Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson have both won rushing titles in the past, but each running back is looking to get back on track this fall. CJ2K is coming off a lackluster season for the Tennessee Titans, while Peterson is still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury for the Minnesota Vikings. Which star running back will have the better season in 2012?
I applaud Peterson for getting back to practice, but I can't believe he is close to being 100 percent or close to regaining his old form. Johnson's 2011 season was derailed by a selfish holdout. He never resembled the star back we enjoyed watching in his first three years in the league. He is in camp this year, though, and supremely motivated. Tennessee is a run-first team. The Titans beefed up the offensive line with Steve Hutchinson.
While Johnson will return to the ranks of the elite backs, Peterson is still banged up and playing on the worst team in the NFC. The Vikings will be trailing in several games, forcing them to abandon the run.
When it comes to Adrian Peterson ... In my experience, players coming off major knee ailments don't return to full health until their second season post-injury.
With this in mind, I am going with Johnson, even though Peterson is clearly the better back when fully healthy.
I don't care about Adrian Peterson's torn ACL; I'd still take him over Johnson. Peterson might not be as explosive in 2012 as he usually is. He might not even be himself again until late in the season. But his blocking ability, his instincts and his leadership will carry him through.
Chris Johnson, meanwhile, remains an enigma. He doesn't press the hole and takes too many negative plays. Perhaps Peterson will gain fewer yards per play than he would in a normal year, but he won't lose yardage like Johnson.
It's easy to forget that Chris Johnson actually ran for more yards than Adrian Peterson in 2011 (1,047 to 970), though he needed 54 more carries to pull it off. But that's the issue: Can "All Day" become "All Year" and reach the 250-carry mark in 2012? He missed four games in 2011 (three with an ankle injury before the ACL caused him to miss the regular-season finale), while Johnson started all 16 for the third straight season. Peterson scored 13 total touchdowns to Johnson's four last year, but I expect the former 2,000-yard rusher to bounce back in that regard this fall.
When Peterson is healthy, he's a tougher back to handle. But I predict Johnson will see the field more regularly in 2012, and thus enjoy a more productive season overall.
I wouldn't bet against Peterson, because he's just a freak, physically. Just the fact that he's back in practice so soon after his injury is a testament to how incredibly gifted -- and driven -- he is. But ultimately, Peterson won't be the person deciding how much burn he gets on the field. Not only do the Vikings have Toby Gerhart to split carries, they won't be playing with many leads, so opportunities will be limited for Peterson to grind down defenses late in games. If the Vikings' season starts to get away from them -- as we all anticipate it will -- do they shut him down to get ready for 2013?
(Side note: If we had "Suck for Luck" last year, what's the catchy phrase for teams angling this year for the right to draft Matt Barkley? Could Peterson be "Sat for Matt?")
That said, Chris Johnson will end up with the superior season. There are concerns he doesn't hit the hole like he used to (allegations that Johnson has laughed off), but he's going to have the opportunity to be better this season -- and he will be.
This one's not even close. Chris Johnson will bounce back and have another CJ2K-type year -- not the CJ1K campaign he had in 2011. He admitted he wasn't in shape to play after his holdout last season, and that's on him. But with a full offseason following a better second half in 2011? He's got at least one or two more 1,600-yard season in him, and this is going to be one of them. I have him rated as my No. 1 fantasy running back in 2012.
Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, is going to have a difficult go of it. Even if he's healthy enough to play a full season, expect a lot of 60- to 70-yard weeks, because it's going to take a long time for him to be able to cut and move like he used to. This is a devastating injury to come back from, and all the great reports can't disguise the facts: Everyone has a down year when they're coming back from knee-ligament tears. I think Deuce McAllister is the only player in the last 10-plus seasons to avoid this fate. Peterson is facing really long odds.