Meetings are taking place at Winter Park this week with the Vikings planning a detailed player-by-player evaluation of their current roster. As they perform their in-house review, we’re following suit and delivering our own snapshot evaluation of each position group.
Get excited: The Vikings believe they currently have two top-notch starting running backs. The best-case scenario: Adrian Peterson battles back from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, misses very little time in 2012 and is able to supply the pop out of the backfield he is so well known for. After all, that seven-year, $100 million extension the Vikings gave Peterson last fall is supposed to provide a healthy return on investment -- no pun intended. Plus the hope is that Peterson will push hard through his rehabilitation and do everything within his power to again be an explosive workhorse out of the backfield. But even if Peterson isn’t back by opening day or he is limited significantly in his first season after major knee surgery, the team has great confidence in Toby Gerhart, who ran hard in Peterson’s absence late this season. Gerhart himself is dealing with an MCL injury but shouldn’t have difficulty being back at 100 percent long before training camp begins. In an ideal world, Peterson and Gerhart show few lingering problems and the Vikings check off running back as one of the few positions they feel completely stable at going forward. Of course, there are a lot of major ifs still involved before the excitement about the backfield can be totally justified.
Keep an eye on: Caleb King and Jordan Todman. Is it possible the Vikings will need one or both of these players to help solidify their depth next season? Maybe. With Peterson’s return up in the air, the Vikings will want to have some reliable insurance at running back. Gerhart is the obvious choice to start if Peterson is out for an extended stretch. But what kind of backfield talent do the Vikings have beyond that? Lorenzo Booker is currently a restricted free agent, who may find greener pastures outside the Twin Cities. But given Peterson’s predicament, the Vikings will have to consider keeping Booker around. King spent the first 16 weeks of his rookie season on the practice squad, was promoted to the 53-man roster during the final week but was inactive against Chicago. Todman, meanwhile, also just finished his rookie season and was signed off San Diego’s practice squad after Peterson’s injury. The 5-foot-9-inch, 193-pound back from UConn had head coach Leslie Frazier intrigued with several elements of his skill set.
“His quickness, his speed, excellent agility,” Frazier said. “And he’s a very bright kid as well. He was a very good player in college. But his burst really separates him from a lot of players. I think he’s like a 4.4, 4.3 40 (yard dash guy). He’s got some top-end speed.”
Reason for worry: For as much optimism as the Vikings want to cling to in regards to Peterson’s recovery timetable, no one can say for certain if he’ll ever return to the peak form he showed through most of his first five NFL seasons. Yes, Peterson has an indefatigable work ethic and a desire to return better than ever before. And sure that goal may ultimately be reachable. But it’s also possible Peterson will never again have the same explosion and cutback ability that has made him a top-tier NFL star. Yes, there are examples of running backs who returned to be significant difference makers after tearing their ACLs – guys like Jamal Lewis and Edgerrin James. But then there are also the demoralizing stories of players like Terrell Davis, Daunte Culpepper, Robert Edwards, Jamal Anderson and Cadillac Williams who all blew out their knees while in their prime and were never the same again. The Vikings’ road back to relevance will rely heavily on a healthy Peterson being a catalyst. But if Peterson doesn’t make a full recovery? Well, yeah, that would classify as a reason for worry.