Don’t Draft Adrian Peterson in Fantasy Football in 2018

Instead of targeting what once was with the veteran back, it's better to look elsewhere in the Washington backfield.

After falling down in the 2018 NFL draft, Derrius Guice was rising up fantasy draft boards this preseason. The second-round rookie pick was set to lead the Washington Redskins' otherwise weak rushing attack. With a much improved offensive line in place, Guice could have had a great year. Then, he tore his ACL, thereby ending his 2018 season.

In response, Washington signed Adrian Peterson to a veteran's minimum of $1.015 million just days ago. Last season in Arizona, Peterson ran behind an offensive line that was 17th in run blocking and 26th in pass protection. Moving to a better offense with a top-third offensive line -- not to mention Alex Smith -- is a good thing. And with the name recognition he carries, he has already started to pop up on draft boards (RB52 in standard formats).

But should we even be drafting him? To rationally decide whether or not we should be, we need to take a look at his past numbers and current competition (Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley, and Samaje Perine) in Washington.

Age and Injuries

Peterson is 33 years old and has had a large quantity of touches. Including five playoff games, Peterson has accounted for 2,690 rushes and 258 receptions, or 2,948 total offensive touches. The wear on his body is plenty, which has shown itself in recent years.

From 2015 to 2017, he has been on the injury report 22 times. The list of injuries is vast: finger strain, hip contusion, hamstring strain, ankle sprain, back contusion, hamstring strain, meniscus tear, knee sprain, and neck strain. He missed 11 games in 2016 with the meniscus tear, another 2 for the knee sprain, and 3 games in 2017 with the neck sprain. Peterson is a violent runner with a lot of miles on his legs and just as many on the rest of his body.

Comparing and Contrasting

This chart shows the 2017 season totals from the top-three Washington running backs and the top-two Arizona running backs.

Category Samaje Perine Rob Kelley Chris Thompson Adrian Peterson Kerwynn Williams
Carries 175 62 64 156 120
Rush Yards 603 194 294 529 426
Targets 24 7 54 19 15
Receptions 22 4 39 11 10
Receiving Yards 182 18 510 70 93
Total Touchdowns 2 3 6 2 1

Peterson's former teammate, Kerwynn Williams, and his numbers will help to show how much better or worse AP performed in relation to his peers a year ago.

Basic statistics are what we rely on for fantasy, but advanced metrics and rates can help us better understand a player's usage and how he projects into the next season.

The chart below depicts how defenses reacted to each of the five running backs. It shows their rates of stacked boxes, base defensive fronts, or light defensive fronts. It also shows their yards per carry running against each of those defensive packages, courtesy of PlayerProfiler.

Category (Ranks) Perine Kelley Thompson Peterson Williams
Yards Per Carry 3.4 (62) 3.1 (69) 4.6 (11) 3.4 (62) 3.5 (60)
Yards Per Carry vs Stacked 1.8 (26) 0.3 (N/A) N/A (N/A) 3.0 (15) 1.2 (35)
Stacked Carry Rate 2.90% (41) 11.30% (N/A) 0.00% (N/A) 14.10% (4) 3.30% (39)
Yards Per Carry vs Base 3.4 (45) 3.6 (N/A) 3.6 (37) 3.3 (49) 3.9 (26)
Base Carry Rate 57.70% (26) 59.70% (N/A) 18.80% (60) 56.40% (29) 62.50% (15)
Yards Per Carry vs Light 3.6 (51) 3.1 (N/A) 4.8 (17) 3.8 (48) 3.1 (60)
Light Carry Rate 39.40% (29) 30.60% (N/A) 81.20% (2) 29.50% (47) 33.30% (40)

Of the five running backs, only Kelley and Peterson saw a stacked carry rate above 3.3 percent. In fact, Peterson's 14.1 percent stacked carry rate ranked fourth of qualified backs. Only Marshawn Lynch, Chris Ivory, and Leonard Fournette had higher stacked carry rates. Teams in 2017 were stacking the box against Adrian Peterson at a high rate and his 3.0 yards per carry were only 0.4 yards off of his season mark of 3.4. It was also significantly better than Perine's 1.8 yards per carry and Kelley's dismal 0.3 yards per carry versus stacked.

Three yards per carry isn't monumental, but it does show that against stacked boxes Peterson still might be an effective runner. This could lead to him getting goal-line work over Kelley and Perine. And that would be an important role for fantasy owners to monitor.


That's just one way we can compare and contrast the usage and performance of the five backs. Here's what our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which tells us the points added by a play or player based on historical down-and-distance data, and Success Rate (both rushing and reception) -- the percentage of plays producing positive NEP -- have to say on the matter.

Category Perine Kelley Thompson Peterson Williams
NEP -13.26 -4.61 46.51 -28.52 -6.87
Rushing NEP -26.34 -5.16 -2.75 -29.52 -12.65
Rushing NEP per Rush -0.15 -0.08 -0.04 -0.19 -0.11
Rushing Success Rate 32.00% 35.48% 39.06% 33.97% 34.17%
Reception NEP 13.09 0.55 49.25 1.00 5.78
Reception NEP per Target 0.55 0.08 0.91 0.05 0.39
Reception Success Rate 72.73% 75.00% 79.49% 63.64% 70.00%

Obviously, Chris Thompson performed most efficiently as he had the most Net Expected Points of the group. He was an electric satellite back in 2017.

Looking at Peterson, he was the worst of the bunch in total NEP, Rushing NEP, Rushing NEP per rush, Reception NEP per target, and Reception Success Rate. Only Perine had a lower Rushing Success Rate and only Kelley had a lower Reception NEP. However, we need to keep in mind that Kelley only had four receptions on seven targets as a result of injury.

Looking back at Kelley's 2016 (18 targets and 12 receptions) shows us a Reception NEP of 3.79 and a Reception NEP per target of 0.32. His 2016 campaign also resulted in a Rushing NEP per rush of 0.02, which would be better than each of those in 2017. Kelley's 2016 and 2017 by total NEP were also better than Peterson's.


If we're trying to find upside, though, we should look to the players' ability to evade tackles and bust out for big runs. Here's that breakdown, thanks to data from PlayerProfiler.

Big Runs32353
Big Run Rate1.70%3.20%4.70%3.20%2.50%
Evaded Tackles3510304713
Juke Rate17.80%15.20%29.10%28.10%10.00%
Yards Created1134514922784
Yards Created Per Touch0.570.681.451.360.65

Where Peterson actually showed life was in big runs and evaded tackles. Peterson's 28.10 percent juke rate, 47 evaded tackles, and 227 yards created are respectable numbers. Even though he was hit in the backfield on 37 carries, he still managed positive yards on 23 of those, according to Pro Football Focus. He has and still is a hard guy to bring down. Running behind the 17th-ranked run-blocking line with a 14.1 percent stacked carry rate, Peterson still managed to have success in these areas of his game. Though these are not elite numbers by any means, they show where he is at his best.

But we must keep in mind that Kelley was plagued by injury in 2017. Looking at 2016, Fat Rob carried the ball 168 times for 704 yards and 4.2 yards per carry. He did so running behind the sixth-best run-blocking line in the league in 2016, so there's an argument for his production being more about his line than his running ability. However, he also had eight big runs, doing so on a 4.8 percent big run rate, 51 evaded tackles, and a 28.3 percent juke rate. Those were the statistics in which Peterson was best.

Also interesting to note is the game speed comparison between Adrian Peterson and "Fat Rob". Rob Kelley earned a fastness under positional average of -1.3, while Peterson posted a fastness under positional average of -5.8 on runs in 2017. This is a concern for AP because it shows that he's lost a step at this point in his career (understandably so).

The RBBC Effect

During his stint with the New Orleans Saints, Peterson had the lowest floor of his career, with PPR totals of 1.8, 2.6, 5.7, and 0.4. The best argument against Peterson's lack of success was that he was a "volume-runner" and New Orleans' running back by committee (RBBC) approach hurt that part of his value. With the success of both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara last season, the Saints didn't need to give Peterson a lot of touches to get things going. Then, when he went to the Arizona Cardinals, he finally got what he needed. He got at least 15 touches in 5 of his 6 games with the Cardinals. Even with those, he oscillated between winning you games and losing you games with weekly totals of 25.4, 4.3, 17.7, 4.2, 4.9, and 13.9 PPR points. He enjoyed some positive games, but let's remember that this was as the Cardinals' bell-cow runner.

Washington's running back system is a committee backfield, much more akin to the 2018 Saints than the Cardinals. During their healthy games last season, Thompson had a 40.1 percent opportunity share (percentage of running back carries and targets), Kelley had a 37.1 percent share, and Perine had a 50.9 percent share. We already know that Thompson has emerged as an efficient dual-threat back. If we assume this he takes on a similar volume, that only leaves 60 percent of the running backs targets and carries up for grabs (when he's healthy). If Washington keeps their committee approach with Thompson handling a significant role, Peterson won't be the bell-cow back he needs for fantasy relevance.

Some may argue that Washington brought in Peterson to take over Guice's role. After all, they drafted Guice in the second round of the draft. Clearly, they were not pleased with the performances of Kelley and Perine. So why wouldn't Peterson take over the Guice role for Washington? The veteran's minimum contract includes zero guaranteed dollars if they cut him before week one, which is far from the same investment they placed in Guice.


Washington's backfield is an interesting one to decipher. Thompson is coming off of a career year, but also one in which he broke his fibula. Perine was competent as a receiving back and has looked good in the preseason, but he's currently missing time with an ankle injury. Kelley has an underwhelming collegiate and athletic profile, but flashed efficiency in 2016 before running into injuries of his own. As for Peterson, he is at an older age, joining a new team at the veteran-minimum, with a mix of promising and scary metrics.

Peterson's best fit is as a short-yardage goal-line back in Washington. His stacked box numbers, evaded tackles, and yards created show that he can be a good back for short distances. If he can show success as a goal-line back early in the season, he could gain the trust of coaches. However, his NEP profile, age, injury history, and game speed show more negatives than positives. He is too big of a risk and doesn't have the ceiling he used to.

What you should do is let your leaguemates draft him. Let them burn a roster spot and have a horrible time trying to decide what games he will be worth starting. The only place you should seriously consider taking Peterson in is in best ball, as his cost, volatility and touchdown upside make him ideal in that particular format. Otherwise, avoid the big name and take a flier elsewhere.