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Can Adrian Peterson top Emmitt Smith's rushing mark?

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With Tom Brady and a few other quarterbacks professing their desire to play into their 40s, hearing Vikings running back Adrian Peterson talk about being active until 36 or 37 is not a surprise. Like anything else, it's just hard to envision.

But what might happen if he succeeds? That's a more interesting topic to explore.

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According to NFL research, Peterson is third all-time in rushing yards per game among backs with more than 50 games. Only Jim Brown (104.3) and Barry Sanders (99.8) are higher than Peterson's 98.0.

His 10,190 career rushing yards put him 8,165 yards behind the NFL's all-time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith. At the current pace Peterson is going, he would need 84 games to surpass Smith, which would put the record-setting moment sometime in the 2020 season.

That year, Peterson will be 35, the same age as Smith when he retired.

Of course, there are a million variables. Smith had an excellent offensive line with an incredible longevity. He also had a Hall of Fame quarterback and wide receiver to take the pressure off. While the Vikings are certainly on the rise, the team doesn't have the same firepower as the Dallas Cowboys did back then.

Still, Peterson's body might have benefitted from almost an entire season out of football. Running backs are often viewed in terms of mileage, not age, and Peterson had a rare opportunity to rejuvenate himself physically before his age 30 season.

In this context, it doesn't sound completely insane for Peterson to make it another five years. Whether or not his current production keeps pace is the bigger question.

Historically, there have been a few backs who, at least for one season, can buck the downward trend of aging running backs. A well-rested Ricky Williams logged a 1,121-yard season with the Dolphins in 2009 and in 1995, a 35-year-old Marcus Allen pounded out 890 yards in Kansas City. Warrick Dunn, Ricky Watters, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber and Thomas Jones also had strong modern day careers into their early 30s.

Smith's hard-earned record always seemed like one of the few destined to stand the test of time given the league's shift to a pass-heavy philosophy. But as the ground and pound makes a roaring comeback, Peterson gives us something fun to watch.

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