Each year since I've been blogging about the Vikings I've meant to do an analysis of each position on the team once the season has ended. And each year I have failed to do that.
Not this year. And what you're (hopefully) reading here is the first installment of a series of posts looking at each position on the Vikings and what I think the team might do to improve each one. As always, this is a fan's perspective - mine. It's not based on pouring over All-22 film or YouTube highlights of college studs. This will be based on what I saw watching the Vikings play on TV all year, plus a little reading here and there and using some common sense. In the end, I expect almost everything I write to be proven to be complete horseshit by June. But you get what you pay for around here.
First up in this series is one position the Vikings shouldn't be all that concerned about - or should they? It's the running backs.
Signed: Adrian Peterson; Jerome Felton; Joe Banyard
Unsigned: Toby Gerhart (unrestricted free agent); Matt Asiata (exclusive rights free agent)
What the Vikings have: Peterson is still the man and he's locked up until 2017, so the Vikings should be in great shape in 2014. Key word in that sentence is "should". Peterson turns 29 this March and is quickly approaching the NFL running back witching age - 30. He was nicked up a lot in 2013 - groin problems and then a foot injury - didn't look himself much of the season and basically missed 3-and-a-half games. Was 2013 a harbinger of things to come in 2014 and 2015 - only with more injuries and less production? The history of NFL running backs reaching the 29-30 age range suggests that it is.
Gerhart will sign elsewhere when free agency officially starts on March 11. I wish him well - as long as he doesn't sign with the Lions, Bears or Packers (it won't happen). Asiata is also a free agent, but as an exclusive rights free agent (he's not under contract but has just 2 years of NFL experience) he really isn't a free agent. He cannot sign with another team unless Minnesota doesn't offer him a contract. Could Asiata be Peterson's backup in 2014? I like Asiata and he runs hard. But he's a limited player. He sees a hole, makes his cut and goes. He won't make anyone miss and he won't outrun defenders. You can probably get by with him for a game or two, and the Vikings did last season. But is he good enough to be your #1 guy if Peterson has a season-ending injury or misses large chunks of the 2014 season with injuries? I wouldn't trust Asiata in that role. I don't think the Vikings will, either.
I'd like to say something about Joe Banyard, but there isn't anything to say about a guy without an NFL regular season carry on his resume. And Jerome Felton is a thumping blocker who hurts people, but he doesn't carry the ball. Looking at the Vikings depth chart as is leads me to one conclusion - the team sure needs Peterson to be healthy next season.
What the Vikings might do: I can't really see Minnesota picking up a good veteran to backup Peterson. For one, the free agent pool is pretty terrible, although some guys who aren't supposed to be on this list could end up there. I also don't see the Vikings signing a veteran backup for Peterson because I don't think anybody good is going to want to come to Minnesota. Good running backs want to play, and they know Gerhart only carried the ball 36 times last season and 50 the season before that. If Peterson stays healthy, they know their workload will be similar to Gerhart's in 2014. Why sign with the Vikings if that's what is waiting for you?
But that's OK. Adding a veteran backup isn't in the Vikings best interests anyway. The team needs a succession plan for Peterson and drafting a promising young running back either in 2014 or 2015 is how that plan should unfold. Because running back is a secondary need for the Vikings right now, there's no way general manager Rick Spielman drafts one in the first couple of rounds of the 2014 draft. But I could see it happening in the 3rd round (the Vikings have a couple of 3rd round picks) and beyond. Here is a look at one list ranking the top running back prospects. It's just one website's opinion and you can find others. Still, familiarize yourself with the guys who have 3rd round grades or lower.
If you watched the Fiesta Bowl last week featuring Baylor and the University of Central Florida and you're a Vikings fan, you probably were paying a lot of attention to UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. However, there was a teammate of his who had a pretty good game as well - running back Storm Johnson. I have no clue whether he's a Vikings draft target, but he's big (listed at 6 feet and 215 pounds), ran for over 1,200 yards in 2013 and the running back rankings list I linked to has him rated as a 6th round talent. The Vikings can get a guy like this without having to use a high draft pick in May's draft, and I kinda have a feeling they will when I look at the running backs they currently have.
If you're curious, here are some Johnson highlights from UCF's game against Ohio State in 2012.