When it comes to the Minnesota Vikings, one thing is certain: The top two spots in the running back depth chart are locked in and ready to go.
Adrian Peterson is coming off one of the best seasons ever at his position. He rushed for 2,097 yards—nine yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing title—with 12 touchdowns and an impressive 6.0 yards average per carry.
Somehow, some way Peterson returned from a torn ACL to be better, stronger and faster than ever before. At 28 years old, he still has two or three years left of elite play before a slight decline is likely.
Peterson says 2,500 yards is his goal for the 2013 campaign. If that happens, it means one of two things.
First, it could be that Peterson is averaging an unprecedented number of yards per carry (he would have had to average roughly 7.2 yards per carry to rush for 2,500 yards on his 348 carries).
The more likely scenario is that the Christian Ponder experiment has flopped and it’s time for the franchise to recommence the search for a franchise quarterback.
Peterson is a phenomenal talent, but he could improve on his pass-blocking. Minnesota often removed him from the field on third downs because he was a liability.
When Peterson went off, Toby Gerhart came on.
The fourth-year pro from Stanford was supposed to take a large step forward last season after averaging 4.9 yards per carry in 2011. Instead, he fell backwards.
The 2010 second-round pick didn’t run with the same power and aggression that highlighted his 2011 season. He will never be a burner, but that season, he showed Mike Alstott-like abilities en route to rushing for 531 yards while filling in for Peterson in four games.
Gerhart is a more reliable blocker than Peterson and will see more time on third-down situations, like last season. At 26 years old, he’s getting to that make-or-break point. It’s time for him to either step up and become a consistent impact player or fade into obscurity.
While Gerhart is entrenched as the No. 2 back, the Vikings' roster contains four other running backs.
Matt Asiata (5’11”, 220 pounds) was the No. 3 back last season after surprising his way onto the roster. He will have the inside track to assume that position again.
He’s similar to Gerhart in that he’s not a speed back, but rather relies on power and size to move the chains. He had three carries as a rookie for nine yards (3.0 yards per carry) and had a three-yard reception.
The other backs all have never played a regular-season down in the NFL in Joe Banyard (UTEP), Jerodis Williams (Furman) and Bradley Randle (UNLV).
Barring a spectacular display in training camp, those three players are merely using the Vikings as an opportunity to showcase their skills to a team with more of a need at the position.
The depth chart is all but set as follows 1. Peterson; 2. Gerhart; 3. Asiata.
Enjoy it, Vikings fans. You get another year to watch one of the best running backs in NFL history.