Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: Running backs

Adrian Peterson is still the workhorse of the Vikings backfield and plans for it to be that way for years to come, but there are some interesting salary-cap and statistical numbers to consider when it comes to the team’s running backs. We look at the effectiveness of the players last year using metrics, their cap implications and more.

The players: Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams; fullbacks Jerome Felton and Zach Line.

Positional spending: No team spends more on their running backs than the Vikings. This year, they are slated to have a positional outlay of $19.7 million for the position, more than $2 million more than any other team, according to In fact, 21 teams don’t even spent half that much on their running backs, but here is one well-built reason for the Vikings to do it: Peterson.

Peterson is scheduled for a $14.4 million cap number in 2014 on a contract that runs through 2017, which has prompted some trade rumors (justified or not) that aren’t likely to happen for several reasons: his age, the devaluation of the position throughout the league, and his cap number.

Beyond him, there aren’t many big-money backs on the roster, but fullback Felton is making a substantial $2.13 cap number this year and there is some thought that his new role in the Vikings offense could be reduced under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Backup tailbacks Asiata and McKinnon both have cap numbers under $600,000 for this year.

Last year: With Peterson crawling to the finish line last year – he was inactive for two of the last three games with injuries – the Vikings finished the season with five running backs on the 53-man roster: Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Asiata, Felton and Banyard. They contributed to the Vikings finishing with the eighth-ranked rushing attack.

The outlook: Peterson is confidently proclaiming he is capable of a couple more 2,000-yard seasons and still firmly believes 2,500 yards rushing is possible. That’s good news for fans who might have been concerned about a decline anytime soon (at least Peterson doesn’t it see it happening for many years to come).

McKinnon appears solidified as at least a third-down, change-of-pace back, and Asiata was re-signed in the offseason after two strong fill-in performances when Peterson and Gerhart were injured. Banyard would have to challenge Asiata for his spot in order to stick, and Williams appears a practice squad possibility at best.

Deep stats: Despite a down year by his standards, Peterson finished fifth in the league in rushing yards and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns. When healthy, he was the workhorse last year, but he only played in 65 percent of the offensive snaps while missing two of the last four games with injury and rushing only a combined 18 times in the other two, saying recently that his abdominal injury opened his eyes to how important the core muscles are.

Interestingly, the Vikings gained an average of a half-yard less on rushing downs with Peterson in the game. That is likely a testament to just how focused teams are on the running game when Peterson is in versus when he isn’t.

Still, the Vikings were second in the league to Philadelphia in yards per rush (4.92), despite teams knowing their offensive bread and butter was to run the ball, and they were 0.75 yards per rush above the league average.

Breakout possibility: Nothing would shock fans anymore with Peterson, but it will be interesting to see if the addition of Turner as offensive coordinator really does give Peterson more room to run, whether that’s after taking a handoff or catching a pass.

Sleeper potential: There is some question if Felton’s job is safe in a Turner scheme that doesn’t use the fullback much. That was evident in offseason practices, but Line offers more of a versatile blocker/receiver that might have a chance to catch the interest of Turner in the preseason. With about a $1.6 million difference in salary between Felton and Line, that could come into play if the Vikings end up considering a change with the fullback position. While Line has more versatility and got to play extensively in the first three games last year while Felton served a suspension, it should be noted that he had a negative run differential of minus-2.5 yards per rush – the difference when he is in the game and not in the game – while Felton’s rush differential was in positive territory.

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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