Saturday is rookie running backs day

If the Vikings are looking for a rookie replacement for Adrian Peterson, Saturday is the day to view them.

Saturday may well be a watershed day for the Minnesota Vikings and their decision-makers as to the future of the running back position with the organization. They are getting the eyeball test on the top running backs in this year’s draft as they go through their paces. While the devaluation of running backs in terms of draft stock has taken a plunge in recent years – the 11th pick in the draft won’t be used on a running back – but the potential exists that any pick from the second to the fourth rounds may be used on a running back given the “uneasy” state that Peterson is currently in on returning to the Vikes.

In a stretch where just about anyone with a significant voice in the organization trumpeted the fact that they want and expect A.P. to be back in 2015, Peterson’s announcement that he doesn’t feel the organization truly had his back during the time he was buried on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and subsequent suspension is the equivalent to firing a shot across the bow of the Vikings ship. If Peterson wants out, today may be the first step in finding his replacement and they may not have to look much further than the Big 10 to find him.

Unless the trend of running backs falling out of the first round continues, the team likely won’t have a shot at Wisconsin workhorse Melvin Gordon. Too many quality teams at the end of the first round face running back issues or potential issues – Indianapolis needs a running back and, depending on what unfolds over the next month, so could Dallas, Seattle and New England. Gordon is likely going to be too coveted for all of them to pass on him if he remains on the board late in Day 1. But as we’ve learned over the last two or three years, talent at the position is available much later than reality would dictate it should.

If the Vikings have made up their minds that Peterson isn’t in the long-term (or even short-term) plans, there is a wealth of talent that can be had, especially from players familiar to Gophers fans. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman will likely be available in the second round when the Vikings are on the clock. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is likely going to be on the board when the third round begins, and the potential exists that both Michigan’s State’s Jeremy Langford and Minnesota’s David Cobb will be on the board late in the second day if not early in the third day of the draft.

Throw in Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Miami’s Duke Johnson and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and there will be no shortage of available rookie replacements at the Vikings’ disposal if they so choose to go that route.

Peterson may well have fired the short heard around the football world Thursday when he told ESPN he isn’t certain that he wants to return to the team next season, setting the stage for a potential showdown that could well end with the Vikings either trading or releasing him. If that’s the case, moving on with a less expensive alternative will become a front burner issue. Today may be the first tangible step in replacing A.P.

Most fans want Peterson back for selfish reasons. Since 2007, fans have been spoiled by having the game’s premier running back on their favorite team. Prior to Peterson’s arrival, the Vikings had witnessed some very good running backs, but never a great one. Peterson’s dominance will eventually see him getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, for now, the two sides may well be at an impasse with the Vikings taking a long, hard look at the rookie crop to find a replacement.

When the Vikings drafted Jerick McKinnon last year, he wasn’t viewed as a 20-carry bell cow runner that would be A.P.’s replacement. Instead, he was seen as a change of pace back whose job was more to replace the production provided by Toby Gerhart. If the team is convinced that Peterson and his agent are trying to punch their ticket out of Minnesota, the running backs on display today working out at the Combine could be the answer to their problems.

Earlier this week it seemed as though the Vikings were willing and able to kiss and make up with Peterson. After his announcement that he isn’t 100 percent sure he wants to come back to the organization, the Plan B protocol has kicked in and the answer to the long-term future of the Vikings may not be No. 28. It may be among the players showcasing their skill in drills today in Indianapolis.

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