No. 6: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

Hall of Famer Mike Singletary and Adrian Peterson would have classic matchups. MATCHUP GALLERY ESPN.com Illustration


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JOHN RANDLE: It's almost like Adrian Peterson plays like he had a dream the night before that he was going to break a big play. That desire is there every time he touches the ball that it's going to be a big play. When he gets tackled, he doesn't go down. He's trying his hardest to stay up, telling himself, "If I can just get my legs free, I'm going to score." That's what makes it fun ... Watching him play, you are expecting the same thing that he is expecting on every play. His desire is visible to everyone out there.


WARREN MOON: He has the speed and breakaway ability, but he looks for guys to run over. He has classic highlights of pushing defensive backs out of his way and throwing guys out of his way while running the football. He will play hurt and banged up, and I like the way he plays the game. He delivers the blow as opposed to taking the blows as an offensive player.


KELLEN WINSLOW: Adrian Peterson is tough. Some guys get a fingernail trimmed back and they're done for the day. Others have toes hanging off and they're still out there playing. And he's in that category.


LYNN SWANN: Adrian is kind of like Jim Brown, but I think he's faster. He's got a tough mentality and he doesn't shy away from anything. Guys will block for him, and if they don't, he'll run through the defense anyway.



On Christmas Eve against the Redskins in Washington, Peterson took a direct hit to his left knee. The collision left him with a torn ACL and MCL, that required surgery on Dec. 30, 2011. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Peterson vowed to return for the 2012 "better than before." For Peterson, there is a precedent when it comes to dealing with pain. In 2004, Peterson, while at the University of Oklahoma, played with a separated shoulder, a performance that lends insight as to how he will approach the lengthy rehabilitation for his knee.

My most challenging moment occurred in a college game against Texas A&M at College Station, Texas. I played with a dislocated shoulder and no one knows the pain I was in during the entire game. However, pain is only temporary, but I am having flashbacks now as I am hearing myself saying it.

But even though I wasn't all the way there mentally, I had the desire and the will power to fight through the circumstance at hand to help my team get a W. In the fourth quarter, I took the handoff, hit the left side for a short game and a was crushed by a tackle and my shoulder popped out. We were up by three and I went into the locker room, well I ran into the locker room where they put it back in place and put a brace in it. I came back out and forced my coach to put me back in so I could help my team pull off a win by converting a third down run to get a first down, which allowed us to run the clock out.

The game was dedicated to my AAU Coach Frank Tatum. Coach Tatum help instill the same character about never giving up. I learned even in the tough moments with God and being mentally focused you can come out a champ. I didn't have over 100 yards and I think I scored one touchdown, but we won a hard fought game, but to me it felt like we won a National Championship.



You can tell by his handshake, Peterson is old school. He's one of the few people under the age of 30 who squeezes your hand and shows his strength. On the field, Peterson resembles the old-school style of running: He'd rather run through a defender than around one. He would have thrived in the Packers' power-sweep offense. His speed and jump cuts would fit any two-back system in any era. Peterson has a defensive mentality and approach to football. He believes the player who makes first contact wins the battle, and Peterson doesn't lose many. He reminds me of Eric Dickerson, but with a much more punishing rushing style.


How he bounces back from his knee reconstruction could determine his chances. Before the injury, he was on pace for a Hall of Fame career.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN



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Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.