Vikings free-agent focus: Running backs

The Vikings likely will be poking around free agency and the draft to compensate the likely departure of Toby Gerhart. We look at a couple of unrestricted free agent options and list the other possibilities in free agency.

The value placed on the NFL running back is falling.

In the draft, teams are trending away from selecting many running backs in the first round. Last year, none were selecting in Round 1. The previous two years, a combined four were taken in the first day, making it a total of four in the last three years. In the previous three years, 11 running backs were taken in the first round.

In free agency this year, it's hardly a bumper crop. Scout.com won't be giving out five stars to any of the backs currently scheduled be free agents in a little over 10 days, meaning no projected Pro Bowlers among a group of more than 30 free-agent backs.

VIKINGS VIEW

The Vikings already have their Pro Bowler in Adrian Peterson, so they have no need to find a starter in free agency. Like the quarterback position, they could look to add a running back in free agency and/or the draft, but in this case there would be no need to have an acquisition develop into a starter in the next few years.

Although Peterson has had three surgeries in the last three years to reconstruct his knee, repair a sports hernia and repair an adductor muscle, he has remained productive in each season. Immersing him in Norv Turner's offense could bring even more production, and improved play at the quarterback position might take some wear and tear off Peterson's body.

For now, the Vikings only need to develop their depth for the future.

INSIDE OPTIONS

The Vikings have to prepare for the likelihood that they will lose Toby Gerhart in free agency as he searches for a better opportunity to establish his own path as a running back rather than simply picking up the scraps of the running back others have called Wolverine because of Peterson's recuperative abilities.

Gerhart got only 36 carries in 2013, but averaged a very healthy 7.9 yards per rush and had two touchdowns. He has proven he can be productive, so he is likely to get an offer from another team looking to insert him as a starter or as a shared-duty back. Either scenario would offer him a better chance than patiently toiling behind Peterson.

After Gerhart, the Vikings have a couple of relatively unproven backs, although the previous coaching staff got to see what they could do on a limited basis. Matt Asiata started one game and carried 30 times for 51 yards and three touchdowns and had a significant role in the season finale, too, where he carried 14 times for 115 yards. But that was it for the season.

Joe Banyard never got an carry and Zach Line, a combo fullback/running back, filled in for Jerome Felton for the first three games of the season before being placed on injured reserve to protect the Vikings from having to risk losing him to another team when Jerome Felton returned from a three-game suspension.

TOP OUTSIDE OPTIONS

The Vikings aren't going to go after any of the top backs in free agency with Peterson sitting on their roster. That eliminates close to 10 backs that likely will be looking for starting jobs, or at least significant roles.

There are a couple of intriguing restricted free agents – Da'Rel Scott and Phillip Tanner – but those options would depend on how they are tendered by the Giants and Cowboys, respectively. The Vikings aren't going to want to give up draft picks to acquire a backup player, leaving them likely looking at the unrestricted guys if they do, indeed, search in free agency for a backup as opposed to the draft. There are a couple of midlevel backs that could be considered.

Andre Brown: Brown has actually started 10 games for the Giants over the last two seasons, averaging 4.1 yards on 214 career carries. He is definitely a role player and would offer a slightly smaller back than Asiata, who is more of a power back.

James Starks – Raiding from the Packers again? Eh, why not? In four seasons with the Packers, Starks has never started more than two games a year, but the Vikings wouldn't want their backup to do anything more than take an occasional carry off Peterson and be a temporary fill-in if Peterson suffers a minor injury. For his career, Starks has averaged 4.4 yards on 322 carries, but last year was his best season yet, averaging 5.5 yards on 89 attempts and scoring three touchdowns.

OTHER FREE AGENTS

LeGarrette Blount
Knowshon Moreno
Toby Gerhart
Ben Tate
Rashad Jennings
Darren McFadden
Joique Bell
Andre Brown
Donald Brown
James Starks
Maurice Jones-Drew
Rashard Mendenhall
Da'Rel Scott (RFA)
Ahmad Bradshaw
Peyton Hillis
Phillip Tanner (RFA)
Brian Leonard
Deji Karim (RFA)
Anthony Dixon
Leon Washington
La'Rod Stephens-Howling
Jonathan Dwyer
Kahlil Bell
Darius Reynaud
Alfonso Smith (RFA)
Bernard Scott
Jackie Battle
Felix Jones
Tashard Choice
Ronnie Brown
Willis McGahee


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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