In Week 16 of the 2017 NFL season, running back Adrian Peterson will break Emmitt Smith’s all-time career rushing record of 18,355 yards. This very forward-looking bit of news comes from Peterson himself, who told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the specifics of when he planned to become the leading rusher of all-time.
Peterson fell eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record last season with 2,097 yards on the ground — but said that this upcoming season he would not just break Dickerson’s record, but eclipse the 2,500-yard mark. The 28-year-old Minnesota Viking standout is far and away the most gifted back the game has seen in years, but the goals he is setting for himself will be difficult to achieve.
Peterson is just one season removed from surgery to repair both his ACL and MCL — an injury suffered in a Christmas Eve game in 2011 against the Redskins. His 2011 season was cut short and for the first time in his career, he failed to accrue more than 1,000 yards rushing. He was expected to be out a full 12 months recovering from surgery, but he returned in time for opening day in 2012. He played all 16 games in 2012 and won the MVP — quieting any disbelief that he had returned to full health.
Should his knees hold up in the long term after such brutal injuries, very few should question his ability to tackle Smith’s record. Among the list of records he’s already set are most yards rushing in a single game with 296, a type of dominating performance he will have to frequently have should he break the all-time record. Through six NFL seasons, Peterson has amassed 8,849 total yards rushing, leaving him just shy of 10,000 yards away.
Working against Peterson is his age. At 28, he is still in the prime of his career and considered young, but no NFL running back has rushed for more than 8,195 yards after turning 28, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The player who set that record: also Emmitt Smith.
Smith played for 15 seasons and only missed more than two games in a season once (his second-to-last season, playing as a backup with the Arizona Cardinals). Smith’s best season came in 1995 when he rushed for 1,773 yards for the Dallas Cowboys, far below Peterson’s best mark. Whether or not Peterson can play for another nine seasons is the more important question. Smith played until he was 35.
The next few seasons will be very important for Peterson, as he will likely start declining once he starts getting closer to 35. And if Peterson fulfills all of his guarantees, eclipsing the 2,500 mark in the 2013-2014 season will be a great start to become the best rusher in the history of the game. One record Peterson didn’t mention breaking was Smith’s 164 career rushing touchdowns — that number is seemingly untouchable for Peterson who has 76 but plays in an age where touchdowns are sometimes given to backup running backs who take the brunt of the goal-line offense.
Week 16 in 2017 is a long way off, but fans should mark it on their calendars. Peterson’s marked it on his.