Adrian Peterson still isn’t ready to retire. The veteran running back spent most of the 2021 NFL offseason and half of the season as a free agent but has returned to play in his 15th NFL season.
The Titans signed Peterson to help replace Derrick Henry, who is dealing with a broken foot and could miss the rest of the season. It will mark Peterson’s sixth different team and his fifth different one since he left the Vikings ahead of the 2017 NFL season.
Peterson is now among the NFL’s oldest active skill position players, and he is becoming a big-time anomaly. Running backs usually don’t play late into their careers, and the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years. So, Peterson continues to defy the odds as he looks to build on some of his Hall of Fame-worthy numbers.
Just how old is Adrian Peterson? And how old is he compared to some of the other oldest running backs (and fullbacks) in NFL history? Here’s a look at his career length and stats as he gets ready to play his first game with the Titans.
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How old is Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson is 36 years old. His birthday is March 21, 1985, so he won’t turn 37 until after the 2021 NFL season comes to an end.
Peterson entered the league in 2007 at the age of 22. He is playing in his 15th NFL season and was a first-round draft pick (No. 7 overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft. He is one of four players drafted that year to still be playing in the league. The other three — Nick Folk, Mason Crosby and Clark Harris — are all special teams players.
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Where Adrian Peterson ranks among oldest RBs in NFL history
Peterson is currently the oldest active running back in the NFL, and he is one of the oldest running backs in NFL history. Here’s a look at the oldest running backs and fullbacks, all that have played until age 36, since the common draft era began in 1970.
5. John Riggins, 36
Riggins had a strong, 15-year career in the NFL, though he missed one season amid a contract dispute with Washington. Riggins was always a powerful back but he seemed to get better with age. He led the NFL in touchdown runs during the 1983 and 1984 seasons and was an All-Pro during the former season.
Riggins had one of the greatest plays in NFL history during the 1983 Super Bowl when he turned a fourth-down run into a 43-yard touchdown. It was voted the 20th-best play in NFL history in 2019.
Impressively, Riggins was 33 at the time of that play and went on to play three more seasons in the NFL. He called it quits following the 1985 season. He played his last NFL game at the age of 36 and 119 days old. He is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Darren Sproles, 36
Frankly, it’s impressive that Sproles ranks among the top-five oldest running backs. Why? Because he’s only 5-6, 190 pounds. Despite being on the smaller side, he stayed healthy for most of the early part of his career. Injuries took their toll his final three years with the Eagles, but he posted strong career numbers.
Sproles played in 183 games during his career and served as one of the best pass-catchers out of the backfield from 2005 on. He totaled 4,840 receiving yards and 32 receiving TDs while racking up 3,552 rushing yards and 23 rushing TDs. He did all of that despite operating as a backup and third-down back during his career.
Sproles last played in 2019 with the Eagles and bested Riggins by about 70 days. He saw action in just 15 games over his last three seasons but was a Pro Bowler in the previous three seasons.
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3. Adrian Peterson, 36
Peterson is set to officially pass Sproles if he’s active for the Titans against the Rams, as expected. Peterson will be 36 and 231 days old on Sunday. Sproles retired from the league at 36 and 192 days old following the 2019 season.
Peterson has posted terrific numbers during his career. He has 14,820 rushing yards (the fifth-most in NFL history) and 118 rushing touchdowns. He also has won an MVP, Offensive Player of the Year Award, Rookie of the Year award, has been named to seven Pro Bowls and has made four All-Pro teams. He is a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer and was named to the Hall of Fame’s 2010s all-decade team.
2. Frank Gore, 37
Technically, Gore hasn’t retired yet. He’s just not on a roster, so he could eventually earn the No. 1 spot on this list if a team decides that they need backfield depth. If not, he’s still the second-oldest running back in the NFL’s modern era.
Gore last played in Week 16 of the 2020 season. He was 37 years and 227 days old when he tallied 48 rushing yards on 14 attempts for the Jets. Gore has the third-most rushing yards in NFL history at an even 16,000 and also has an even 80 rushing touchdowns.
While Gore hasn’t done much as a pass-catcher in recent years, he has nearly 4,000 career receiving yards and 18 TDs there as well. If he does return to the NFL, he will continue to inch closer toward being the oldest running back to ever play and will likely become the fourth player in NFL history to total more than 20,000 scrimmage yards. He ranks fourth on the list all-time right now behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
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1. Lorenzo Neal, 38
OK, so Neal isn’t technically a running back. He’s a fullback. But they are often categorized as the same position, so Neal gets the nod as the oldest running back/fullback to play in since the common draft era.
Neal played 16 seasons in the NFL and spent time with eight different teams. He had just 1,893 career scrimmage yards and 18 touchdowns, but he was one of the NFL’s fiercest blockers during the 2000s. He got better with age, too, as three of his four Pro Bowl nods came in the final four years of his career while both of his All-Pro nominations came in the final three years of his career.
Neal played his last NFL game in the playoffs at age 38 and 22 days old. He tried to play for the Raiders in 2009, but he failed to make the roster and was waived with an injury settlement. That marked the last time he was on an NFL roster at 38 and 242 days old.
Before the common draft era, two other backs played until they were at least 37. John Henry Johnson played from 1953 through 1966, his age-37 season, with the 49ers, Steelers, Lions and Houston Oilers. Jim Thorpe played from 1920 to 1928 for six different teams. He played until 41 years old, making him the oldest running back in NFL history.