If former All-American Adrian Peterson had it his way, he would’ve left Oklahoma for the NFL after his spectacular freshman season as the Heisman runner-up in 2004.
The 34-year-old running back who has spent the past decade-plus rushing for thousands of yards at the pro level believes he was NFL-ready as a freshman with the Sooners.
“I can tell you, when that situation happened with Maurice Clarett, I was elated,” Peterson said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “I was like, ‘Yes, thank you Jesus,’ because I just knew that was the route I was going to take, and I would have taken it. Think about the type of year I had my freshman year [at Oklahoma]. Come on. Like, I’m out of there. I’m in the NFL already.”
In reference to Clarett, the former Buckeyes star challenged the NFL’s early-entry rule after one year post-dismissal at Ohio State and won his case.
Peterson, drafted seventh overall in 2007, believes he would have been selected higher in the 2005 NFL draft coming off a freshman season for the Sooners in which he rushed ofr 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns. At the time, the league was still putting a premium on elite-level ballcarriers as three running backs went inside the Top 5 that season — Auburn’s tandem of Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams along with Texas star Cedric Benson.
Peterson went on to earn the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award as rookie, showing he was more than ready for professional stardom a few years later despite the wear and tear he endured at Oklahoma.
“The one guy I used as an example was Cedric Benson,” Peterson said. “He was a senior my freshman year, and I out-performed him that year, so I was just like, If he could go play in the NFL, why couldn’t I? He went [fourth] overall, and you’ve got a guy that’s younger, with less wear and tear on his body. Where do you put me if he went [fourth]?”
Most college freshmen aren’t as physically-imposing as Peterson was at Oklahoma, thus not realistically able to challenge the NFL’s current three years removed from high school rule. In the NBA, an amateur athlete may enter the draft after one season when he’s finished at the prep level. At the Major League Baseball level, high school players — if they have graduated and have not yet attended college or junior college — are eligible.
Over three seasons at Oklahoma, Peterson was unstoppable, rushing for 4,041 yards and 41 touchdowns over 31 career games, averaging 130.4 yards and a score every Saturday. Peterson’s yearning to leave the college ranks after his first season has been a primary talking point in recent weeks nationally as players such as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa appear to be pro-ready quarterbacks as underclassmen simply playing out the stretch to meet the necessary requirements for NFL Draft entry.