,956 yards. That's only a 107-yard edge, but he was one year younger. When Smith was Peterson's age, he had already hit 10,160 yards.
Considering that Peterson is already clearly off pace and has a much more elaborate history with injuries than Smith did, the odds are out of his favor. He'll be 32 after the 2017 season, and it's extremely hard for backs to keep rolling far beyond that point.
In order to break Smith's record by the end of that season, Peterson would have to average 1,902 yards over the next five years. Only eight backs in NFL history have surpasses the 1,900-yard mark, so that's extremely unrealistic. This is all about endurance, and few if any backs can endure into their mid-30s. Once you drop off, your yardage totals also plummet to the point that they aren't doing much to help your cause.
If Peterson requires an extra year or two, history will be stacked against him. Since the merger, only two running backs — John Riggins and Franco Harris — have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark after their 33rd birthday. Peterson will be 33 in 2018.
Now, Marcus Allen did accumulate a total of 3,698 yards after turning 33. Say Peterson were able to put up numbers in that range late in his career. Even if he did that, he'd still need to average 1,162 yards over the next five years. Or in other words, about 1,200 yards over the next eight years. Six years into his career — smack dab in his prime — he's averaging 1,474 per season.
So it's not impossible, but it's extremely unlikely. Smith can breathe easy.