"Adrian Peterson," Peterson said. "I'm my own self."
Peterson and Tomlinson have different styles. Peterson is taller, bigger. Tomlinson is more like his childhood hero (Payton) in stature and the versatility to run inside and outside, receive, pass and block equally well. Tomlinson has 426 career receptions for 3,111 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has thrown 11 passes, eight for touchdowns.
There are, however, two traits that Peterson said he thinks he shares with Tomlinson.
"I'm probably similar to him in terms of vision and making cuts," Peterson said. "When I study him, I'll watch a play and see what kind of cuts he makes. You don't see other running backs in the league make those kind of cuts. But I sit there and I see him cut and I think to myself, 'Man, I could have done that.'"
Many players and coaches are reluctant to compare a rookie running back to an established veteran, no matter how good the rookie is. After all, durability, they say, ranks equally if not higher than ability.
"We have a young kid who's doing some good things," said Vikings running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, a former Chargers running back. "But Eric Dickerson? Come back and talk to me about that in five or six years."
Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman said some of the comparisons used to describe Peterson are only natural. But it's still too early.
"I can stand here and tell you Adrian Peterson reminds me of an Earl Campbell, a guy who runs straight ahead, but a little quicker," Merriman said. "But the hardest thing is being a great back in the NFL in back-to-back-to-back years. I'm not taking anything away from Peterson. The guy can play. But I wouldn't say he's anywhere close to being the best running back in the league right now. He's phenomenal. But he's no LT yet."
No time off
Durability was the first trait Tomlinson chose when asked to describe why he idolized Payton.
"You knew every week he was going to show up," said Tomlinson, who has missed only one game in his career despite averaging a hefty 408 touches per season during his first six years. "And when he stepped on the field, you knew exactly what you were going to get each and every time. I've tried to pattern my game after Walter. He was the reason I wanted to play the game."
Tomlinson takes his knowledge of NFL history seriously. In his house in Poway, a suburb of San Diego, he has a sports memorabilia room. He has helmets autographed by Brown, Payton and Sanders, among others. And, oh yeah, one of his three dogs, a pit bull, is named "Sweetness," Payton's nickname.
Tomlinson was asked if he thinks Peterson's unbridled style is conducive to a lengthy NFL career.
"I think it depends on who you are," Tomlinson said. "It depends on the way you take care of your body. Jim Brown did it for awhile and left on his own terms. Jerome Bettis did it. Earl Campbell did it.
"You do see how Earl's health is now, and that's pretty unfortunate. But I remember him saying, 'If I had it to do all over again, I'd do it the same.' That's the heart that Earl has."
The great ones just know they belong on the football field. Tomlinson is no different.
This has been a difficult year for him. On Feb. 23, his father, Oliver, and older brother, Ronald McClain, were killed when the pickup truck McClain was driving flipped on the highway near Waco. And just last week, Tomlinson was among the 47 members of the Chargers organization who had to evacuate their homes because of the San Diego County wildfires.
The Chargers were lucky. None of their homes was burned to the ground. But the fires did burn most of Tomlinson's neighborhood. They came right up to Tomlinson's property line, getting so close that flying embers torched his patio furniture.