ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Looking back on it all, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson believes he could have made the jump from Palestine (Texas) High School senior to NFL rookie if he had had the chance to do so.
The question about the preps-to-pro jump has been swirling around LSU's sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,034 yards last season as a true freshman for the Tigers and has already rushed for 631 yards in three games this season, including back-to-back 200-yard games. By league rule, Fournette will not be eligible for the NFL until the 2017 NFL draft, following his junior season.
"Not to sound cocky or anything, or confident, but yeah, I do feel like I could have came out my senior year of high school and played in the NFL,'' Peterson said Monday on a conference call with Denver-area media leading up to Sunday's Minnesota Vikings-Denver Broncos game. "I really do. And I'll just say this, people were like 'well, physically you just weren't ready.' I came in my freshman year and I was up for the Heisman, had a pretty good season, was the leading rusher."
Peterson rushed for 2,960 yards and 32 touchdowns as a high school senior in 2003 and then went on to rush for 1,860 yards with 15 touchdowns -- 5.9 yards per carry -- as a true freshman at the University of Oklahoma.
"Not to sound cocky or anything, or confident, but yeah I do feel like I could have came out my senior year of high school and played in the NFL."
"And there were guys that went in the league that year, like Cedric Benson, I felt like my freshman year I should have won the Doak Walker Award [for the nation's top college running back], but they gave it to him -- I kind of got off topic there. But anyway ... I feel like I was a better player than him. And so it's like, 'I'm a true freshman, and if Cedric can go in [to the NFL] and play, then why couldn't I do it?'''
The Chicago Bears selected Benson No. 4 overall in the 2005 NFL draft.
Peterson said Monday he had not seen Fournette play a game -- "just the highlights'' -- and would have to see more of the Heisman hopeful before he could say whether Fournette would be ready for the NFL now.
Peterson also said Monday that he had watched, with interest, Maurice Clarett's lawsuit against the NFL in 2003 that challenged the NFL's rule that players must wait at least three years after they finish high school before they can enter the draft. Clarett was 19 at the time of the lawsuit and had finished his freshman year at Ohio State.
Clarett was not successful, and the NFL's rule remains in place, making 20-year-olds the youngest players who have appeared in the league's draft. For the Broncos, both running back Ronnie Hillman and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler were 20 when the team selected them.
"But I was so happy with Clarett when that situation went down the way it did ... and [before the court's decision] I was like 'Wow, I might be able to leave high school and really make this happen.' But I don't think there's too many people that could do that, though.''
Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, a 2007 first-round pick of the Houston Texans, is the youngest known player drafted in the last few decades, turning 20 less than two months after being picked.