In news conferences Monday, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman both expressed hope that tailback Adrian Peterson can return from a serious knee injury sometime early in the 2012 season. It's an optimistic timetable given Peterson's position and his injury, which includes two torn ligaments and some other damage, but the Vikings believe his history of quick recoveries and work ethic gives him a legitimate chance to hit that goal.
Whether Peterson returns in Week 1 or Week 4 or at midseason in 2012, the question most fans have is what type of player he will be at that point. We obviously can't begin to assess that question, not with surgery still a week or more away and with many, many interim points of progress to hit first.
What we can do, however, is recognize that Peterson has already begun an evolution from the rare breakaway threat he was as a rookie to a more traditional between-the-tackle runner. That's not at all surprising for an NFL running back after nearly five years of wear and tear, and in a perverse way it offers hope for his future production levels.
Check out the chart accompanying this post. Peterson had 31 rushes of 20 or more yards in his first two seasons. Over the next three, he has 28. Obviously his carries have decreased in every year as well, but generally speaking that's not a surprising trend.
So what does this mean? If you're worried that this injury will rob Peterson of his breakaway speed, well, the fact is he has been going down that road already for the past few years and has still been a highly productive runner. The real concern is if Peterson will regain the strength he needs to be the power runner he was already becoming. Take that for what it's worth.