St. Louis Rams

NFL’s present vs. future? Rams’ Gurley ready to face Vikings and Peterson

St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) AP

All eyes will be on the running backs Sunday at Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota star Adrian Peterson, considered by most to be the running back other NFL backs are judged by, will be playing against one of the league’s rapidly rising stars, St. Louis Rams rookie back Todd Gurley.

“Adrian is the gold standard for running backs,” Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said Wednesday. “Hasn’t lost a step, looks really good. I’m sure he’ll be pumped up on Sunday hearing a lot about Todd.

“That’s just competitive nature of guys in the NFL. When you play against somebody else who’s doing great things, you want to one-up them on Sundays.”

Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in December, 2011, then returned in 2012 and led the NFL in rushing with 2,097 yards and 10 touchdowns.

It was a remarkable recovery, one that set the bar extremely high for elite-level athletes and, especially, NFL running backs.

Gurley was injured in 2014 during his junior season at Georgia and had surgery to repair a torn ACL last November.

Some teams likely wondered about his potential as an NFL back following that injury and subsequent surgery, but not the Rams. They selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft and crossed their fingers they were getting the same type of dominant back that Gurley had been at Georgia.

There’s only one ‘AP’. He’s the gold standard. You can consider him as the best.

Rams running back Todd Gurley on Adrian Peterson

Gurley sat out the first two games this season, worked his way into some carries in Game 3 (six for nine yards) and ever since has been terrorizing opposing defenses with 100-yard rushing performances.

In a little over four games, Gurley is the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher with 575 yards and three TDs, averaging a league-best 6.12 yards per carry with runs of 45 yards or longer in each of his four starts. That includes a scintillating 71-yard TD run last Sunday in the win over San Francisco.

Seventy-yard runs? Peterson is tied for the NFL all-time lead with seven of them in his career.

Peterson’s 10,823 yards and 89 touchdowns since 2007 are the most in the NFL over the last nine seasons. He is working on another big year, ranked third in the NFL with 633 yards and three TDs on 140 carries.

Gurley has obvious comparisons to Peterson with the knee injuries and potential stardom.

“I’m not matching up against him because he’s on offense,” Gurley said. “It’s cool to be out there and just have fun and play our game.”

Gurley said Peterson was one of the backs he kept his eye on while climbing the ranks from high school to college to the NFL.

Adrian is the gold standard for running backs. Hasn’t lost a step, looks really good. I’m sure he’ll be pumped up on Sunday hearing a lot about Todd.

Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis on Adrian Peterson

“A guy as great as him, everybody is going to look at him and try to model their game after him,” Gurley said. “There’s only one ‘AP’. He’s the gold standard. You can consider him as the best.”

Does Peterson, considered the best in the NFL at the position, see a little bit of himself in Gurley?

“Yes, he’s fast,” Peterson said. “He’s aggressive. He plays physical. He has nice feet, nice vision. So, those are the qualities that I feel like I have as well.”

Peterson is known for his hard-charring style and ability to break tackles, both attributes Gurley has shown early in his NFL career.

Comparisons are a natural given the knee injuries and big-time numbers that Peterson put up long before Gurley reached the NFL.

“He’s very impressive. I like that aggression,” Peterson said. “The way he plays ... just fast, physical. He’s a determined runner. He does have that combination, that nice blend of power and speed and great vision. He’s been more outstanding this year, man.

“I was doing an interview the other day and I was taking my hat off to the young guy for what he’s been able to accomplish thus far, especially coming off a major knee injury.”

Gurley has talked about being inspired in part by Peterson’s best-case-scenario recovery from one of the toughest injuries a running back can endure.

“It’s all about having faith and really believing that you can come back from a major injury like that,with all the chatter that’s coming around and that’s going to be around you and on you and projected towards you,” Peterson said. “To be able to overcome that and focus on what you ultimately want to accomplish is a huge task for anyone to do that.

“For him to apply himself, have that faith and that confidence in himself that he was going to come back and be better than before, it means a lot that I was able to kind of help encourage that. That’s what it’s all about.”

Does knowing that two of the NFL’s top running backs this season are on the same field provide motivation?

“I know that he’s going to put his best foot forward,” Peterson predicted. “I remember when I came in and there were backs that I looked up to that I encountered during the season. It was like, ‘Man I want to make sure that I out-do ‘LT’ (LaDainian Tomlinson) or this guy, that guy, Frank Gore.

“I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing and I plan on putting my best foot forward. I can say a little more of effort just because I know this young guy is going to come in here pretty excited to play as well.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders