The Washington Redskins were in a world of hurt early in the preseason, when rookie running back Derrius Guice went down with a season-ending knee injury. Despite losing Guice, who was expected to be a major presence in the ground game, the Redskins still had a number of backs on the roster, including Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine. Yet, they opted to sign 33-year-old Adrian Peterson -- on a one-year contract worth the veteran's minimum of $1.015 million -- to fill the void.
After watching his promising debut donning burgundy and gold, I wondered: Is Adrian Peterson the biggest steal of the offseason?
The 12th-year running back still has some burst, can break tackles and demands an eight-man box. That was evident Sunday against the Cardinals, when he rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and had 70 receiving yards on two catches. Washington's run scheme fits with what Peterson does well (he's a one-cut runner who hits the hole violently), providing Jay Gruden with a workhorse he can utilize without wearing down the dynamic Chris Thompson. The Redskins' ground game as a whole got off to a brilliant start, with 182 rushing yards -- second-most in a game for the Redskins since the start of 2017. The combo of Peterson and Thompson is already taking a lot of pressure off Alex Smith and the passing game.
As perfect as Peterson is for Washington, Washington is equally fitting for Peterson, who notched his 100th career rushing score on Sunday. Peterson didn't have consistently great offensive lines with his previous three teams (Minnesota, New Orleans and Arizona), so he often had to create his own running lanes. But that's not the case in Washington, where he's able to run behind an underrated and physical unit. With this stout O-line -- which features LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff and RT Morgan Moses -- Peterson doesn't have to be Superman. He can simply hit the hole the O-line creates and get a full head of steam before getting to the second and third levels.
A good offensive line can mask the flaws of older running backs, and this unit is capable of extending Peterson's career by a few years. Look at Emmitt Smith. The NFL's all-time leading rusher ran behind a phenomenal O-line for the majority of his career. As a result, he was able to play 15 seasons (13 with the Dallas Cowboys) because he often didn't have to create and wear down his body. He just saw the hole and burst through -- like Peterson is able to do now. Not many running backs have that luxury.
When I came into the league in 2006, I had a really good offensive line in Jacksonville and was able to generate plays on my own as a young player. But as I aged, I needed to lean on the unit, because I didn't have the same burst. Then, as a free agent in 2014, I chose to play in Oakland for two main reasons: 1) It was home; and 2) the Raiders were rebuilding their offensive line, which made it feel like a great fit for me. It didn't work out for me there -- not because of the guys up front, but because of a poor scheme fit -- but my advice to aging backs would be to sign with a team with an already established line like Peterson did this offseason.
I get that not every back is like Adrian Peterson, but I think if he stays healthy, he could have one of his best seasons in years because of the group paving the way for him.
So, back to my initial question: Is Peterson the biggest steal of the offseason?
Every week of the 2018 NFL season, former All-Pro running back and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew ranks his top 15 backs. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2018 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.
Rankings will be judged solely on this season's efforts following Week 4. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 2, here is MJD's pecking order:
Previous rank: No. 2
With Le'Veon Bell yet to report to the Steelers -- more of my thoughts on that situation here -- he moves off the list, making room for the Rams' star at No. 1. To no one's surprise, Gurley racked up 147 scrimmage yards right out of the gate. Expect more performances like that from him as Sean McVay's creative play-calling continues to showcase Gurley's versatility.
2018 stats: 1 game | 20 att | 108 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 3 rec | 39 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 3
Against the Bucs, Kamara proved how valuable a dual-threat running back is. He was stalled in the run game (eight carries for 29 yards) but was more than able to make up for it in the pass game.
2018 stats: 1 game | 8 att | 29 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 9 rec | 112 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 13
I underestimated Gordon coming into the season, but he had one of the best RB performances of Week 1. If he keeps this up, he'll shatter personal bests and establish himself in the upper echelon of the running back ranks.
2018 stats: 1 game | 15 att | 64 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 9 rec | 102 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 11
I had a feeling Mixon would take off in Year 2, and it looks like the Bengals back is on track to do just that. (Man, I love being right!) Mixon was a huge reason Cincinnati was able to beat the Colts on the road, establishing a solid run game and opening things up for Andy Dalton and friends.
UPDATE: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo report that Mixon will undergo arthroscopic surgery after injuring his knee in Thursday night's win over the Ravens.
2018 stats: 1 game | 17 att | 95 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 5 rec | 54 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 15
The Jags held the No. 2 overall pick to 38 yards on 17 carries before Barkley exploded for a 68-yard touchdown run late in the game. Not a bad NFL debut.
2018 stats: 1 game | 18 att | 106 rush yds | 5.9 ypc | 1 rush TDs | 2 rec | 22 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 9
I loved seeing Cook back out on the field for the Vikings, and his presence was certainly felt on their scoring drives. Cook hasn't come close to reaching his potential, so stay tuned for more to come.
2018 stats: 1 game | 16 att | 40 rush yds | 2.5 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 6 rec | 55 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: Not ranked
With all of the Le'Veon Bell talk surrounding the Steelers, Conner's performance was exactly what the team needed. He proved he can be a feature back for a team that's used to a high-powered ground game.
2018 stats: 1 game | 31 att | 135 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 5 rec | 57 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 10
Howard's yards-per-carry mark of 5.5 was the third-best by a player with at least 15 carries in Week 1. Matt Nagy would be wise to keep Howard at the center of the offense despite the offseason additions on the perimeter. Howard needs more than 15 carries if this team wants to win.
2018 stats: 1 game | 15 att | 82 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 5 rec | 25 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 4
I'm with David Carr on this one. The struggling Cowboys offense didn't feed its best player against Carolina, and I'm not sure why. Given the talent on the offensive line in Dallas (even though it's not at full strength right now), there's no reason Zeke should have just 15 carries in a game.
2018 stats: 1 game | 15 att | 69 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 3 rec | 17 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 5
It's hard to get a running back involved when the team is constantly playing from behind. The Cardinals' offense was on the field for just 22 minutes while the Redskins had the ball for 38 minutes in Week 1. Arizona has to figure out how to keep its offense on the field, and Johnson's the answer.
2018 stats: 1 game | 9 att | 37 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 5 rec | 30 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 14
McCaffrey led the Panthers in scrimmage yards (95) in Norv Turner's first game as offensive coordinator. McCaffrey, who had two fumbles in his rookie season, fumbled near the goal line in the win. If McCaffrey can clean up the turnovers, he's poised to make a leap in production this season with Turner calling the plays.
2018 stats: 1 game | 10 att | 50 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 6 rec | 45 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 6
We saw last season why the Jags drafted Fournette No. 4 overall. But he has to be on the field for this offense -- which is already lacking big-name players -- to be at its best. Hopefully, this hamstring injury won't keep the physical back sidelined for long, but I'm not holding my breath, given his injury history.
2018 stats: 1 game | 9 att | 41 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 3 rec | 14 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: Not ranked
Crowell had one of the best ground performances of the week against the Lions. His explosiveness -- displayed in his 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter -- could be a problem for defenses this season.
2018 stats: 1 game | 10 att | 102 rush yds | 10.2 ypc | 2 rush TDs
Previous rank: Not ranked
"All Day" proved he has some juice left in the tank with a statement performance (see more above) against the Cardinals. He's looking at all those teams that brushed him off in the offseason and smirking right now.
2018 stats: 1 game | 11 att | 56 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 1 rush TDs | 2 rec | 70 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 7
Last year's rushing yards leader is off to a slow start after taking a backseat to Tyreek Hill's HUGE day. But as defenses start to slow Andy Reid's gadgety offense, expect Hunt to get more involved.
2018 stats: 1 game | 16 att | 49 rush yds | 3.1 ypc
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