With younger running backs such as David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell among the NFL’s best backs, it’s time to discuss who the previous generation’s best rusher is. Two names that come to mind are Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, but who is better? To begin this discussion, keep in mind that statistics are necessary, but situations must also be evaluated.
Adrian Peterson vs. Marshawn Lynch: Who’s Better?
In terms of career rushing yards, All Day is currently sitting at about 11,700 yards (16th all-time), and Beast Mode trails the former Sooner with about 9,100 rushing yards, which doesn’t crack the top 20 all-time rushing list. Again, situations have to be taken into account. Peterson played seven straight seasons where he played at least 12 games. The main advantage Peterson has over Lynch is he’s entering the first season in his career with a different team, after signing with the New Orleans Saints this past off-season. Peterson played nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, technically eight because of the 15 games he missed with the child abuse scandal in 2014. Lynch only played three full seasons with the Buffalo Bills before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. However, Lynch only tallied up 737 rushing yards in the 2010 season.
After solidifying himself in the Seahawks organization, Lynch put up four straight seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards. He had a high of 1,590 yards on five yards per carry in 2012, within that time span. However, Peterson had a better four-year time frame at the start of his career. Peterson’s lowest career total through his first four years was his fourth season, with just under 1,300 rushing yards. Aside from that, he had around 1,350 rushing yards his rookie year and third year, and Peterson averaged over 100 yards per game for just one of two seasons in his career (2009 and 2012).
Nonetheless, the one thing the Vikings did with All Day was give him the ball…all day. Peterson averaged 19.7 attempts per game with Minnesota. Lynch is sitting at about 16.9 per game career wise. In the 17 games Lynch played with Buffalo between 2009 and 2010, he only averaged 9.2 carries per game and tallied just 614 yards in that span; he only had 450 yards in 2009 in 13 games. Lynch’s 2009 weapons charge, and subsequent three-game suspension, affected the Bills use of him. Buffalo gave the then 29-year-old Fred Jackson over 200 carries, but the then 24-year-old former Golden Bear only had 120 attempts. In 2010, Lynch only carried the ball 37 times, due in part to a sprained ankle, in four games before heading to CenturyLink Field.
To wrap up the running section, Lynch was the more secure ball carrier. Peterson fumbled the football 39 times and lost 23 of them in his career. Lynch put the ball on the field 26 times but recovered 14 of them. Overall though, when it comes to rushing total, Peterson is ahead of Lynch by a country mile, but who shows more versatility among the run heavy backs?
Career wise, Lynch just edges out Peterson. Both are under 2,000 total career receiving yards, but Lynch tallied 1,979 receiving yards in comparison to Peterson’s 1,945 yards. Lastly, let’s look at the third aspect of a running back: pass protection. In 2012, Pro Football Focus broke down three years of running back pass blocking efficiency. Peterson did not score well in their efficiency rating. He gave up the tenth most pressures among backs, and he was the eighth worst running back in pass blocking efficiency with at least 100 pass blocking situations over three years. Lynch only comes up once in PFF’s blocking analysis, but he does so in a good way. He came in ninth in protecting against the blitz.
In summary, Peterson has the best running numbers, in large part to having over 300 more carries career-wise, 2,418 to 2,144 all-time attempts. Both running backs have had injuries and off-the-field issues, although Peterson has suffered more in terms of missed games. In fact, Lynch has played more career games, 127 to Peterson’s 123. However, Lynch does have as much versatility in the passing game, for what it’s worth, and he is a better all-time pass blocker. As for who is better, it could be a tossup.