You don’t need me to tell you that Adrian Peterson is good at football. But telling you specifically why, is the reason I created The Vision Test. AP is a unique player, not only in the stats he’s amassed through his career, but exactly how he collects them on the field. He’s the high-water mark for RBs and in fantasy football drafts where we’re waiting later and later to select ball carriers, looking at what exceptional athletes do on the field and finding similarly talented backs is key. Basically, Adrian Peterson is what happens when just about everything works properly on a running play. Rather than introduce The Vision Test by telling you what Antonio Andrews does wrong, it would be a better display to tell you what someone like Adrian Peterson does right.
The six game sample I used for AP were weeks 4, 6, 10, 12, 14, and 15. The top performances were 10 and 12, his lowest totals were 4 and 6, with weeks 14 and 15 splitting the distance. 118 carries in total not only gave me an informed look at his strengths, but also showed my how defenses can, and do stop the future HOFer from taking over a game.
Speaking strictly in terms of field vision AP is one of the best in the game today. His combined vision score (measured by the cut he takes toward the hole in addition to the burst he uses to do so) for the 6 game sample is a whopping 115.5. His highest single game came week 12 @ Atlanta where he took 29 carries for 158 yards and 2 scores amassing 27 standard scoring fantasy points with his groundwork, all en route to a 32.5 Vision Score. His lowest Vision Score came week 4 against the Broncos (11.5) where he was frequently thrown off by the Miller/Ware tandem along Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe. But this score sitting here is just a number,
If there’s one knock on Peterson it’s that he isn’t a patient runner with the football. If this was a tendency he developed at some early point he actually found a way to turn it into a strength. Being an impatient runner doesn’t mean he isn’t a smart one. AP gets up to the LOS before defensive linemen and linebackers have a chance to react. This aggressive running style cuts time off for linebackers to react and flow, while also not giving defensive linemen the chance to get off their block. AP also benefits from having developed an incredible reputation in the NFL.
Watch any run where Peterson has a little room on the edge and you’ll see either a CB or a boundary linebacker strongly playing contain. The fear of AP’s prowess bouncing outside is so strong that those boundary defenders hold that position as he zips by them and a linebacker making his way to the 3rd level of the defense. AP also routinely makes it look like defenses are over-pursuing him and this is due to what may be the biggest strength in his running style.
A lot was made in Week 1 that AP couldn’t run out of the shotgun because he was used to seeing a fullback in front of him. In reality, AP uses any and every blocking lineman like he would a fullback. He gets right behind his lineman in a hurry finds the crease and explodes upfield. Peterson also might be the most decisive runner in the league, he makes his cut and if he can get 2 steps in after that there are no cutbacks.
Amazingly there aren’t a ton of bells and whistles in Adrian Peterson’s running style. He gets to the LOS fast, makes his decision and rather than try and bulldoze every defender in front of him, he shows a little burst, keeps his feet moving, and extends runs an extra yard or two by doing so. Peterson sinks his hips down and squats so low in the hole, backside defenders frequently move to contain him as they play to keep him from cutting back. Really what AP is doing is generating power from his entire lower body to run through 1 or 2 arm tackles in traffic.
AP really enjoys employing a stutter, or jab step when he sees a crease on the outside or has extra running room on the inside. He’ll often set himself squared up against a defender jab step one way, wait for the defender to react, and then cut across their body in search for more open field. By the time a tackler has caught up with him he’s fighting for extra yards but has the awareness on the field to know when a 2nd or 3rd defender is moving to lay a big hit and goes down to avoid the unnecessary contact.
Denver, Kansas City, and Arizona all held Adrian Peterson in check for their games. It’s a complete defensive task to stop Peterson and these units all did so by employing the similar strategies. Outside linebackers or safeties need to keep their contain consistently, some of the most impressive runs AP had in my sample happened when outside defenders over-pursued and he bounced outside for big gains. The defensive line has an equally hard task, A gap rushers need to just hold up the center or guard blocking them, with Peterson’s aggressive running style any penetration at that spot on the line leads to the defensive tackle having to turn around to grab AP who has already passed them. Defensive ends can use AP’s rush to get right behind his OL to their advantage by driving them back. This throws off Peterson’s timing and when done right, leaves him looking for a running lane as either the DT makes a move or a linebacker comes in to clean things up.
Looking at the personnel each of those teams have it’s no wonder they were able to show strong again Peterson. Miller, Ware, Jackson, and Wolfe give him fits all day. KC has the tandem of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the outside with the underrated and now retired Mike Devito pushing the OL. Arizona’s clear standout against AP was of course Tyrann Mathieu with solid contributions by Deone Bucannon and Calais Campbell.
There’s one type of play that stands out when watching AP and it’s how he performs on the standard RB dive. His aggressive running style, burst at the LOS, and the speed/toughness combo he shows at the 2nd and 3rd level of the defense is put on display when the Vikings run it (typically when AP is at the early/mid teens in terms of carry numbers). His 15TH carry against Denver is a dive and goes for a 48 yard TD. Sylvester Williams gets washed out of the inside and Peterson hits the gas and is gone before the safety can change direction. AP is exceptional at hitting that 5th gear when there is open space on an inside run. That play just described was his 15th carry against Denver in Week 4. His 15th carry Week 15 against Chicago looks remarkable similar with its only difference being Chris Prosinski getting just enough of AP to bring him down before he beats him for the TD. His 21st carry Week 12 against the Falcons follows suit with a nasty stutter step/juke mixed in for flavor.
However, in that same game against Atlanta Adrian Peterson shows why you can’t sell out your assignment to stop him on the dive play. On 3rd and 1, seeing a pile of bodies in front of him Peterson notices outside linebacker Brooks Reed crash the middle. AP cuts his dive outside, sprints to the open field, keeps the threat of taking the sideline, cuts inside, shakes off a hit from Paul Worrilow and gets taken down after gaining 17 yards. For me, this was Peterson’s most complete run. A display of all his talents, neatly packed into a 3rd down conversion, against what was at that time, one of the top rushing defenses in the league.
Adrian Peterson is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball and his vision on the field the most dangerous aspect of his game. Combining this with the aggression and power he puts into every run along with his speed and near perfect jab step are what makes him the best RB in the NFL right now. I’m as big a fan of Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell as anyone but for redraft leagues, Adrian Peterson is the clear RB to go first.