Adrian Peterson and Saquon Barkley. One runs through people while the other hurdles them. Both are excited to share the field on Sunday when the Giants host the Redskins.
"That's a crazy, crazy statement to even think about," Barkley said when asked what it means to him. "Growing up, watching Adrian Peterson, big fan of his game. Even now, he's still a special talent. He's been doing it for so long. To be able to watch him play live is definitely going to be something that I'm excited to see."
Throughout the draft process, many analysts had Barkley as the highest-graded running back since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma in 2007. Barkley was just 10 years old when Adrian Peterson, then with the Vikings, set the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards in just his eighth career game. On Sunday, Barkley will play in his eighth NFL game.
The first seven games were more than enough for Peterson to know Barkley has something special. While the streak ended last week by six yards, Barkley began his career with six consecutive games of at least 100 yards from scrimmage. Peterson had five at the start of his career.
"I've had the opportunity to kind of sit back and watch him, and he's nice, man," Peterson said following Washington's win over Dallas last week to stay atop the NFC East. "He's a heck of a football player. He has impressed me so far."
Peterson, who said he always keeps tabs on the young guys coming into the league, continued to gush about the second overall pick during the week leading up to their first meeting. The three-time rushing champion and 2012 league MVP said he would sneak a peak at him in the film room, even though he will be preparing for the Giants' defense and not their offense.
"He's the guy that stands out a little more than what I've seen in the past few years," Peterson said, via ESPN's John Keim. "Todd Gurley is a guy that has great potential as well. He falls in that same category, but they're two different styles of players. I would say the biggest thing is one is just more elusive. Which one is that? [Barkley]."
Peterson added: "You can just see with the talent, it's obvious, him being a rookie and what he's accomplished so far. That doesn't happen every year or even two or three or four years that type of talent comes around. … From what I've seen so far, he shows some God-given ability. Great patience, his lower-body strength and balance is amazing. He flows."
Barkley heard those comments.
"That means a lot when you can catch the eye of a guy like that, like Adrian Peterson," he said. "He's one of the best running backs to ever play in this game – a future Hall of Famer. I admire his game and how he plays. For him to say that about me, especially being a young guy in the league, definitely means a lot to me."
Barkley reached legendary status at Penn State with a highlight reel full of plays where he is jumping over one, two or even three defenders before hitting the turbo button. Peterson, on the other hand, was – and is – more of a run-you-over back. Barkley wants to add more of that to his game.
"He just runs through anybody in his way," Barkley said. "Hopefully, he doesn't do that this week against our team. I guess you can say that I just love how aggressive he plays, or his aggressive nature that no matter if there's 12 guys in front of him, he's going to just try to plow them over. That's something that I can continue to add to my game, I guess you can say."
While Barkley is excited for the chance to meet Peterson – "I'm not going to lie. That'll be pretty cool if I was able to trade jerseys with Adrian" – two of his coaches have already had the pleasure of Peterson's company. Coach Pat Shurmur overlapped with Peterson in Minnesota, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher did the same last year in Arizona. Bettcher recalled when Peterson, just traded from New Orleans to Arizona mid-season, came to him and asked if he could get some scout-team reps against his defense.
"I looked at him," Bettcher said, "and went, 'What are you talking about, Adrian?' He goes, 'No, no, I just want to get a few extra carries in practice, a little extra work.' That will always stick with me, a guy that you would think doesn't feel like he needs more, a guy that works, and a guy that runs downhill. He's going to try to make you miss in tight area, but at the same time he'll put his pads down. Got a lot of respect for his game, and we're going to have to gang tackle him."
The Redskins are saying the same things about Barkley this week. A week after limiting Ezekiel Elliott to 33 yards on 15 carries, the league's third-ranked rush defense will go up against the Giants' star rookie.
"Our defense, they're going to have a tough challenge and they will prep to stop him," Peterson said. "They did a great job [Sunday] on Ezekiel with a great offensive line. They did a great job of controlling the front, so they're going to have to do the same thing [this] week."