Can Adrian Peterson Still Be The Best Running Back In The NFL?

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings in action during the game against of the Miami Dolphins on September 19 2010 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson has widely been considered the best back in the NFL for the past few years. But after AP blew out his knee late last season, he appears to have relinquished the crown. Will he ever be able to get the title back?

Grantland's Bill Barnwell posted a very interesting article this week that posed a very simple yet hard-to-answer question:

Who is the best running back in football?

These days, the answer seems to be rather clear-cut for the most part--just look at the running back who racks up the best fantasy numbers and it will be hard to argue against him. But Barnwell claims that you can go all the way back to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and choose the 14 different players that have held the outright title of "Best RB Alive":

Player

Took Over

Loses Title

Larry Brown

1970

1973

O.J. Simpson

1973

1977

Walter Payton

1977

1978

Earl Campbell

1978

1981

Tony Dorsett

1981

1983

Eric Dickerson

1983

1989

Barry Sanders

1989

1991

Emmitt Smith

1991

1994

Barry Sanders

1994

1997

Terrell Davis

1998

1999

Marshall Faulk

1999

2002

Priest Holmes

2002

2004

Shaun Alexander

2004

2006

LaDainian Tomlinson

2006

2008

Adrian Peterson

2008

2011

The list is definitely debatable (I'm of the firm belief that Emmitt Smith was never better than Barry Sanders), but for the most part it illustrates how mega-star running backs normally enjoy their reign as the league's best for only a few years. At the end of that prestigious list? Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson.

You'll notice that Barnwell has already declared that AP lost his title last year after his season-ending knee injury.

You'll also notice that there is only one player that relinquished the title and was able to reclaim it later in his career. And like I've already mentioned, it's not a given that Sanders ever lost it in the first place.

So does this mean that we have seen Peterson's best days as a running back? Unfortunately for Vikings fans, history tells us yes. He's still three years away from the dreaded age of 30 that seems to be an unshakable stigma for most NFL running backs, but his knee injury is the most disconcerting part of the equation. The old adage for ACL injuries is that it takes two full years to recover, even though most of today's athletes are back on the field in 8-12 months. It's tough to tell when AP will take the field for the first time in 2012, but it would be a big surprise if he came back at 100% right away.

On the other hand, it's tough to tell whether the NFL has seen an athlete like Adrian Peterson. Logic tells us that he won't be the same player this year, but logic also told us that someone of AP's size couldn't move like did before his injury.

Barnwell believes that there are five legitimate contenders for the title of "Best Running Back On The Planet" this year--Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy, and Ray Rice. All five guys are undoubtedly among the league's elite coming into the 2012 season. (Barnwell ultimately decided that Rice is the current top dog.)

Peterson probably isn't in that top 5 as training camp opens this weekend thanks to his injury. And to be fair, all sorts of past data is stacked against him returning to that upper echelon. But this is Adrian freaking Peterson we're talking about--don't be too surprised if he comes looking to reclaim his title in the near future.

For more on the Minnesota Vikings, go to Daily Norseman. You can also get all of your professional football news over at SB Nation’s NFL hub.

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