Despite the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are a team with a woefully depleted roster, they still have a number of talented players buried on the depth chart who are skilled enough to start for a number of teams in today's NFL. What follows is a quick recap of the four current Vikings backups that would stand the best chance of starting on an alternate NFL roster.
Having quickly eliminated aging veterans in favor of younger prospects, the Vikings are no doubt in a rebuilding year. Still, the front office has accumulated talent and depth for several positions and would be in a seller's market if they wished to trade.
It's not uncommon for teams to carry this sort of depth in their rosters; the "Next Man Up" philosophy requires that players be able to contribute at a moments notice. Coupled with the fact that skill is by no means evenly distributed across the league, unappreciated players exist in every NFL depth chart.
It may still be surprising that the Vikings possess starting-caliber players working as backups in key positions in their roster. The 3-13 record in 2011 speaks ill of their overall proficiency, but they have shockingly good talent concentrated in a few areas.
The first player on this list is the least surprising player for any casual follower of the team. After that, the list may surprise even the most ardent fans.
Drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft, the bruiser from Stanford has been, from time to time, asked to fill in for the powerful Adrian Peterson or provide relief on sustained drives. Disregarded in his rookie year as a blocking back, Gerhart has made quite an impression with observers and stands to be a remarkably successful running back who could start in most systems.
His 2011 statistics alone speak to the fact that he outpaces a number of other running backs in the league—he ranked 13th in the NFL in yards per carry, at 4.9, and ninth in yards after contact, with 2.97.
Some of the more obscure statistics pop out, too: He's forced 23 missed tackles, making him the second best in the league in missed tackles per carry at 0.21. Toby has been asked to pass-block 80 times, and in that time, he's only given up one sack. With only one fumble to his name, Gerhart jumps off the page.
The data show that he is a passing threat as well and caught a staggering 89 percent of passes thrown his way—the second most of any running back with over 25 targets. His yards per reception is about league average, and he's a viable checkdown option on every play.
Again and again, he finds himself among top starters in key stats. He finished 2011 with higher yards per carry than Matt Forte, Ryan Mathews and LeSean McCoy and more yards after contact than Darren McFadden, LeGarrette Blount and Maurice Jones-Drew.
But beyond the numbers, he's also good on film. With average vision, good speed and great burst, he'd be an immediate starter for many NFL teams. While many players in the league could chase him down after a short stretch, his powerful running style also makes him difficult to tackle.
He is an adequate route runner and certainly surpasses a number of backs in this area. More importantly, he adjusts to the ball well and exhibits good instincts in the passing game.
Toby has showed an understanding of the Vikings' blocking scheme as well and has done a good job of picking up blitzes when being asked to stay in the pocket for pass protection.
We'll see more of him at the beginning of this next season, as the Vikings will want to reduce the load on an injured and potentially hampered Adrian Peterson.
For this exercise, finding teams that would see Toby Gerhart as an upgrade is perhaps the most demonstrative explanation for his inclusion in this list. Any of these teams might be persuaded into giving up a good draft pick for him: the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, and the Washington Redskins.
Problems with LeGarrette Blount have resurfaced in Tampa Bay, while St. Louis might want to plan for a future without Steven Jackson, so either of those teams might be happy with Gerhart as well.
The Vikings focused attention on Everson Griffen after announcing that he had received snaps at linebacker during minicamps, and they had plans for more of the same in Mankato. This move is designed to put as many playmakers on the field at once and should tell astute fans that Griffen is more than merely a backup.
It should be unsurprising that players backing up both the best offensive and defensive starters for the Vikings ended up on the list, but Griffen displays unique talent that should be given special attention.
Fans of the young USC product will often point to the fact that he was fast enough to play gunner on special teams, the significance of which is a difficult to overstate. The speed, agility and stamina for this position is almost uniquely reserved for wide receivers and cornerbacks, and very occasionally linebackers. A defensive lineman simply doesn't find himself running down the field on punts.
Griffen's made an impact, too—he's had the third most tackles on special teams of any Viking.
He has more than straight-line speed, however. He has excellent burst off the line and turns the corner well. When tuned in to the game, Griffen also displays good instincts for defending the run, maintaining good gap control and using his excellent lateral agility well.
Despite shedding weight for his new role as a hybrid linebacker/end, he will still have the strength to take tackles on the line, as this was an asset of his in 2011. His first step is also better than most in the league, something that even veterans need to work on.
He certainly has the athletic talent to transition roles, making him a versatile player—something highly valued in the NFL. The debate over his potential switch has been engaging. While I've laid out my case for keeping him as an effective defensive end, Nick McAndrews rather compellingly disagrees.
The differences are largely schematic or revolve around concerns involving training time. Not many think Griffen doesn't have the physical capability to do well in either position. In fact, there are a number of people who agree that Griffen projects well as an outside linebacker in 3-4 systems—especially the two-gap system popularized by Parcells.
That said, his ability to rush from the second line or out wide is scarce. His versatility and skill would convince a number of teams to take a flyer on this troublesome but capable player. As a 3-4 OLB, he would certainly start for the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts—assuming the veteran transitions for their former 4-3 DEs doesn't work out.
As a defensive end, he would make an impact for the Cleveland Browns, the Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Detroit Lions would potentially also want Griffen, as Vanden Bosch is clearly aging and has lost a step.
More than anyone else, however, the New England Patriots' hybrid defensive scheme would thrive with players like Griffen.
Chris Carr's appearance on the list should surprise a number of people, particularly given that he's a backup for a team whose secondary was a weakness last in 2011. Make no mistake, though, Carr is a savvy player.
Picked up in free agency, Carr's arrival to his home state was relatively unheralded.
For most of his career, Carr was considered a backup and an excellent special teams option. Even with the Ravens, he only started because of injuries to Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington—not a strong opening argument.
Still, when he got his chance to start, Carr did well. In 2010, he allowed the tenth lowest passer rating for opposing QBs, letting only three touchdowns slip by him while picking off the ball twice.
Again, more obscure but illuminating statistics underscore his value. When in primary coverage, he allowed the third least yards per snap, behind Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha and ahead of other big names like Joselio Hanson, Darrelle Revis and the Vikings' own Antoine Winfield.
He ranked middle of the road in cover snaps per reception as well, only allowing a reception twice in 23 snaps. Not only did he prevent passes (finishing with a league average 60-percent catch rate), he limited their gain: He gave up 8.7 yards per reception, good for third in the league.
Obviously, his issues with a hamstring injury in 2011 limited his potential, but there is an excellent possibility this won't be an issue in 2012. While all indications are that Carr has returned to full game speed, his velocity wasn't his most valuable asset; he's an excellent bump-and-run corner who utilizes strength and agility to throw off timing and keep routes short.
He displays good positioning and is lauded for his on-field and off-field intellect, an asset any team can use. Carr will never be a top-flight corner, but he's a good asset and his skill surpasses those of many other corners in the league, even though his injury may cause concerns.
The following teams should have competed with the Vikings to grab his contract: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions (particularly with Berry out), Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and possibly the Oakland Raiders.
Carlson's addition to the list may be cheating, given the presumption by some writers that he is in fact the starting tight end and not a backup. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave does plan on installing a base two-tight-end offense, perhaps mucking up his legitimacy even more.
Carlson is behind Rudolph on the depth chart, not just for several different national outlets tracking depth chart updates, but for local coverage media as well. In single tight end sets, something the Vikings still did quite a bit with Musgrave in 2011, fans will more likely see Rudolph on the field than Carlson.
John's absence from the stat sheets in 2011, as well as a quiet 2010, may give doubters pause when evaluating his overall skill, and these concerns are fair.
Even so, Carlson is a good pass catcher who runs good enough routes to find weaknesses in zones. He won't be a primary receiving option for the Vikings, or even most teams, and isn't well-known as a blocker. He does provide an excellent outlet option for quarterbacks under pressure and checkdowns in the third read, however.
Despite lacking strength as a blocker, he still possesses good technique, making him valuable in pass protection. More than that, he outruns most tight ends in the league and has agility to match.
His rookie year should give an indication of his talent, and proves that he can make excellent contributions when called upon: he led the Seahawks in both yards (627) and receptions (55) and ranked ninth in the league in yards received per passing route run.
With some impressive single-game receiving performances, including two touchdowns against the Saints in the Seahawks' 2010 playoff campaign, Carlson flashes ability that exceeds many other tight ends in the league.
The Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans could do worse than having him on the roster.
The New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals would also be well placed to take a look, if Bennett and King don't show consistency in the passing game.