Adrian Peterson on pace to become first 30-year-old rushing champ since 2004

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Through eight games, Minnesota Vikings running backAdrian Peterson is in the same place he was after a quarter of the NFL season: atop the league’s rushing rankings. He has run for 758 yards and has a 37-yard lead on Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, who has a bye this week. And after getting the better of Rams running back Todd Gurley last week, Peterson said: “I don’t plan on passing the torch any time soon.”

Here are five things to know about Peterson’s season at the halfway point:

  1. He would be the first NFL rushing leader in his 30s since Curtis Martin in 2004: No running back in their 30s has claimed the NFL rushing title since Martin ran for 1,697 yards for the New York Jets at age 31. In fact, no back over the age of 28 has done it since Martin. But with Peterson and Chris Johnson sitting first and third in the rushing rankings — holding spots that were familiar for both men in their mid-20s — there’s a decent chance the trend changes late this season. To win his third rushing crown, though, Peterson will have to post big numbers against some tough defenses; four of the Vikings’ next five opponents are in the league’s top 10 against the run.
  2. He’s not facing a terribly high degree of difficulty to win the rushing crown: Peterson is on pace for 1,506 yards, which would be the lowest figure by an NFL rushing leader since LaDainian Tomlinson posted 1,474 yards in 2007. It’s taken at least 1,606 yards to win every rushing title since then, and Peterson’s two titles came with 1,760 and 2,097 yards in 2008 and 2012. At the moment, though, he’s the only back on pace to reach 1,500 yards, so without some big totals from his competitors in the second half, he might be able to grab his third title without closing in on some of his best years.
  3. He has more carries than any running back in the league: Peterson has 169 carries, or five more than Freeman for the league lead, and he’s on pace for 338 this season. The only two years he carried the ball more were — you guessed it — 2008 and 2012, when he won his titles with 363 and 348 totes, respectively. Peterson did not lead the league in carries either of those years, though; he was second both seasons. With fewer running backs seeing a heavy workload these days, it doesn’t take as many rushing attempts to get to the top of the rushing leaderboards. The Vikings had talked about converting some of Peterson’s carries to catches in an attempt to reduce the amount of contact he takes, but as they’ve realized, they still need a fairly traditional approach with him. He’s on pace for more carries by any running back in a Norv Turner offense since Ricky Williams in 2003.
  4. He’s doing less of the work on his own than he used to: Since ESPN began tracking yards gained after contact in 2009, Peterson has averaged more than two yards after contact per carry in every full season he has played, and topped out at an absurd 2.93 yards after contact per carry in 2012. This season, he is gaining only 1.59 yards per carry after first contact and ranks 33rd in the league in that category. On the other hand, Peterson is averaging 2.90 yards before contact, which is his second-highest figure since 2009 (behind his 3.10-yard average in 2012).
  5. He’s climbing the NFL’s career rushing leaderboard: Peterson currently ranks 22nd all time with 10,948 yards, and is only 19 yards from passing Warrick Dunn for 21st in league history. Peterson needs 288 yards to catch O.J. Simpson for 20th in league history — he said last month that Simpson was a player he was particularly excited about passing — and Peterson might be able to catch Corey Dillon for 19th place on the same play where he passes Simpson, because Dillon is only five yards further away. If Peterson runs for another 758 yards in the second half, he’d finish the season with 11,706 yards. That’d put him 15th on the all-time list, though Frank Gore (who’s currently 16th) is likely to compile enough yards to stay ahead of Peterson for now.

If Peterson does end up in the neighborhood of 11,706 yards this season, 2016 is when he really can start to take down some big names on the all-time list; he’d be just 573 yards from Marshall Faulk (10th all time), 606 from Jim Brown (ninth) and 1,033 from Tony Dorsett (eighth).

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