The highly vaunted running game of the Minnesota Vikings was dealt an early blow Monday afternoon.
According to Ben Goessling of ESPN, the NFL suspended fullback Jerome Felton—the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson and a Pro Bowl selection last season—for three games without pay to start 2013 due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com later reported that the suspension was tied to a June 2012 arrest for DWI, which counted as Felton's second over the past four years. He appealed the decision but lost.
The three-game suspension will now cost Felton division games against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and a Week 3 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. He will be eligible to return in Week 4, when the Vikings take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No player will be hurt more by Felton's absence than Peterson, the Vikings' MVP running back.
A season ago, Felton earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and a spot on the NFL's All-Pro team for his work clearing holes in the running game. Peterson used the space to eclipse 2,000 yards for just the seventh time in NFL history.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Felton played a big hand in Peterson's rise from operating table to rushing king in 2012. Overall, PFF graded Felton as the fifth-best fullback and fourth-best run-blocker during the regular season.
The Vikings then rewarded Felton with a three-year, $7.5 million extension in March. He was scheduled to become a free agent after originally signing a one-year deal with the club ahead of 2012.
If there's any upside to the the suspension, it's that Felton will now have a longer window to recover from emergency appendectomy surgery. According to Dan Wiederer of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Felton underwent the operation roughly two weeks ago and was expected to miss the rest of the preseason.
He should now be 100 percent when the Vikings travel to London to take on the Steelers in Week 4.
In his place, Minnesota will likely lean on a combination of Rhett Ellison, a well-accomplished blocking H-back, and Zach Line, who has impressed as an undrafted rookie free agent this summer.