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Full Speed Ahead (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 9:37AM; Updated: Thursday July 26, 2007 11:58AM
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By Michael Silver

Peterson puts his rushing skills up there with Tomlinson's and Johnson's.
Peterson puts his rushing skills up there with Tomlinson's and Johnson's.
Greg Nelson/SI

"In college it was like I had a chip on my shoulder; I was trying to punish people every chance I got," Peterson says while enjoying a steak lunch on an early spring afternoon in Norman. "That's still going to be part of my game, but I'm going to be more versatile." The biggest knock against him -- and remember, if Jesus had been draft-eligible, some scout would have downgraded him for "lacking explosive burst while walking on water" -- is his durability, or perceived lack thereof.

After setting an NCAA freshman record with 1,925 rushing yards in 2004, the 6'1", 217-pound Peterson suffered significant injuries the next two seasons: a high-ankle sprain as a sophomore and a broken collarbone last October, limiting him to seven starts in each of those years. Because he has an upright running style and relishes contact, some coaches and personnel men question whether he'll be able to hold up as an every-down NFL back. And though Peterson insists he'll modify his game accordingly, those who know him best have a hard time buying it. "The only thing he knows is full speed, even if it's a couple of days before the game on the practice field," says Sooners cornerback Marcus Walker, Peterson's close friend and roommate. "That's AD; that's what makes him him. He's going to bring that attitude to whatever team drafts him, and I don't see him changing his style for anybody."

Various mock drafts project Peterson to be taken anywhere from third (by the Browns) to the middle of the first round -- the first running back picked, ahead of Cal's Marshawn Lynch. The Cardinals, selecting fifth, are strongly considering him despite signing veteran Edgerrin James last year, and Peterson has visited every other team drafting second through eighth: the Lions, Browns, Buccaneers, Redskins, Vikings and Falcons. "I see someone trading up to four or five to get him," says the scouting director of one team with a top five pick. "I think he's a complete freak. He's a young Eric Dickerson. And this guy runs angry."

The comparison with Dickerson, the Hall of Famer who still owns the NFL's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, isn't restricted to personnel circles. Current players also see it. "He's big, strong and fast -- and he runs with passion," says Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman. "That's a hell of a combination, and I definitely think he'll succeed."

But Saints back Deuce McAllister cautions, "As you mature as a running back, particularly as a physical back, you have to change your game. If you don't figure out how to avoid hits, your body simply won't last. And with AD, the better he can catch the ball, the more money he'll make."

Peterson, who caught only 24 passes as a Sooner, put his pass-catching skills on display by working primarily at receiver during Oklahoma's March 13 pro day. What he couldn't answer in those drills were questions some have about his pass blocking. One AFC scout goes so far as to rate Peterson behind Lynch in overall ability, saying, "If you combine the fact that [Peterson's] not great on third down with the durability concerns -- I mean, the guy just runs so recklessly -- I'm not sure he's your ideal every-down back."

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