Each day this week, we will break down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we begin the series with a look at the running backs.
The Vikings plan on having Adrian Peterson back in their backfield in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing their homework on this deep and talented class of running backs, one about which General Manager Rick Spielman has been raving.
The Vikings say they won’t trade Peterson — and we believe them — but that should not preclude them from taking another back after the first night of the draft.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are vying to be first running back off the board — and also the first one to be drafted in the first round since 2012.
Gurley ripped through SEC defenses before a shredded ACL ended his season in November. Gordon, meanwhile, led the Big Ten, a conference with several running backs who could be drafted this year, with 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns.
Size and explosiveness set those two apart from rest of the pack, but some NFL draft analysts believe there might be as many as a dozen starting-caliber runners in this class.
With Peterson having turned 30 last month, the Vikings could look to the future and select another youngster to complement Peterson and 2014 third-round pick Jerick McKinnon. He showed flashes during his rookie season, but they could use another between-the-tackles banger to perhaps develop as Peterson’s eventual replacement.
Projected starters: Peterson will start at tailback with Zach Line at fullback.
Don’t forget about: Matt Asiata rushed for only 3.5 yards per carry in 2014 and his plodding pace drives some fans crazy, but Asiata is the kind of contributor worth keeping around. He rushed for nine touchdowns last season, fumbled only once and is a good pass protector. So it’s no surprise the team brought him back.
Level of need: Low, unless they end up dealing Peterson. With Peterson, McKinnon and Asiata on the depth chart, along with DuJuan Harris, Joe Banyard and Henry Josey, the Vikings have a diverse and competent group of runners. But if there is a back in this class that they absolutely love, they would and should consider drafting him.
Five prospects to remember: Boise State RB Jay Ajayi, Minnesota RB David Cobb, Northern Iowa RB David Johnson, Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon, South Dakota State FB/RB Zach Zenner.
Our best guess: The Vikings will stick to their guns and keep Peterson around for at least one more season. So they won’t be players for Gurley or Gordon unless one or both are still on the board in the second round — which seems unlikely. But coach Mike Zimmer wants a team that can run the rock, so don’t be surprised when the Vikings draft another running back, perhaps as early as the third round.