The Vikings are bringing in free agent running back Eddie Lacy for a visit, a move that some view as a little puzzling on the surface. Is Lacy, who spent the first four years of his career with the Packers, really a good fit? And would he be a better option here than trying to re-sign Adrian Peterson?
Let’s assume money isn’t an issue and that both running backs would get roughly the same deal. I’m not sure if that’s true, but let’s keep that equal so we can just compare the skill sets of the players for now.
Let’s let the basic question be this one: would the Vikings rather have Peterson, Lacy or neither?
One obvious plus on the ledger for Lacy is his age. He’ll be 27 during the 2017 season, presumably with plenty of life left in his legs. He has 788 career carries — fewer than one-third as many as Peterson (who turns 32 later this month and has already has 2,418 career rushes).
Lacy also has less of a fumbling history, putting the ball on the ground about once every 110 offensive touches compared to once every 70 touches for Peterson.
Neither are dynamite pass-catchers (Peterson’s career-high for receptions is 43, Lacy’s is 42), but Lacy has at least graded out as a good pass-blocker at times in his career. Peterson has tried to improve in that area over the years but he still remains a liability.
And here’s another big one: Lacy is quite comfortable running out of the shotgun, where he had plenty of practice in Green Bay. On 293 career shotgun runs, he’s averaged 4.5 yards per attempt — slightly better than his still-respectable 4.3 yards per carry from snaps under center. The Vikings — like many other NFL teams — are using the shotgun more and more. Peterson has struggled to adapt. His career average on 130 rushes out of the shotgun is just 3.7 yards per carry — compared to 4.9 yards from under center.
If the question is Peterson or Lacy, at the same price, I’d say the choice is pretty obviously Lacy. The question then becomes: would Lacy be better than other options for the Vikings?
Lacy has a reputation for durability issues, but most of that comes from last season when he appeared in just five games. In his first three seasons with Green Bay, Lacy only missed two games total. That said, Lacy’s rookie season and second season — when he topped 1,100 yards both times and scored a combined 24 touchdowns — were vastly superior to his last two seasons.
Lacy has struggled with weight issues at various points in his career. He saw his role diminish in 2015 and was injured in 2016. While still effective when he did get the ball — Lacy averaged 4.4 yards per attempt over the past two years — he went from emerging elite back to somewhat of a mystery. There’s no way a running back of his considerable size and strength should score five TDs combined (zero last year in five games) over two seasons.
Lacy could be in prove-it mode. Then again, the Packers thought Lacy would have a comeback season in 2016 and it never materialized. Signing him away from Green Bay would theoretically hurt the Packers, but it’s unclear just how much they want to retain their 2013 second-round pick out of Alabama.
If Lacy returned to his 2013-14 form, he and Jerick McKinnon would be a nice 1-2 punch at running back for the Vikings. That said, the Vikings seem to have more pressing needs in free agency and might be better off focusing on finding a new running back in an exceptional draft class for the position.
Maybe if the Vikings landed Lacy at a reasonable rate AND drafted a potential running back of the future in the middle rounds this season, this pursuit would make some sense. It certainly makes more sense than trying to retain Peterson.