Senior Bowl could feature Vikings' next back

The Vikings' recent history at running back is Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but with Gerhart likely to move on in free agency, the Vikings likely will need to find a backup replacement in the draft and it could be more of the scatback variety.

As the Vikings' decision-makers eyeball the talent at the Senior Bowl, the team may be in the market for something it can be argued the team has never had, or, at a minimum, hasn't had in years – an undersized running back with breakaway speed.

When Norv Turner was in San Diego, he had LaDainian Tomlinson. But he also had Darren Sproles – a multi-faceted player who was known in San Diego as a third-down back, but went on to bigger and better things as an offensive weapon for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Several NFL teams have running backs that fit that description, but it has been a long time since the Vikings have had one of those on their own roster.

Since before Adrian Peterson arrived in 2007, the Vikings have consistently filled their running back roster with power backs, players who were a poor man's version of A.D. The latest has been Toby Gerhart, whom many believe will leave the Vikings for greener pastures and a more significant role in another offense. That will leave a void in the Vikings backfield and one that could be filled by an undersized playmaker.

The best part of this scenario for the Vikings is that it doesn't have to be a first- or second-round talent. When it comes to premium draft picks, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. They need a quarterback and a ton of defensive help. Running back simply doesn't fit into the Day 1 or Day 2 equation.

That should fit nicely into the Vikings' draft plan. Given the general devaluation of running backs, when the Vikings get to Day 3 of May's draft, there will be players that are still available and extremely talented at the running back position. That's where the Senior Bowl evaluation will take place.

The Vikings will have to hit on a running back in the draft because it's unlikely any free agents will want to come to Minnesota, knowing that they would serve as a caddy for Peterson. If the Vikings are going to land a backup back that will be the next man up should Peterson go down, it will likely have to come from the draft.

Rick Spielman has never had a history of taking on scatbacks that can stretch the perimeter of the field and are dangerous in the open field. Instead, the Vikings have used hybrid wide receivers like Percy Harvin and Cordarrelle Patterson to fill that role. It may be time for Turner to increase his role in the offense by pushing for a speed back that can serve as a dynamic change of pace.

Of all the needs that have been identified by scouts as areas of improvement the Vikings need, running back doesn't jump off the page as one of those needs. Their first-round pick likely isn't at the Senior Bowl because odds are that their first pick will be an underclassman. But if the Vikings are to rebound in 2014, they will need to hit on most of their 2014 draft picks. That may end up including a Day 3 running back that can make big plays in the open field. That player will likely not be taken until the middle or late rounds, when most casual fans have given up on watching ESPN or NFL Network's coverage of the draft. But it may be there that the team finds the RB that will be the next complementary back to Peterson and a playmaker that Turner can develop like he did with Sproles.

Sometimes the most important picks a team makes in the draft come after the blue-chip talent has been selected in the first couple of rounds. For the Vikings, one of those picks will likely be at running back and Spielman and Turner are likely already looking at the talent in Mobile as their ticket to filling that unheralded, but vitally important void.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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