Countdown to camp: RB projections, analysis

Only half of the running backs currently on the roster will be there after the final cuts on Aug. 31. The first three spots are locks, but who has the edge for what likely will be the final spot? We offer our projections on the locks, the sleeper, the longshot and everything in between.

The numbers: Last year—4. Current count—8. Projection this year—4.

The candidates: Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton, Toby Gerhart, Zach Line, Adrian Peterson, Bradley Randle, Jerodis Williams.

The locks: Peterson, Gerhart, Felton.

The sleeper: Line comes in with a lot of experience at Southern Methodist and three straight seasons with 1,000 yards rushing or more. In some ways he is a bit similar to the fourth running back on last year's roster, Matt Asiata, who will be part of the battle for that final spot. They are both big enough to be a blocking back if needed but quick enough to serve as a tailback, too.

The longshots: For differing reasons, you could pick either Williams or Randle for this distinction. Williams is from Furman and small-school candidates generally need seasoning on a practice squad. Randle is small and will have to prove himself in preseason games to be a practice-squad candidate.

The analysis: No need to discuss anything further surrounding the possibilities with Peterson, the reigning league MVP who has his focus set on the all-time single-season rushing mark that he missed by only eight yards in 2012. The next two spots are also well-tended, with Gerhart as Peterson's backup and Felton as the lead-blocking Pro Bowler returning to the fold. The only battle here is for a fourth position, if there is one kept on the 53-man roster. Asiata occupied that spot last year, Banyard spent the final six weeks of last season on the practice squad, and Line came in as the most highly touted of the undrafted prospects, but this could be one area the Vikings look for a released youngster with experience at the end of training camp if no in-house candidates pop.

Adrian Peterson: What more needs to be said about Peterson after his league MVP season? Perhaps just this warning: No back in NFL history has ever had back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. There. Now he has motivation for 2013.

Toby Gerhart: Gerhart had a career-low 50 carries and 169 yards in 2012 and enters the final year of his rookie contract. He will certainly be looking to make the most of whatever opportunities Peterson's backup is afforded.

Jerome Felton: Felton became a Pro Bowler blocking for Peterson and should be in that role for years to come after signing a three-year, $7.5 million contract to stay put. He did so well last year that even Peterson, who normally prefers to run in a single-set backfield, is seeing the benefit of having Felton in front.

Matt Asiata: He was active for all 16 games, but "active" might be misleading. He played in only 22 offensive snaps, but he was in on nearly 39 percent of the special teams snaps. A fourth running back needs to make contributions on special teams to stay employed.

Joe Banyard: Banyard joined the Vikings practice squad for the final five weeks of the regular season, so they have familiarity with him. He is a bit of a smaller back, but just having the opportunity to learn the offense almost six months in advance of undrafted rookies could give him a training camp edge if there is a spot to fight over.

Zach Line: Line is tough and decisive in his cuts, two qualities that helped him rush for almost 4,000 yards over his final three seasons at SMU. In some ways he is like Gerhart – a bigger back who is still more tailback than fullback.

Bradley Randle: Declaring himself eligible for the NFL after his junior season, Randle still caught the eye of the Vikings' scouts enough to warrant at least an offseason roster spot as an undrafted rookie. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 38 career games. He also returned kicks, but the small tailback will have to make his quickness stand out to earn a spot on the practice squad.

Jerodis Williams: He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Furman but he will have to overcome the typical small-school stigma to earn a spot on the practice squad. His stats read like a jack of all trades but master of none.

The projection: Peterson, Gerhart, Felton, Asiata.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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