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Thursday, May 1, 2014
Can Peterson catch Emmitt? It'll be tough

By Ben Goessling

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We talked earlier this afternoon about Adrian Peterson's willingness to take on a bigger role as a receiver, which he almost certainly will do in Norv Turner's offense. The shift in Peterson's role could reduce his number of carries -- and thus the wear and tear on the 29-year-old running back's body -- by converting some of those touches to pass receptions in the open field.

However, during an on-camera interview with ESPN today, Peterson said he still has designs on breaking Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing record of 18,355 yards. That could be tougher if he isn't seeing as many carries during the second half of his career as he saw in his first.

Peterson
Peterson
"It's definitely a goal," Peterson said. "It's not my main focus. But it's something that's right there on top of the chart [that] I'm consciously aware of. But in due time, it will come. Emmitt, he set the bar kind of high. So God's will, I'll stay healthy and continue to have longevity in this league. So, I'll be able to get it."

At present, Peterson has 10,115 yards rushing, meaning he needs another 8,240 to match Smith. Here's where each man was at after his seventh season in the league:
Peterson's yards-per-carry average is more than a half-yard higher than Smith's was at this point of his career, and if Peterson had stayed healthy through the last few games of last season, he'd be well ahead of where Smith was after seven seasons. But Smith's first season in the league came at age 21, meaning he was only 28 when he started his eighth year in the league. Peterson turned 29 last month, and by the time Smith turned 29, he was already up to 11,234 yards.

Here's the other hurdle Peterson must face: From age 29 to age 35, when he retired, Smith played 102 games, carrying another 1,814 times and logging 7,121 yards. His average carry went for just 3.9 yards in those years, so if Peterson maintains an 0.6-yard advantage over Smith in that category, he'd gain 8,163 yards with the same number of carries after age 29, putting him within less than 100 yards of Smith's record.

But Smith still logged six seasons of at least 250 carries after age 29, playing in a league that asked No. 1 running backs to carry a heavier load than many teams do in today's game. For Peterson to get the same number of carries, he'd have to average 259 a season between now and the time he's 35. That seems hard to imagine in the modern NFL, particularly if the Vikings are thinking about giving Peterson the ball as a receiver more often than they have in the past.

It's entirely possible Peterson can make a run at Smith, but he'd probably have to do it more through efficiency than through the kind of heavy workload Smith managed to command even into his mid-30s (and, some would argue, past the point where he deserved so many carries). It's always dangerous to assume Peterson can't do something -- or to be the one placing limits on him -- so we'll just say for now that if Peterson is able to catch Smith, given the realities of today's game, it might stand as his most remarkable achievement.