After an amazing comeback from ACL surgery and successfully leading his team for the playoffs, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson missed the all-time single season rushing record by just nine yards.
According to Jeremy Scheff, a graduate student at Rutgers University who specializes in data analysis, Peterson might have actually beat Eric Dickerson’s record.
Scheff considers how the NFL measures yards and how they round to the nearest integer. This measurement system means that whenever a runner rushes for half a yard, it’ll get recorded as either zero yards or one yard.
By running a statistical analysis of both Peterson and Dickerson over a full season, Scheff is able to calculate the odds that Peterson actually out-rushed Dickerson.
From these simulations, it was straightforward to assign probabilities to these possibilities by testing which player had more simulated years as the overall rushing champ. I found that 85% of the time, Dickerson came out on top. This means that…
There is approximately a 15% chance that Adrian Peterson actually broke Dickerson’s record, but it was not noticed due errors accumulated by rounding the lengths of rushes to integer values.
What does this mean for Peterson?
This is simply the way it is and measuring errors are expected. In addition to that, line officials may not always spot the ball accurately as well.
As Scheff’s study suggests, the simulation agreed that Dickerson came out on top 85 percent of the time anyway. The idea of Peterson actually earning the rushing record is just interesting to ponder about.
Graph from jeremyscheff.com.