Is Adrian Peterson the answer for the Patriots’ running game?

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Adrian Peterson
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All of New England was abuzz after ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that long-time Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson was visiting Foxboro recently. Peterson left New England without a contract but with him still unsigned, there are many fans imagining a future Hall-of-Fame running back lining up behind Tom Brady.

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Of course, signing Peterson makes little sense for the Patriots.

First, there are all the off-field issues to deal with. It won’t happen as long as Bob Kraft owns the team. In fact, forget all the off-field problems. The Kraft family would never seriously consider him after his suspension for much of the 2014 season, being charged with child abuse.

Although the Patriots have taken a chance on malcontents Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Johnson, Donte Stallworth (he was signed again in 2012 three years after being suspended the 2009 season for DUI manslaughter) and even LeGarrette Blount, the Krafts have been outspoken on violence against women (and child abuse is certainly as bad an offense).

Even if the front office, ownership and the rest of the organization can get past this, Adrian Peterson is not a fit for the New England Patriots on the field.

First off, the Patriots are not built around a lead back rushing the ball 300 times. Although LeGarrette Blount has filled that role the past few seasons, it is not the optional plan for the offense. In fact, the signing of Rex Burkhead shows how New England would prefer to have backs who can run between the tackles and still be a receiving threat out of the backfield.

For the offense to function at peak efficiency, the Patriots need their running back to be a threat rushing and receiving. This is why they have been looking for options beyond LeGarrette Blount and have refused to overpay him. To the Patriots, he is essentially a one-dimensional running back.

Adrian Peterson, like Blount, is a liability in the passing game. Neither one has great hands or great moves in the open field. Neither has shown the ability to receive short passes and turn them into big gains or big plays. Stevan Ridley, like Blount and Peterson, was a between-the-tackles runner who was not a pass receiver. This substantially limited the offense when he was on the field.
In the New England offense, having a back who can run and catch the ball is a must.
Adrian Peterson also has fumbling issues. If there is one thing Bill Belichick will not tolerate, it is a running back who turns the ball over. Look back at the quick exit of Stevan Ridley to see how fumbling can bury a player on the New England depth chart.
Another knock on Adrian Peterson which would show up and limit his carries in New England is his goal-line rushing ability. Again, like Stevan Ridley, the Patriots likely do not see him as a threat inside the 5-yard line. Remember, that was how Blount initially started taking carries from Ridley in 2013. Minnesota has switched out Peterson in the goal line situations just like the Patriots did with Ridley when he was in New England.
The Patriots have always valued the running back gaining three or four positive yards, keeping the chains moving, not fumbling the ball and occasionally catching a defense off guard and making a big play. The running back is not the star of the offense with Tom Brady behind center. Running backs such as Sammy Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Blount have been successful in the Patriots’ offensive system because they are not asked to do anything more than their limited abilities at running back.
Adrian Peterson is definitely a limited running back at this stage of his career at age 32. For the foreseeable future, the Patriots’ offense is looking for running backs who are multi-dimensional. A running back who can contribute in “all phases” of the game is more of a fit with the way the Patriots view their offense going forward.
Finally. there is the issue with Peterson’s wear and tear and age. There is no doubt he is a future Hall of Fame running back and had a special ability at the position when he came into the league. At the age of 32 and after playing just three games last season, there are serious concerns about his health and his ability to stay healthy over a 16-game season.
The aging running back is not a fit. There is conventional NFL wisdom which indicates that running backs lose their effectiveness after the age of 30. This has been proven out time and time again. Part of the Patriots’ reluctance to extend LeGarrette Blount to a long-term contract has been the fact that he is approaching his age 30 season and piled up a lot of wear and tear the past two seasons.
Looking at recent free agent running backs with a lot of wear and tear shows why the market is so down on these running backs like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. Last season, Miami signed former Houston Texans’ running back Arian Foster. Foster was a bust in Miami and retired mid-season.
The New York Jets also outbid the rest of the NFL last free agency period to sign running back Matt Forte. Forte was a rushing and receiving threat for the Bears for many years but racked up a lot of tread on his tires. Although Forte was not terrible in New York, he lacked the explosiveness that made him an impact player like he was in his twenties. The Jets ended up with a costly, overpaid running back.
The Patriots bringing in Adrian Peterson to evaluate him, work him out and gauge his contract interest all makes sense. Signing him however does not. The fit is simply not there for the New England rushing attack.
With the signing of special teams player and backup running back Brandon Bolden, the Patriots have sent a message to LeGarrette Blount. The workout and talking to Adrian Peterson has sent another message to LeGarrette Blount. That message is simple: we do not need you as much as you need us.
Blount has performed well in his three seasons in New England. However, he is not the ideal back for the offense. But neither is Adrian Peterson. Blount would likely have a role on the team if he returned–but it would be a diminished role. The 2017 season should see Rex Burkhead and James White playing an expanded role in the offense this coming season to make the offense more multidimensional more often.
Look for the Patriots to be very active in the NFL draft and with undrafted free agent running backs and trying to find a running back with a past catching pedigree and the potential to contribute running the ball on first and second down. The Patriots’ running game is at its best when it can force teams into lighter fronts and run the ball between the tackles to take advantage of the extra defensive backs on the field.
Neither Blount and especially not Adrian Peterson is the answer at running back in 2017.
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