Adrian Peterson remembers when he was the young running back everyone was talking about, the sudden supernova who made the highlight shows every Monday morning, the rookie who was getting compared to the greats who came before him.
And he relished any opportunity to go carry for carry against the NFL’s best backs.
“I remember when I came in and there were backs that I looked up to that I encountered during the season. It was like, ‘Man I want to make sure that I outdo [LaDainian Tomlinson] or this guy, that guy, Frank Gore,’ ” Peterson said.
Now Peterson is that perennial Pro Bowl running back, the star who could be close to fading away, the elder statesman many youngsters emulate and admire. And St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley, whom the Vikings must slow down Sunday, is the new “it” running back, the latest to be dubbed the “next Adrian Peterson.”
Peterson figures Gurley, the former Georgia standout who was drafted 10th overall by the Rams this spring, will have something to prove Sunday. And Peterson says he will have a little something extra, too.
“Just because I know this young guy is going to come in here pretty excited to play as well,” Peterson said Wednesday on a conference call with St. Louis area media.
Led by Gurley and a fearsome pass rush, the Rams have won three of their past four games heading into Sunday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium. The game could have playoff ramifications for both the 4-3 Rams and the 5-2 Vikings.
Gurley did not play in the Rams’ first two games as he worked his way back from a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament that ended his college career last November. And he had only 9 yards on six carries in his NFL debut. But he exploded for 566 yards in his past four games and ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing, two spots behind Peterson.
With four consecutive games with 100-plus rushing yards, Gurley joined Peterson as the only other player in NFL history to do that in four of his first five games.
Gurley’s violent running style, his ability to bounce off tacklers and the breakaway speed that has enabled him to reel off a league-leading four runs of 40-plus yards have conjured up memories of Peterson in his rookie season in 2007.
“I really don’t pay attention to all the comparisons. That’s for the commentators and the outside world,” Gurley said on his conference call with Minnesota media. “I definitely respect his game. He’s one of the best to ever do it. So I just got to play my game and get better every day. I’ve only played in four or five games.”
Gurley isn’t the first back to be likened to Peterson (where have you gone, Trent Richardson?) and he won’t be the last (see you in 2017, Leonard Fournette). But Peterson’s coach, Mike Zimmer, and his Vikings teammates seem to think that this comparison is valid.
“This guy is big. A lot of guys don’t realize how big he is. He’s got the speed. He can hit you with the home-run speed,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of Gurley, who like Peterson is 6-1 but is seven pounds heavier at 227. “So he’s a young Adrian Peterson. But I like our Adrian Peterson better.”
While Peterson has been spending most of his time this week preparing for a stacked Rams front line that is learning how to stop the run in addition to being one of the league’s most sack-happy groups, he did peek at some Gurley film. Consider him a fan.
“I like that aggression, the way he plays — just fast, physical. He’s a determined runner. He does have that combination, that nice blend of power and speed and great vision,” Peterson said.
“I [take] my hat off to the young guy for what he’s been able to accomplish thus far, especially coming off a major knee injury.”
The Vikings have defended the run better since the bye week, allowing an average of 77 yards per game. But the only established back they faced in that stretch was Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears, and he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Gurley, running behind an improved Rams offensive line, figures to pose a greater challenge.
Peterson will challenge the Rams, too, and he is eager to show Gurley, the latest threat to his throne, that he is still the best in the business.
“[The] running backs that look up to me and [Seattle Seahawks running back] Marshawn Lynch and guys like that and really take the things that we say seriously and apply themselves the same way, those are the ones you really have to look out for — you know, Todd Gurley,” Peterson said. “Those guys will be on your heels. You have to take a lot of pride in being great.”