Ageless Detroit Lions RB Adrian Peterson wants to play till 40 — and he might do it

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Adrian Peterson is a dinosaur. At least by NFL standards, he should be extinct. —

But a month after the Detroit Lions signed Peterson off the free agent scrap heap, the 35-year-old still is churning out yards and nowhere close to calling it a career.

“I’ll say (I’ve got) about five more (years left),” Peterson said Thursday. “I’m 35 right now, I think 40’s a good number.”

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Whether he makes it to 40 or not, Peterson already has proven to be an ageless wonder at a position that produces notoriously short careers.

Just two players in NFL history have topped 1,000 yards rushing in their age-35-or-older seasons. John Henry Johnson ran for 1,048 yards at 35 in 1964, and John Riggins had 1,239 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns 20 years later, also at 35.

Peterson leads the Lions, and ranks 12th in the NFL, with 209 yards rushing through three games. He is on pace for 1,115 yards, which would be the most by a Lions running back since Kevin Jones in 2004.

“For me it’s kind of surreal to see (what he’s) doing,” Lions right tackle Tyrell Crosby said. “Performing at the high level that he is at that age is incredible. And it’s great for us just to, even though I’m not a running back, to see how he approaches practice and approaches games at that age. Cause he’s going to be a Hall of Fame guy. Just to have the opportunity to see how he approaches that is awesome for me, so I can kind of study him and see what makes him great.”

Peterson, who passed Barry Sanders for seventh on the NFL’s all-time carries list last week, is one of the most unique specimens to ever play in the NFL, but he said his longevity is due in part to the training he puts in every offseason at the gym he co-owns in Texas.

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Peterson’s workout regimen has historically included a mix of plyometrics, hill work, weight training, sprinting, swimming, boxing and martial arts.

“Any type of training or anything you’re trying to execute, it’s the mentality that you approach it with,” Peterson said. “It’s one thing to go and work out and go through the motion and just skip through the workout, it’s another thing to mentally lock in and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to give everything I have into this workout.’ That’s how you are able to become stronger mentally and to push your body to a different level. Because you have experienced that burn that makes a lot of people shut down.”

Washington’s leading rusher each of the last two years, Peterson has been more of a workhorse than anticipated in the Lions’ backfield.

In last week’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, he had 75 yards rushing on 22 carries. Just two backs have had more carries at an older age in NFL history, and no other Lions running back had more than three rushes against the Cardinals.

Despite the workload, Peterson said he woke up feeling good on Monday, save for some “beat up” shins.

“My younger years, I’ve definitely had days when the Mondays were a lot worse than what I experienced this Monday,” he said.

While most expected Peterson to split work with D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson when he signed, Peterson said he’s “not at all” surprised he’s been able to handle the workload he has at his age.

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“I sit here and I look at Aaron Rodgers, just guys that came before me, talking about Tom Brady,” Peterson said. “And of course they’re not playing the running back position, so I get it from that standpoint, why a lot of people look at it and say, ‘Oh my God, this is so amazing.’ But to me it’s just like, it’s not amazing to me. Like, yeah, I still feel good, feel young, feel fresh. My recovery is pretty much the same and the body feels fresh. Like I say, I think it all comes down to your mentality and how you approach the game mentally and physically just being able to take care of your body.”

Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey said Peterson has shown no sign of age in practice or games, and with 13 weeks left in the season, including Sunday’s game against one of Peterson’s old teams, the New Orleans Saints, he’s counting on the likely future Hall of Famer to let him know when his body needs a rest.

The likelihood of that happening, Peterson admits, is slim, which means the Lions could ride the 35-year-old into the record books. Peterson needs just 845 yards to pass Sanders for fourth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

“I’ve told you, this guy’s a freak of nature now,” said Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who coached Peterson in his first four NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. “And I mean, I don’t know where that wall is or where he’s going to hit it. The guy’s always asking for more. Like you said, he is in great shape. He takes care of his body. He does all those little things to set himself up for that success. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but he wants it, we want him to have it and we’ll just continue to go there and spell him with Kerryon, spell him with Swift and kind of go from there.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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