Regrets? Six teams wonder what might have been with Peterson
The six teams that passed may have made a Bowie-for-Jordan-like error
The first 33 games of Adrian Peterson's career have inspired lofty expectations
In 2008 Peterson led the league in rushing with 1,760 yards
It's a rather exclusive club within the NFL, but by now, there must be a certain exquisite agony shared by the six teams that passed on Adrian Peterson in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
They all had their reasons, but you have to wonder these days if they remember exactly what they were as they watch Peterson's weekly geyser of highlights and consider the ever-increasing possibility that they, in effect, selected Sam Bowie and bypassed the chance to draft Michael Jordan.
The Cleveland Browns, who selected third that year, are just the latest of the six to pay firsthand for their sin of omission. Facing the Browns for the first time last Sunday, on the opening weekend of the NFL's regular season, Peterson gouged them for 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns in Minnesota's 34-20 road win. It marked his fifth 100-yard rushing performance in the eight games he has played against the teams that snubbed him.
Hindsight being 20-20 and all, if we knew then what we know now, the question of whether Peterson should have gone No. 1 overall two years ago elicited a polite collection of "Duhs'' from the NFL sources I spoke to this week.
"The simple answer is I think Adrian Peterson is the best football player in the NFL, so yeah, I don't think there's any doubt he's the No. 1 pick if you could re-do that draft,'' said Mike Mayock, the former NFL safety who is widely respected as the NFL Network's lead draft analyst. "You can talk about starting to build a team around a quarterback, and that's certainly valid. But this kid, he's the best running back I've seen in many, many years, and before he's all done, if he stays healthy, he could be the best of all time.''
That's a mouthful, but the first 33 games of Peterson's NFL career has inspired nothing but lofty declarations. As a rookie in 2007, Peterson burst onto the scene with a 1,341-yard rushing season that earned him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and ranked him second behind only San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson among rushers. The eye-popping highlight of that year was easily his 296-yard game against the Chargers, which by a yard broke Jamal Lewis's NFL one-game rushing record for Baltimore in 2003.
Then came 2008, when Peterson led the league in rushing with 1,760 yards, carried the Vikings to an NFC North title and playoff berth, and started his second consecutive Pro Bowl. After his stellar Week 1 showing of the new season, Peterson is again inspiring a new round of awe and admiration throughout the league.
"Right now it may look a little like Bowie over Jordan, but I don't know anybody in the league who thought he was going to be this good,'' said one long-time NFL personnel man, who's no longer in the business. "He would easily be the first overall pick if you could project backwards, but you can't.''
Let's be honest, Peterson's early NFL experience likely wouldn't have gone quite so smashingly had he not been drafted by Minnesota, which features one of the best offensive lines in the league. And Peterson's situation probably got that much better with the recent addition of Brett Favre to the Vikings, a club whose quarterbacking has suffered from a lack of competency in his first two seasons. To think that Peterson would have enjoyed the same success in Oakland, Detroit, or wherever else he landed is being unrealistic.
But just in case you've lost track after two full years and one game of their third NFL seasons, let's take stock of where the supposedly superior six players taken ahead of Peterson are in comparison to the NFL's best running back, and maybe its best player, period:
1. Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell -- The former LSU star remains very much a work in progress, and his track record to this point has been anywhere from mediocre to potential bust territory. Russell is 5-12 in his 17 career starts, with 16 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions, a 53.0 completion percentage and a 72.2 passer rating. The Raiders have yet to make the playoffs since drafting Russell.
2. Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson -- Though the Lions have certainly missed on more than their fair share of first-round receivers this decade, you can't number Johnson among them. Despite being on a dreadful Lions team that is just 7-26 since he arrived, and made NFL history of the wrong kind last year at 0-16, Johnson has lived up to his billing as the top-rated receiver and many teams' top overall prospect heading into the 2007 draft.
He enjoyed a breakthrough 78-catch, 1,331-yard, 12-touchdown season last year, was named an NFC Pro Bowl alternate, and his career totals of 129 receptions for 2,177 yards and 16 touchdowns in 32 career games (27 starts) are rightfully viewed as outstanding production. Obviously, Detroit has gone playoff-less since drafting Johnson.
3. Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas -- The bottom line on Thomas is that he has made all 33 starts at the vital left tackle position for the Browns, and he has two Pro Bowl starts to his credit. Though his second NFL season didn't match the brilliance of his rookie year, when his play was seen as one of the biggest cogs in Cleveland's surprising 10-6 record and No. 10-ranked rushing game, Thomas has been the franchise left tackle the Browns bargained for. But Cleveland is 14-19 in his tenure, without a playoff trip.
4. Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams -- This is the slot where the pain of passing on Peterson really starts intensifying. In terms of top-five impact, Adams has been a disappointment, registering 12½ sacks, two interceptions and one touchdown in 25 career starts. The former Clemson star has not become a consistent pass rush threat as the Bucs have hoped, and Tampa Bay has played in and lost one postseason game since he arrived.
5. Arizona offensive tackle Levi Brown -- The good news is that Brown has started 28 of the 30 games he has played in as a Cardinal, and Arizona did make that memorable Super Bowl last season with him at right tackle. But the reality in the NFL is that right tackles don't carry top-five value -- and yes, we remember that he was drafted to protect the left-handed Matt Leinart's blindside. Moreover, the Cardinals decision to not draft Peterson is made even more curious by their selecting running backs such as Tim Hightower (fifth round, 2008) and Chris "Beanie'' Wells (first round, 2009) the past two years.
6. Washington free safety LaRon Landry -- The Redskins took Landry out of LSU and believed he and Sean Taylor would team up to give them the strongest safety tandem in the league for years to come. But Taylor was murdered late in Landry's rookie season, and any fair analysis of Landry's impact thus far would rate it as very modest. He has started all 33 games since being selected, with two interceptions, two sacks, and 18 passes defensed. In the one playoff game Washington has had in his tenure, Landry picked off two passes in a first-round loss at Seattle. Again, that's not the level of production a team picking as high as No. 6 is banking on.
Eight times in his 33-game NFL career Adrian Peterson has faced one of the six teams that passed on him in the 2007 NFL Draft. Here's how he has fared against them:
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