The Vikings will need a franchise quarterback as early as 2011, but they're also a 2010 Super Bowl contender with the more pressing matter of replacing Chester Taylor and the 470 times he touched the football while teamed with Adrian Peterson the past three seasons.

That's why taking Stanford running back Toby Gerhart in the second round makes perfect sense, even if the Vikings had to trade their third-round pick to Houston to take him 51st overall. It's also why the Vikings didn't need to fool with picking Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy to play quarterback in the post-Brett Favre era, which we all know won't start until 2011 at the earliest.

So once the Vikings settled their dangerously-thin cornerback situation by signing veteran Lito Sheppard and drafting Virginia's Chris Cook 34th overall, the only worrisome hole on the roster was the huge crater Taylor left behind when he signed with the rival Bears for more money.

People who clamored for a QB seem to overlook all that Taylor did for a team that's built to win ASAP, not babysit Brett's heir apparent. Even in the three years that Peterson relegated him to a backup role, Taylor had 1,581 yards rushing, 1,069 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. He also gave them ball security and excellent pass protection, which is vital for a quarterback on the wrong side of 40.

No offense to Albert Young or Darius Reynaud, but Gerhart gives the Vikings their best chance of replacing Taylor since LaDainian Tomlinson chose the Jets over finishing his Hall of Fame career in Peterson's shadow.

Gerhart looks like a fullback at 6-foot and 231 pounds, but don't be fooled by his appearance. He's clearly a tailback with a nice mix of third-down skills and short-yardage power. He's a punishing between-the-tackles runner who also is athletic and fast enough to play in the NFL. He finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race after running for a nation-best 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns.

"I know you guys [the media] want to put him in a box because of what his weight is," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Don't put him in a box. ... He can out-athlete you in a lot of regards."

Childress said Gerhart played in a Cardinal offense that was similar to the West Coast style the Vikings use.

"I'm sure the terminology will be different," Gerhart said. "But I'm a smart guy, and I'm dedicated to the game."

Childress said Gerhart is well-schooled in pass protection and big enough to stand his ground against blitzing defenders. He also showed good hands in the limited number of times Stanford threw to its backs.

"I'm really comfortable with pass protection," Gerhart said. "That was one of my strong points in college, understanding defenses, understanding safety rotations, body language of blitzers and just blitz packages and identifying it and picking it up. In terms of pass catching, I didn't get an opportunity to catch a lot of balls. But I feel like I have really good hands."

When Tomlinson chose a bigger role with the Jets, Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, knew he still had options in the draft. "You don't have to panic," he said.

Naturally, Spielman's decision to trade up for Gerhart will be judged against how well Cal running back Jahvid Best does in Detroit. The Vikings traded with the Lions on Thursday, moving out of the first round and allowing Detroit to take Best with the No. 30 pick.

The Vikings weren't willing to wait until the 62nd pick and actually began trying to trade with teams ahead of Houston, which the Vikings assumed would pick Gerhart to fill their need for a running back. When the Texans were willing to deal, the Vikings made a move that should keep them near the top of the league in 1-2 punch at the running back position. And that will do more to help them reach Super Bowl XLV than picking 2011's potential starting quarterback.

"I'm not exactly sure what my role will be," Gerhart said. "But I know it's there to complement the best running back in the league, Adrian Peterson."

Mark Craig •