The Toby Gerhart era is officially underway in Jacksonville. One preseason game shouldn't shift the opinion of the 27-year-old running back one way or the other, but it should at the very least be encouraging for those fantasy owners who've already drafted him.
Gerhart ran for 19 yards on six carries in the 20-19 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears. His final numbers are a bit skewed, since 18 yards came on one carry alone; however, two of his carries went for negative yardage.
In the process, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley figured out how not to deploy his team's newest rusher—namely with sweeps to the outside. The sight of Gerhart trying to get to the edge had many on social media questioning Jacksonville's play-calling:
Wait, a slow-developing toss sweep with Toby Gerhart didn't work?— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) August 15, 2014
"Third and one, let's get Gerhart running east-west." #GoJags— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) August 15, 2014
Not sure toss sweeps to Toby Gerhart are gonna get it done very often.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) August 15, 2014
Gerhart is more athletic than some give him credit for, but he's not next Chris Johnson or anything. Running north and south is his bread and butter. When he was doing that on Thursday night, he looked good. You saw brief flashes of the running back he can become now that he's out of Adrian Peterson's shadow.
In the preseason, that's the best you can hope for. You're not going to learn any new revelations after watching a guy for two series. And as long as Gerhart didn't cough up the football or trip over his own shoelaces, that's a good start.
You have to remember that he's missed most of training camp with a strained hip flexor. Tuesday was his first day at practice in a few weeks, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco.
"I've been running four or five days straight now, and each day coming in and taking stock of how it's feeling," said Gerhart. "It's been feeling good, so I don't expect it to feel any worse tomorrow."
The 2009 Heisman runner-up is among the top sleepers at running back in fantasy this year. According to ESPN.com, he has an average draft position of 62.7, which is 25th at the position. Combine the fact that he's locked in as the starter with his 4.7 yards-per-carry average over four years, and it's not crazy to think he should be considered an RB2 in most fantasy leagues.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote about Gerhart back in July, quoting a team executive as saying:
Toby has always been a good running back in this league. He'll help that Jacksonville team. He'll make them better. He's always been better than some people perceived. If he were black, you f-----s (in the media) would be talking about how good he is.
B/R's Ty Schalter took a more analytical approach to explain why expectations surrounding Gerhart are so high:
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) tracks how many missed tackles each running back forces; Gerhart forced an incredible 14 missed tackles on just 36 carries, plus two missed tackles on 13 receptions. Gerhart didn't have nearly enough attempts to qualify, but his elusiveness rating of 123.4 was nearly double Peterson's league-leading 64.6.
Advanced Football Analysis credits Gerhart with a Win Probability Added of plus-0.42, ranked 21st among all backs. His 36 carries, 283 yards and two touchdowns did more to help the Vikings win football games than Eddie Lacy's 284 carries for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Thursday was only the beginning for Gerhart in a Jags uniform. Both he and the Jacksonville offense are works in progress. By the time the preseason nears its conclusion, you'll likely see much more production on the ground.
With the way that Blake Bortles is throwing the ball as well, Gerhart might find more running lanes inside as defenses respect the passing game more and more.
Breaking a thousand yards seems a realistic goal for Gerhart, and if he can do that, then he will have justified the preseason hype.