Replacing Adrian Peterson

Sep 19, 2016
Replacing Adrian Peterson

Every season, it seems like there are a couple of weekends when the injuries really pile up. Yesterday, we lost Arian Foster (groin), Ameer Abdullah (ankle/foot), Jonathan Stewart (hamstring, ankle), Danny Woodhead (knee), Doug Martin (hamstring) and Thomas Rawls (leg bruise) to injury. Unless I’m mistaken, none of these players returned to their respective games, so their Week 3 statuses are up in the air.

Last night, we also lost Adrian Peterson for an unknown amount of time. He did something to his right knee and it looked bad at the onset. Peterson was unable to (or told not to) put any weight on the leg as he exited the stadium.

Early reports are that Peterson has “some ligament damage” in the knee, but that an MRI today “will show much.” HC Mike Zimmer said that Peterson “might miss a week,” and that “whatever it was has calmed down now, so we’ll see.” Veteran reporter and NFL dad Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. tweeted “I just spoke with Mrs. Adrian Peterson. She said her husband would be okay. That he is walking on his injured knee.”

Dr. David Chao (@ProFootballDoc) speculated that Peterson may have suffered a torn meniscus and that the meniscus may have “flipped,” causing the knee to lock. If his ACL is good and if the knee wasn’t locked by his meniscus, Peterson could return in two weeks. But if the meniscus is torn, it will require surgery which will require 4-6 weeks of recovery. Update: Peterson will undergo a meniscus repair, which means he's going to miss at least 3-4 months. In other words, he's out for the year.

All offseason, we’ve been drafting Jerick McKinnon as Peteron’s handcuff and/or attrition play. He didn’t get his first touch of the game until after Peterson was helped off the field, and finished with two carries for two yards. Meanwhile, Matt Asiata caught an 11-yard pass in the 1st quarter and then saw six carries in the 4th quarter as the Vikings tried to salt their lead away, so Asiata saw seven touches to McKinnon’s two. McKinnon was dealing with foot and fibula injuries in practice this week, but participated fully on Thursday and Friday.

As fantasy owners ready their bids for this week’s waivers, it’s fair to wonder: Who’s going to lead this backfield while Peterson is out?

On paper (and in real life), McKinnon is the far more explosive runner. His career 4.86 YPC is much, much better than Asiata’s 3.54 YPC, though it’s interesting to note that Asiata (6.71 YPR) has a higher yards per reception than McKinnon (6.20 YPR). McKinnon is a SPARQ/athletic freak and his closest comparable at Player Profiler is LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall-of-Famer. Asiata’s closest comparable is teammate and fullback Zach Line. Really.

So why is this even a question? Well, take a look at a summary of the 2014 season (Norv Turner was the OC, if you're wondering), the last time Peterson missed extended time:

MIN RB Touches (2014, Adrian Peterson Out)
Asiata McKinnon
Date # Opp Touches Yards TDs Std PPR Touches Yards TDs Std PPR
9/14/14 2 NE 18 84 1 14.4 19.4 4 12 0 1.2 3.2
9/21/14 3 NO 15 71 0 7.1 10.1 4 8 0 0.8 2.8
9/28/14 4 ATL 23 100 3 28 31.0 19 152 0 15.2 16.2
10/2/14 5 GB 15 72 0 7.2 7.2 10 46 0 4.6 7.6
10/12/14 6 DET 3 13 0 1.3 2.3 17 82 0 8.2 14.2
10/19/14 7 BUF 7 37 0 3.7 4.7 21 101 0 10.1 12.1
10/26/14 8 TB 8 27 0 2.7 6.7 17 82 0 8.2 9.2
11/2/14 9 WAS 14 57 3 23.7 27.7 17 68 0 6.8 9.8
11/16/14 10 CHI 4 14 0 1.4 4.4 12 58 0 5.8 9.8
11/23/14 11 GB - - - - - 18 63 0 6.3 9.3
11/30/14 12 CAR 18 57 0 5.7 9.7 - - - - -
12/7/14 13 NYJ 22 64 0 6.4 9.4 - - - - -
12/14/14 14 DET 18 86 1 14.6 21.6 - - - - -
12/21/14 15 MIA 19 77 2 19.7 22.7 - - - - -
12/28/14 16 CHI 21 108 0 10.8 12.8 - - - - -
Averages 14.6 61.9 0.71 10.5 13.6 13.9 67.2 0.0 6.7 9.4

The Vikings started Peterson’s absence by leaning on Asiata, giving him an average of 17.8 touches in the first four games. In AP’s fifth missed game (vs. DET), they began to feature McKinnon, giving him an average of 16.8 touches over the next five games. He had 18 touches against the Packers in November with Asiata sidelined with a concussion. Unfortunately, McKinnon missed the final five games of the year with a back injury. Asiata averaged 19.6 touches over that span, averaging 78 total yards and 0.60 TD down the stretch.

I believe McKinnon is clearly the better pickup of the two since he has the most upside, but Asiata may end up being the better value once everything’s said and done, especially in standard formats where his goal line role carries tremendous value.

Check out this 2014-16 summary of the Vikings’ running back touches inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.

MIN RB Touches Inside the Opponent's 10-Yard Line (2014-16)
Player Att Yds YPC TD Tgt Rec Yds TD
Matt Asiata 26 59 2.27 9 1 1 0 0
Adrian Peterson 27 24 0.89 7 0 0 0 0
Jerick McKinnon 8 22 2.75 1 0 0 0 0

In the last two-plus seasons, Asiata has out-touched McKinnon 27-to-8 inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. When looking at 2015-16 only, McKinnon has out-touched Asiata 5-to-4 inside the 10, so that’s something.

While Peterson is out, I think McKinnon will start and see most of the non-redzone touches. He out-touched Asiata at about a 17-to-7 clip in the last five games that the duo played together with AP sidelined. If that’s the case, McKinnon should be able to post the 11.0 PPR fantasy points that he averaged in his final eight games of 2014. But Asiata may have a larger role than McKinnon owners would like. He’ll get most of the goal line carries, is better in pass protection (and is therefore on the field for most 3rd downs), and will also be active late in games if the Vikings are nursing a lead, acting as the team’s “closer.”

Complicating matters, the upcoming schedule is not particularly good. The Vikings play the Panthers (3.9 YPC allowed), the improved Giants (3.3 YPC) and the Texans (4.9 YPC) before a Week 6 bye. It doesn’t help that the Vikings’ running game has only averaged 1.9 YPC through two weeks, either, so there's no guarantee that either of these players deliver the type of fantasy production that they gave owners in 2014.

With Peterson out for the year, McKinnon is worth a substantial (25%-40% or more) bid, depending on the league. As for Asiata, I’ll definitely be bidding 15-20% or so to see how the committee shakes out. He could really pay off, especially in standard formats (or if McKinnon goes down, as he did in 2014).

We'd all love to see what McKinnon would do in a three-down role while also getting all the goal line work, but history tells us that this is going to be a committee, and Asiata's touches will be of the high-yield variety. This looks like a case where we fantasy owners need to bid based on what the team is likely to do, rather than what we believe the team should do.

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