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Last year, the Vikings running game struggled when Peterson was put on the exempt list and later suspended from the league. Because of that, they likely will decide to choose from what is considered to be a very good running back class – even if they underperformed at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“(The running backs) didn’t work out all that well compared to what I thought this group would,” said ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay in a conference call Monday. “Right now I’ve got seven guys that have grades that belong in the first 2½ rounds.”
Even though they are rated that highly doesn’t mean that is where they will go. In the NFL, the running back position is losing value as the passing game continues to become more dominant. Teams would rather draft quarterbacks and receivers early since they know they can find value in a running back later in the draft.
There hasn’t been a running back drafted in the first round since the 2012 draft, when there were three taken. If the trend of not draft running backs in the first round continues, it would be beneficial for the Vikings because they won’t draft a running back in the first round, either. Instead, they will likely address the position in the middle rounds of the draft, and the longer the top backs stay on the board the more value the Vikings could get in their selection.
“Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, Georgia’s Todd Gurley – who could be first-rounders – but then there’s Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon,” McShay said of the running backs he sees with top-80 value. “With Abdullah, he’s kind of a jitterbug, make you miss in tight spaces, and I think he runs angry. He’s undersized but he runs hard and he can catch the ball pretty well. I think he’s the third best running back in this class. Tevin Coleman’s a little more straight-line guy, but has some speed and power. Johnson is extremely explosive, (but) only ran a 4.5 – I’m surprised by that – but maybe not an every-down back, and Jay Ajayi more of an every-down back. He’s been dinged up a little bit but catches the ball really well. And T.J. Yeldon (is) very explosive on a straight line and also has excellent lateral agility. Doesn’t have elite top-end speed, but the first 20 yards, pretty explosive. So all those guys, very deep class of running backs.”
If the Vikings do decide to draft a running back, they will likely be focusing on a bigger back that can be an every-down type of player after drafting the smaller, faster back last year in Jerick McKinnon.
After Gurley and Gordon, the focus could be on Coleman, Ajayi and Yeldon. These five are all bigger backs that are expected to be able to fill the role of a No. 1 on the depth chart. Another player left off the list is David Johnson from Northern Iowa, who has been gaining a lot of attention lately.
“He killed it (at the combine), so I think that really helps solidify that he is a small-school guy – you want to be able to show at an event like this and in All-Star games that you can play with the big boys and that you have the tools,” McShay said. “Because what it does is that it tells the scout that his eyes aren’t lying because it’s hard to get multiple games against really good competition with these small-school guys. You want to make sure that if he’s running away from guys that it’s not just running away from slow defenders, but that he legitimately has the speed. So I think this was important for him and I think he is probably somewhere in the early day three range. I’ve got a fifth-round grade on him now, but I can easily see him going a little higher than that, in a very deep running back class too.
“You look at his production and it’s off the charts. He has 32 to 38 catches, I think it was, in each year. He had over 500 carries the last two years. I think it was close to 4,000 rushing the last three years. He’s got good size. He’s built to last. He’s a thick back and strong legs.”
It is still possible that the Vikings do not address the running back position in the draft. But after the inconsistency at the position a year ago and the controversy surrounding Peterson this offseason, it is likely they will. The question then becomes where they feel comfortable spending a pick on a running back and how often they expect to use that player in 2015.
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