Adrian Peterson will be the starting running back for the Washington Redskins when they open the 2018 season in Arizona. That sentence is sort of mindboggling typing. Peterson has had a decorated career, making the Pro Bowl seven times, being voted to the first team All-NFL four times. He was voted the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player.
However, Peterson is 33 years old. He is coming off a disastrous season in 2017 that seen him not fit in with the New Orleans Saints, who had two younger backs they preferred, one being Alvin Kamara, who won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He then was traded to the same Cardinals team that he will line up against on Sunday. There he rushed for 448 yards in six games and averaged a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry.
Peterson spent much of the offseason, including training camp working out hoping to land on an NFL roster. Ultimately, he signed with the Redskins a little more than two weeks ago and now he is the starting running back for the Redskins.
It’s an amazing story, one that if Peterson shows to be anywhere close to the guy that rushed for 1,200 yards or more seven of his first nine seasons, would be the story of the year. It’s debatable how much he has in the tank, but it’s no question there is something left in the tank. He showed that in his lone preseason game, knifing through the Denver Broncos defense to average 5.1 yards per carry with an aggressiveness the Redskins have longed for quite some time.
And that is where the problem lies. Peterson starting Sunday means the Redskins once again may need to hit the reset button at running back. Peterson may have a big year in 2018, and he is fully capable of doing so. However, his success will alter the approach of the offense in 2018 and affect how the Redskins proceed moving forward beyond this season.
Keep in mind, Peterson wouldn’t be on the roster if it was not for second-round pick Derrius Guice tearing his ACL in the preseason opener against the New England Patriots or Samaje Perine suffering an ankle injury the following week. The Redskins lost four running backs in camp in a matter of two weeks prompting them to add some depth to the position.
Peterson, however, came in and solidified he was the best option of what they had at the time. Robert Kelley, the team’s leading rusher in 2016 as an undrafted rookie has been a disappointment since. The Week 1 starter in 2017, Kelley’s season was cut short due a sprained MCL in his knee and an ankle injury. He returned in training camp down close to 10 pounds but before Peterson arrived, he looked very pedestrian. He couldn’t get the tough yards or slip through the gaps with a burst, much like he struggled to do his first two seasons.
Perine led the Redskins in rushing in 2017, his rookie season. He filled in as the starter after both Kelley and Chris Thompson were shut down with season-ending injuries. While Perine was the best healthy back on the roster, he looked slow at times, and had an issue keeping the football safe. This year, he came to training camp with more of a bounce in his steps and showed ability to hit another gear. Unfortunately, he got hurt and when he returned after missing one game, his fumbling issues came back to haunt him. The Redskins’ investment in him might have been the only thing that saved him from being cut.
The Redskins have put several investments into their running backs between Kelley, Perine, and Guice through the last three seasons. In fact, Washington entered training camp with arguably the most impressive quartet of backs in the NFL, including Thompson. The fact they got to Peterson being the starting running back Week 1 illustrates how the franchise has taken a step backwards.
If Peterson gets back to his old ways and dominates or at the very least prove he is a capable starting running back, that does the Redskins no good long-term. Washington can be a playoff team, especially with Alex Smith at quarterback and Adrian Peterson at running. However, peaking into the crystal ball of 2019, Washington would be left with an array of questions at running back and quite possibly be looking for other options.
Perine and Kelley would have not taken the reign of the position and with Guice coming back from a tough injury, the outlook doesn’t look as enticing all of a sudden. A successful Peterson may very well have the Redskins once again looking at another high draft pick at running back.
As Peterson lines up in the I-formation one can only think the onus of the three running backs is never more so clear. The more Peterson establishes to be the top guy at the position, the more a long-term reset is needed for the Redskins. And unless Kelley or Perine step up in 2018 and take over the position in some fashion, the Redskins will take a step backwards in finding long-term solution to a position that has struggled with consistency since Clinton Portis days.