Note: For the next eight weekdays, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post each day through April 28.
The issues: The Vikings have several needs in this draft but running back isn’t one of them. Adrian Peterson is going to be looking for a rich contract extension when the lockout ends – his deal will void after 2011 – but it’s hard to believe the Vikings are going to let him walk. Toby Gerhart was taken in the second round last year and Lorenzo Booker was signed in December after playing in the UFL.
What they have: Peterson finished fifth in the NFL last season with 1,298 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in 15 games and also managed to eliminate his issues with fumbles. Peterson had 20 fumbles and lost 13 over his first three seasons but last year he fumbled only once.
Peterson’s rushing total was the lowest of his four-year career but he also caught 36 passes for 341 yards and was playing on a team that went 6-10, had issues on the offensive line and had a future Hall of Fame quarterback (Brett Favre) who was unable to capture the magic that he had displayed the previous season.
In other words, there were reasons for Peterson’s decline in rushing yards that were beyond his control.
The Vikings made a trade with the Houston Texans last April in order to get a higher second-round pick so they could select Gerhart, who had been the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2009. Minnesota sent the 62nd pick (second round) and 93rd pick (third round) to the Texans for the 51st selection.
The Vikings wanted Gerhart to replace Chester Taylor, who had been an extremely reliable backup behind Peterson but left after the 2009 season to sign as a free agent with the Chicago Bears.
Gerhart, 6-feet, 231 pounds, got off to a rough start as veterans went especially hard at him during training camp, but he seemed to gain some measure of confidence as the season progressed and finished second on the team with 322 yards rushing on 81 carries (a 4.0 average) in 15 games with a touchdown. He even started a game in late December at TCF Bank Stadium when Peterson sat out against Chicago because of a thigh injury.
Booker did not have a rushing attempt after signing through the 2011 season, but he did catch five passes for 32 yards and is likely to stick as the third running back. Booker also can return kicks.
What they need: Not much unless they feel they can get a better player than Booker.
Albert Young was the Vikings’ third running back for much of last season, but the team did not tender him a contract offer just before the lockout started, meaning he will be free to sign elsewhere when the work stoppage ends.
Even if the Vikings feel that they will be unable to sign Peterson after the 2011 season, it’s unlikely they would begin addressing that issue immediately. If anything, Gerhart will be the guy in waiting and he’s already on the roster.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gerhart get more playing time because he has a year of experience and in the long term he’s probably going to be a better blocker than Peterson.
There is a possibility the Vikings could look to address the fullback position. Naufahu Tahi did not receive a tender offer and is free to sign elsewhere when things get back to normal. It's unclear if the Vikings will try to keep him or if they will turn the job over to Ryan D'Imperio.
D'Imperio, a seventh-round pick in 2010, was a linebacker at Rutgers but the Vikings converted him to fullback.
Conclusion: This running back draft class isn’t that impressive – there are some who don’t think a RB will go in the first round -- and given the Vikings many needs at other spots it seems highly unlikely they will take a player at this position. Odds would seem better they select a fullback, but even that is probably a long shot.