<
>

Adrian Peterson vs. Todd Gurley: Whose rookie season is better?

MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps the most popular Internet meme of the last month was "Back to the Future Day" on Oct. 21 -- the day depicted in the flick "Back to the Future 2" when Marty McFly travels 30 years into the future to bail his son out of trouble while trying to avoid running into his future self. On Sunday, Adrian Peterson might have his own version of it.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound running back -- born in 1985; offensive rookie of the year and rushing title runner-up in 2007; and league MVP and ACL recovery success story in 2012 -- will be across the field from a 6-foot-1, 226-pound running back who has condensed Peterson's timetable, squeezing a comeback from knee surgery and a showstopping rookie season all into an 11-month span.

The St. Louis Rams rookie only carried six times for nine yards in his first NFL game, but he has posted at least 128 yards in every game since then, giving him the third-most yards by a running back in his first five games; his 575 yards trail only Eric Dickerson (645) and Peterson (607).

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn called Gurley "Adrian Peterson all over again." And when asked if he saw similarities between the two running backs, coach Mike Zimmer -- who was the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator during Peterson's first NFL game -- said, "Yeah, I think so. I think [Gurley] runs with violence, [he's] explosive, a lot of those things."

But who gets the nod as the better rookie? That title still might go to Peterson.

Let's take a look at Gurley's 2015 season so far versus Peterson's first five games as a rookie:

Yards per attempt: Peterson 6.3, Gurley 6.1.

Peterson wins here largely because of how consistent he was; 34 of his first 96 NFL carries went for at least six yards. Gurley only has gained six-plus yards on 22 of his first 94 carries. Peterson went on to finish the 2007 season with at least six yards on 78 of his 238 carries.

Explosive plays (runs of 20-plus yards): Gurley 7, Peterson 5

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Gurley's recovery is how quickly he has regained his top-end speed; he has ripped off a run of at least 48 yards in each of the Rams' last four games, and he raced untouched to the end zone on a 71-yard touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Peterson gained 202 yards on four runs in his fifth game against Chicago -- the Vikings' last win at Soldier Field before Sunday's victory -- but he didn't break anything longer than 16 yards in his first three games. For the year, he had only 11 runs of 20-plus yards; Gurley could eclipse that by the beginning of December.

Touchdowns: Peterson 5, Gurley 3

Peterson scored three times against the Bears -- which was a bigger output than anything Gurley has done to date -- and punched in a 16-yard score against Kansas City that year. His first TD was actually a 60-yard reception in Week 1 against the Falcons and Zimmer. He would finish with 13 TDs (12 rushing, one receiving). All three of Gurley's TDs have been in his last two games.

Fumbles (lost): Peterson 1 (1), Gurley 1 (0)

Peterson had some fumbling problems during the first years of his career, and he lost three of his four fumbles as a rookie. Gurley, to date, has only one, which the Rams recovered against Arizona.

Wild card: Gurley has more yards in his first five games than Peterson did after ACL surgery; Peterson's rookie season saw him catch 10 passes and return seven kickoffs in his first five games -- and break the NFL single-game rushing record by his eighth game.

This might be what truly gives Peterson's rookie season the edge over Gurley's at this point. There is little doubt how impressive the rookie's comeback has been; in the years after Peterson won MVP honors following his return, it seems as though running backs are emboldened and empowered to make speedier returns. But the Vikings involved Peterson in their passing game and special teams early, more so than the Rams have done with Gurley. And unless Gurley does something similar this year, it's tough not to give Peterson the edge based on what he did against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 4, 2007, when he broke Jamal Lewis' single-game mark with 296 yards.

The fact Gurley is reminding people of Peterson at all, though, puts the rookie in heady company. It probably also means Peterson will be intent on proving he's still better than Gurley when the Rams come to town Sunday.

"He's like a young Adrian Peterson," Munnerlyn said, "but I like our Adrian Peterson better."