What does Adrian Peterson bring to the Titans?

After news broke surrounding Derrick Henry’s serious foot injury, attention was immediately shifted towards the Titans and how their run game would be able to stay afloat without their star workhorse back.

With the trade deadline looming, a cheap option via trade was one idea that was thrown out in the open as a possible short-term solution. But as the day went along, we saw the Titans make a move that signified their lack of interest in scavenging the trade market for a six to possibly ten week replacement.

Adrian Peterson is the newest man in town. The decorated back and future Hall of Famer was signed to the team’s practice squad and will eventually find his way to the active roster once the Titans opt to do so.

Peterson’s a strict between the tackles runner that brings a lot of physicality and veteran pedigree to a run-heavy Titans offense. But he’s 36 years old, has a lot of tread on the tires, and only averaged just over three and a half yards per carry during his stint last season with the Detroit Lions.

Those three factors certainly don’t inspire a lot of confidence regarding Peterson’s potential impact on the team, especially for a team that loves to run the ball and impose their physical will on opposing defenses.

However, despite the woeful statistical evidence that’s available, I thought it’d be good to dive a little deeper into those numbers and see if there’s any indication if Peterson can bring some juice to the run game when many aren’t expecting him to do so.

Let’s jump right into it, shall we?

What Peterson is now

Well, allow me to repeat myself.

Adrian Peterson is a 36-year-old running back with plenty of treads on his established tires. He’s sixth all-time in carries with 3,192. He’s fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns with 118. To top it all off, he’s fifth all-time in rushing yards with 14,820.

Like I said before, he’s a decorated, future Hall of Famer that currently has one of the best resumes of any running back in the history of the game.

But the majority of these numbers came before he reached the tender age of 31.

Now, he’s a slower version of himself that isn’t much of a home run threat, and he doesn’t seem to move the needle much in terms of yards per carry. So what’s so good about a guy that doesn’t produce a lot of chunk plays in the run game, is on the wrong side of 30, and hasn’t put together a decent season since his time with the Washington Football Team?

Well he brings a physical presence as a between the tackles runner, he’s useful in goal line situations as a bulldozer back, and he can still catch the ball out of the backfield. But he’ll only be asked to catch only when it’s completely necessary.

Other than that, Peterson just doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table this late into his career.

However, I went back and looked at his 2019 and 2020 seasons and tried to dig up some numbers that might prove to be encouraging in order to project what Peterson can do while Henry recovers from his serious foot injury.

Peterson’s 2019 and 2020 seasons

To see what the Titans might be getting from Peterson, I wanted to take a look back at the last two seasons of his career. They were both seasons in which Peterson provided early down run game usage, but the numbers he finished with in both seasons were almost a polar opposite of each other.

Let’s start with 2020 since that’s where the “bad” news resides.

Peterson’s 2020 season with the Lions wasn’t anything to write home about. He finished the year with 608 yards on 155 carries, holding down a role as an early down runner and clock eater when the Lions were in games, but banished to the sideline whenever the Lions had to find ways to claw back into contests.

He was sort of a veteran “mentor” of sorts for then rookie back D’Andre Swift, starting ahead of the young back while he adjusted to life in the NFL. But in those starts, Peterson just didn’t find success that’d wow you or reverse the opinion stating that he’s no longer a back that should find significant snaps in this league.

He never really approached 100 yards rushing in a single game, with a 75 yard performance being the closest he got to the century mark all year long. I will say that he only received over 20 carries once during the entire year since he was flip flopping between being a starter and a backup to Swift, also due to the fact that the Lions simply preferred to sling the rock all over the field.

But despite all of that, the full body of work for Peterson wasn’t impressive whatsoever.

However, I will say running behind Pro Football Focus’ 16th best run blocking offensive line didn’t do Peterson any favors either.

TeamsRun Blocking Grade (PFF)
14th. Chicago Bears70.5
15th. Baltimore Ravens70.5
16th. Detroit Lions70.3

Plus, he showed he still has the same elite vision despite his statistical output being lackluster.

His most recent body of work doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence obviously. But if we take a look back to 2019, the last season Peterson had any sort of consistent output as a rusher, you’ll see that he still has some juice in the tank regardless of his age and mediocre production.

Peterson finished 2019 with 898 yards on 211 carries while averaging 4.3 yards a carry. That season was the last one Peterson truly held the role of a workhorse back, becoming the guy doing the heaving lifting once then Washington head coach Jay Gruden was fired after an 0-5 start to the season.

After week five, Peterson carried the rock under ten times just once, a contest against the New York Jets in which he finished with a lowly 25 yards while averaging a measly 2.8 yards per carry.

The 898 total rushing yards were gained running behind Pro Football Focus’ 14th best run blocking offensive, but the actual grade turned out to be below 70 despite the rather high ranking.

TeamsRun Blocking Grade (PFF)
T-12th. New England Patriots63.1
14th. Washington Football Team62.6
15th. Denver Broncos62.2

Another tool that might create some positivity surrounding Peterson’s arrival in Tennessee is his yards over expected numbers when he faced at least eight defenders in the box.

The Titans’ offense routinely has to maneuver through eight, sometimes even nine man boxes whenever they simply step on the field. It’s a credit to the threat Derrick Henry is whenever he totes the rock and the ability of the Titans’ offensive line to completely manhandle opposing front sevens whenever boxes are light in terms of bodies.

Peterson saw plenty of eight man boxes in 2019 with Washington, primarily due to the team’s switch to a more physical brand of football after the firing of Jay Gruden.

His numbers against stacked boxes reigned supreme, even above Derrick Henry’s, a feat that isn’t easy to accomplish due to Henry’s notable ability to find success even when so many bodies have committed to limiting his impact on the overwhelming amount of carries he’s had.

I’m not vouching for Peterson’s future success or saying that he’s bound to magically go on a fanatical like tear.

What I am saying though is that Peterson put up some interesting numbers while running behind some lackluster offensive lines. I will admit that he didn’t look totally good in 2020 though, so take what you will with that.

Any reason for optimism?

Do all of these numbers provide any encouraging signs for Peterson’s potential impact offensively? Well, it depends on what you’ll be expecting out of the former Minnesota Viking when he begins to receive carries.

If you’re expecting him to turn back the clock and provide gaudy rushing stats similar to the top of his prime, then you’re going to be extremely disappointed. Peterson doesn’t have that same juice anymore, nor does he have the same big play ability he once had, so all of those fanatical scenarios are pretty much off the table.

However, if you’re expecting a slower back, but one that can still be effective when running between the tackles and bringing a physical edge out of the backfield while also providing some respectable numbers if the run blocking does him some favors, then you’re probably going to be satisfied.

No one can replace what Derrick Henry has done and will continue to do for the Titans. His rare combination of size and speed has given the Titans an embarrassment of riches to pluck from time and time again, so much so that they’ve turned themselves into AFC contenders as a result. When you suddenly lose a player of his caliber, there’s going to be some drop off regardless of who you bring in.

Well, unless you can travel back in time and bring back the Adrian Peterson that set the entire league on fire after his devastating knee injury.

It’s wise to temper your expectations, hope Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Titans’ passing game can pick up the slack, and pray to the good lord in the heavens that no more injuries plague the rest of the offense.

If you do that, then you’ll be putting yourself in a much better position to avoid serious let downs when Peterson can’t rip off 20 yard runs or change the entire flow of a game like Henry has proven he can do. Be realistic, be smart, and just prepare yourself for a bit of a decline in the run game.

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