Adrian Peterson has signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. The 32-year-old future Hall of Famer heads south after spending the first 10 years of his career in Minnesota.
Unlike his time with the Vikings, Peterson will not have a clear path to feature-back duties in New Orleans. Mark Ingram is the team's lead back and is capable on all three downs. He averaged 12.8 carries and 3.3 targets per game en route to finishing eighth at the position in fantasy points last season. Ingram has finished top 20 among backs in rushing yards each of the past three years and top 20 in receiving yards each of the past two seasons. The 27-year-old averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per carry last season, which was ninth-best in the league.
That's a long way of saying that Ingram is a very good bet to maintain a significant (albeit lesser) role, despite Peterson's presence. Peterson, meanwhile, missed 13 games with knee and groin injuries in 2016, and has now missed 20 games due to injury over his past six seasons (excluding the 2014 season, in which he appeared in one game due to suspension).
Peterson was fairly effective during his last full season. In 2015, he racked up 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns on 327 carries, while adding 222 yards on 30 catches. Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry, although the 1.9 he produced after initial contact was a big step down from the NFL-high 2.41 mark he produced from 2009 to 2013.
Incredibly, Peterson has produced a minimum of 973 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns during all eight seasons in which he's appeared in at least 12 games. Of course, he averaged 325 touches those seasons and is a poor bet to come close to that mark in New Orleans. On the other hand, despite his 2016 success, Ingram often ended up in coach Sean Payton's doghouse. This helps explain why he ended up with single-digit carries in five games and played fewer than one-third of the team's snaps during four outings. Additionally, Ingram appeared in all 16 of the team's regular season games for the first time since 2012.
Ingram's fantasy value figures to be bailed out, to an extent, by his receiving work. Once pigeon-holed as strictly a two-down plodder, Ingram has now caught 96 passes in 28 games over the past two seasons. His effectiveness is far from great (7.5 YPR), but well ahead of Peterson's 6.1 mark over the past five years. In fact, Peterson has offered very little as a pass-catcher in his career. He's never eclipsed 43 receptions in a season and has caught five touchdown passes in 10 seasons. The Saints also re-signed Travaris Cadet, who operates strictly as a passing-down specialist. Cadet quietly finished 17th in the league with 50 targets last season. New Orleans called pass on 97 percent of his 278 snaps. He figures to maintain a role barring an upgrade during draft weekend.
Entering the draft, my projections are as follows:
Ingram: 184 carries, 838 yards, 7 TD; 41 receptions, 302 yards, 2 TD
Peterson: 168 carries, 750 yards, 6 TD; 20 receptions, 162 yards, 1 TD
Cadet: 8 carries, 33 yards; 35 receptions, 286 yards, 2 TD
John Kuhn: 12 carries, 41 yards, 1 TD; 15 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD
Ingram maintained fantasy relevance despite Tim Hightower handling 155 touches last year, but he's a poor bet to once again play in 16 games and repeat his receiving touchdown total (four). Also, Peterson is being paid more than three times what Hightower made. His pedigree, combined with Ingram banging heads with Payton often, suggests Peterson will be asked to handle a significant workload. Frankly, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he led the team in carries in 2017. The Saints offense will continue to score at will and Ingram is good enough to produce RB2 numbers, but his ceiling is much lower than in 2016. Peterson is best-viewed as a flex option, but should be upgraded a bit in non-PPR formats.