While Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hasn't had a poor season by any means, it pales in comparison to what he did last year. Awful quarterback play is the main culprit, but a move to Josh Freeman allows AP to return to fantasy football dominance.
Perhaps Peterson is being graded unfairly by fantasy owners thus far because of what he did in 2012. It can be argued that Peterson had the best season ever by an NFL running back as he came within a few yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season yardage record, scored 13 total touchdowns and did all of this after tearing his ACL late in the 2011 campaign.
Peterson is currently second in the league behind the Philadelphia Eagles LeSean McCoy in rushing yards per game with 96.6, and he is among the highest-scoring backs in fantasy as well. With that said, Peterson could be so much better if given some offensive support.
Head coach Leslie Frazier has waffled between Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel under center this year, but neither has gotten the job done.
That may not seem like particularly exciting news on the surface, but Peterson hasn't had a competent quarterback since Brett Favre. It's true that Peterson was able to put up incredible numbers last season with Ponder playing mediocre at best most weeks, but he would have been even more dangerous if there was any type of passing threat.
Freeman has certainly struggled so far this season as he completed less than 46 percent of his passes in three games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he has proven capable of making plays in the past. Freeman threw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns last season before fading down the stretch, so the talent is definitely there.
Apparently the Vikings organization thought Ponder could become a franchise quarterback when they drafted him No. 12 overall in 2011, but most observers were skeptical. He hasn't done anything to suggest that he should be an NFL starter, but at least Freeman has shown flashes of brilliance.
Freeman's best attribute is his arm strength, which is something that would help open up the Minnesota offense significantly. Opposing defenses simply aren't afraid of Ponder or Cassel because they don't have the ability to make them pay deep down the field.
Defenses can keep extra guys in the box to stop Peterson because most of Minnesota's passes are dump-offs or screens that can't beat that type of defense anyway. Freeman, on the other hand, is the type of quarterback who can hit wide receivers like Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson on deeper routes. That will keep defenses honest, and it will naturally open more running lanes for Peterson.
The argument can be made that Freeman having success would take some of the focus away from Peterson offensively, but that wouldn't likely be the case. The Vikings coaching staff seems fully aware of Peterson's importance to the team, and there is little doubt that he'll be the lifeblood of the offense as long as he is on top of his game.
Peterson ended Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers with just 62 rushing yards on 10 carries as the Vikings abandoned the run after falling behind early. Poor defensive play certainly had a lot to do with that, but Cassel was pitiful as well, and that contributed to Minnesota's slow start in that game.
Freeman is far from a sure thing in his own right, but the talent gap between him and the Vikings' other quarterbacks is significant. Peterson has just two 100-yard efforts through five games this season; however, the threat of Freeman would almost certainly change that.
Last season Freeman was excellent until the latter stages of the year, and he was able to accommodate a 1,400-yard rusher in the form of Doug Martin. Inconsistent quarterback play has hurt Martin significantly this season, so there is no doubt that quarterbacks can significantly impact the way defenses prepare for opposing running backs.
Every defense the Vikings play is focused on shutting down Peterson and little else, but Freeman would add a few wrinkles at the very least. Peterson will put up great numbers regardless of who is handing him the ball, but at this point it seems obvious that he needs Freeman in order to rival the season he had last year.
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