Camp Battles: Minnesota RB
Can rookie Peterson beat Taylor for starting job?
Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 1:19PM; Updated: Tuesday July 17, 2007 1:19PM
No NFL city has proven to be big enough to house the egos of two feature running backs. Not Dallas with Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker. Not Los Angeles with Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. Heck, not even Chicago with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Whenever two are present, it soon becomes apparent that there can be only one.
The Vikings took fans by surprise this April when they made Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson the seventh overall pick, especially after Chester Taylor's strong first season for Minnesota. This wasn't the same as when Cincinnati chose Chris Perry in the first round with Rudi Johnson in tow, or even last year when the Colts made a commitment to Dominic Rhodes and then picked up Joseph Addai. Those players went near the end of the round. Peterson's draft spot signifies a commitment, and nobody wants to believe that head coach Brad Childress plans to give both backs equal time this season.
Why Taylor will keep the job: First off, a little bit of history: Taylor had the fifth most yards in the NFC last year (1,214) and he caught 42 passes. Injuries slowed him down near the end of the season, but Taylor was still effective. Now he will have a year under his belt in this offense, and that is when players generally take off. Even though he is now the "older" of the two stud backs in Minnesota, Taylor is just 27, and he has plenty of life in his legs because he played sparingly early in his career as Jamal Lewis' backup in Baltimore. While Taylor is healthy heading into camp, the concern over Peterson's collarbone injury is legitimate. Taylor is more experienced than Peterson, healthier at the moment, a better receiver and a comparable runner. His time is now, whereas Peterson's time has yet to arrive.
Why Peterson will win it: On just 188 carries last season, Peterson eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark at Oklahoma. In three years he never averaged fewer than five yards per carry, and he played in the Big 12, a conference known for its old-fashioned, gritty-style of football. Peterson is the perfect back for Childress' system -- big, powerful, yet somehow elusive. He won't average five yards each touch in the NFL, but he is quick enough to make pro defenders miss, and strong enough to bowl over opposing linebackers. Best yet, he has a nose for the end zone; he scored 41 rushing touchdowns in three years in Norman. That is important, as Taylor only managed six scores for the Vikings a year ago. His selection with the No. 7 overall pick was not so much a sign that the Vikings question Taylor as it was an endorsement of Peterson's ability. This guy will be carrying the football in Minnesota for many years, and it is just a matter of time before he dislodges his backfield counterpart.
Who fantasy owners should pull for: Taylor
Rookies are rarely a good option for fantasy owners, and high-profile rookie backs fail more than they succeed. The reality is that Peterson will get picked higher than he should go in most fantasy drafts (although not necessarily higher than Taylor), making Taylor a much better bargain.
Taylor has already proven he can produce numbers for an awful Vikings team. Even though there are serious doubts about Tarvaris Jackson and the passing game, the offensive line is rock solid and will create holes no matter what Jackson does. Fantasy owners know what they are getting in Taylor, and it's not too shabby. The uncertainty of Peterson and his rookie status makes him a riskier pick.
In this scenario, however, there is a good chance everyone will lose. Chances are it will play out like last year in Indianapolis, where Rhodes carried the load early, but Addai's touches increased by mid-season. The collarbone that Peterson fractured last October and re-fractured at the Fiesta Bowl is an excuse for the Vikings to ease him into the lineup. Taylor should get the early carries and by midseason the two players' roles will be reversed, with Peterson's legs fresh for the stretch run.
Mike Beacom is the senior editor of Pro Fantasy Sports.