Adrian Peterson turned 30 last March. He missed a year of football, had 2,147 carries on his legs and needed surgery to repair injuries three consecutive offseasons.
Plenty of reasons existed to suggest Peterson might not return to his former self this season.
Consider me more curious than skeptical. An MVP season offered as a rebuttal to ACL surgery taught a valuable lesson about underestimating Peterson on the field.
Any concerns about a deterioration of his physical ability have vanished now that Peterson leads the NFL in rushing and looks 25 again.
For proof, watch him execute a signature move: his jump cut.
You’ve seen it. The way he charges toward the line, comes to a stop if the hole isn’t open and then explodes laterally to bounce his run outside.
He looks like he might jump out of his cleats trying to avoid a mass of bodies, or to freeze a linebacker. His jump cut is as astounding now as it was early in his career.
He hasn’t lost that step.
“It’s pure instincts,” he said.
Peterson’s jump cut is the football equivalent of an Allen Iverson crossover. It’s meant to fool defenders and get them off balance and can result in sore ankles.
Running backs work on jump cuts in cone drills. Few can match Peterson’s move in terms of power, explosiveness and ability to turn a nothing gain into a long run.
“Your body has to be built for it,” Peterson said.
Peterson began using his jump cut in high school and estimates he does it four or five times per game now. His teammates see it a lot, even in practice. They remain in awe.
“Whoo!” Captain Munnerlyn said when asked about it.
“It’s sick,” Mike Wallace said.
“It was amazing to me the first couple of times I saw it,” Stefon Diggs said.
“I’m like, ‘How is he going full speed and then he’s going directly the other direction?’ ” Zach Line said.
Munnerlyn had a conversation with some friends recently about Peterson’s jump cut. They all wondered how he doesn’t wreck his knees or ankles by putting that much strain on them jumping sideways and then exploding forward.
“Man, that can’t be good for your knees,” Munnerlyn said.
“I can’t tell,” he said.
He even has a double jump cut in his bag of tricks. He showcased that dipsy-doodle on an 80-yard touchdown that sealed a win in Oakland.
The Vikings had the ball at their own 20 with 2:03 left and a 23-14 lead.
Peterson took a handoff on a run designed up the middle. His lane was clogged so he stopped and made a jump cut to his right. In a flash, he spotted cornerback Neiko Thorpe outside and cut back to his left.
Thorpe whiffed on the tackle, giving Peterson a clear path to the end zone. Took about two seconds for him to jump cut twice and render Thorpe helpless.
“Normally they don’t say anything, but you can see the expression on their face,” Peterson said. “It’s like, man, you got me with that one.”
Peterson’s improvisation has always impressed me as much as his perfect blend of speed and power. He can take a run to the right side and bounce it back to his left in the time that it takes to say, ‘Where’s he going?”
“I imagine it would be hard to tackle a guy that can go from the C gap to the other C gap,” Diggs said.
Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson knows the feeling. He’s been on the wrong end of that in practice.
“It’s the worst,” he said. “He can be going one direction and all of a sudden he’s sliding away from you. Not too many guys have it.”
The great ones do, none more breathtaking that Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who could turn defenders into pretzels with his jump cut.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see another guy like that,” Peterson said. “I feel like some of mine might trump some of his, but I don’t do it as consistently as him.”
Peterson admits that his jump cut gets him into trouble occasionally. It can result in a negative play if his timing is off.
But if he’s right, and he often is, he might hit a home run. His jump cut remains a thing of beauty at this stage of his career.
“He can make you look real silly,” Munnerlyn said.