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Peterson's back, but risk remains

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Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Now that controversial Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has decided to officially return to the only NFL team he has ever played for and appears satisfied that the marriage can continue, it’s time to remind fantasy owners just how good this guy is. Well, you know that already, right? After all, Peterson was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2014 fantasy drafts, and it took something off the field to make him perhaps the season’s most notable statistical bust. On the field -- well, we’ll never know what numbers would have been provided, but he probably would have performed well, because he always does.

Heading into the 2015 season, on the surface there appears little reason to be concerned about Peterson’s pending statistics, and I’m seeing his name out there again for some -- including a few ESPN Fantasy colleagues -- as the top overall selection. I understand why, though for me he’s No. 5. This isn’t a personal thing, I assure you. While the way Peterson handles his business away from the field isn’t for everyone, we separate this from evaluation for our purposes. We just want the big numbers.

Perhaps I’m a bit more cautious than most in pointing out that this remains a 30-year-old running back, and we know from many previous examples that at that age, decline tends to set in, or in worst case scenarios, hit hard. Plus, it’s not like this is so obvious that he should go No. 1 overall; Peterson finished as the No. 5 fantasy running back in terms of points per game in 2013 and finished sixth in 2011. In his career, he has finished first only once (2012). I’m certainly not ripping him, but pointing out that choosing someone else first isn’t so ridiculous.

Yes, Peterson didn’t add any mileage to the proverbial tires last season, but hey, he’s still 30, and it’s not like he’s been carefully used through the years. He’s third among active running backs in rushing attempts, having already topped 2,000. Let’s not glide over this when evaluating player performance. Running backs old and young get hurt all the time and see performance dips, often sans warning, which is why the position isn’t held in the highest regard in the actual NFL draft, and while some can confidently say Peterson is simply special and different from all the rest, I can’t overlook risk as well.

He seems healthy and relatively happy today, reporting to a team with which he’s had important differences of opinion, but we’ve seen his risk come to fruition. He’s not young, in football terms, has dealt with and overcome a serious knee injury, and his off-field behavior and potential contract demands also remain factors in considering him as the highest of fantasy draft picks.

Still, I’m not so worried about Peterson that I’d avoid him if I pick in the middle of Round 1. I just like others more and thus probably won’t get him. Peterson has proven himself over the years despite a lack of weapons around him. The current version of the Vikings will expect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, in his second season, to continue his rapid development, but he has never played in an NFL game with Peterson. An on-field relationship takes time. The Vikings still have the large Matt Asiata and the smaller Jerick McKinnon with whom to ease Peterson’s workload, both near the goal line and away from it. I don’t expect Peterson’s rushing attempts to decline from 2013, but the organization has options and perhaps, it should be noted, financial reasons to explore them.

Ultimately, we celebrated the amazing Peterson for his marvelous 2012 comeback season, when he topped 2,000 rushing yards, but his 2013 campaign was more modest. While it wouldn’t surprise me if Peterson ends up as fantasy’s top running back in 2015, I could also name five others with a reasonable opportunity to do so, and a few of them weren’t discontented question marks to report to their organization’s OTAs this week, and bring less overall risk. Just something to consider, that’s all.