After weeks of speculation as to what direction the Vikings would go with their first-round draft choice and a little more than an hour-and-a-half into the draft, the team put the speculation to rest by taking running back Adrian Peterson n the first round.
There was no questioning Peterson's big-play ability. In three years at Oklahoma, he rushed for 4,306 yards on 747 carries (a 5.8-yard average) and 41 touchdowns. But there were questions pertaining to his durability.
Peterson exploded on the college scene with 339 carries for 2,040 yards as a true freshman at OU, but in his two subsequent seasons, his number of carries dropped to 220 and 188. In 2005, he missed one game and significant parts of three others with a high ankle sprain. In 2006, he sustained a broken collarbone in Week 6 of the Sooners' season, an injury that sidelined him until the Fiesta Bowl game vs. Boise State.
But the selling point on Peterson was his ability to break long runs for touchdowns, which head coach Brad Childress said the Vikings desperately need on offense.
"He is an explosive player that can take it to the house from any point on the field," Childress said. "He has that kind of capability. He's a bright-eyed kid and an explosive kid. We need some explosive players on the offensive side of the football."
In the new era of the NFL where teams use two running backs in tandem – all four of the teams in the conference championship games in January used two co-starters – Childress said he can see a situation where Peterson and incumbent Chester Taylor could be on the field at the same time. Childress had experience in that area when he was offensive coordinator with the Eagles and made it work.
"We could end up with something like a pony backfield like we did with (Brian) Westbrook and (Correll) Buckhalter in Philadelphia," Childress said. "There will certainly be some opportunities to get both of them on the field at the same time."
The Vikings had chance to get out of the seventh spot – both up and down. Cleveland and Washington had called earlier in the morning looking to move down from their spots and a call from an unspecified team in the final third of the first round. But Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman said the Vikings were patient and, if anything, would have only entertained the possibility of trading down, not up.
In the end, the Vikings' patience paid off. As other teams addressed needs with the picks in front of them, most of them had little need for a running back. But the Vikings stayed true to their board and got the player they believed could make the biggest impact.
"We're excited," Childress said. "He's a good football player – an explosive football. There were a of teams that him at the top of their draft board. He's a good player."
Childress addressed the issue of a two-headed backfield and, while some might believe that the drafting of Peterson could push Taylor out the door, Childress said just the opposite is true and that both players can co-exist and thrive.
"There are a lot of teams playing multiple backs these days," Childress said. "They take a beating. I think it's important to change up the defense, to be able to show them different talents and different speeds – particularly when they've settled in on the tempo of one guy. Then you keep guys fresh."
Spielman echoed those words, saying that just like the game changed when new defensive rules opened up the passing game, many teams go into the season expecting to get plenty of use from a pair of running backs instead of one stud.
"Most teams that get into the playoffs have two first-caliber backs," Spielman said. "If you go through the teams that made the playoffs, most of them had two first-team type running backs."
Childress added that one of Peterson's main selling points is that he is relentless competitor and, with the right teaching, he can be harnessed and start earning the comparisons that have been made between him and Eric Dickerson.
"The big thing is that he's got a great, bright-eyed willingness to work," Childress said. "He's not a ‘Hey, I've got all the answers' guy. He a million-miles-an-hour guy. (Running backs coach) Eric Bienemy is going to do a great job of teaching him how to be a pro."
His competitive spirit was on display last year at the Oklahoma spring game. Spielman said Peterson was upset after the game because he didn't get to play the entire game. His competitiveness will be put to the test and, whether he eventually supplants Taylor as the primary runner is uncertain, but Childress said he has a feeling it will all work out for the best of the team.
"That will end up establishing itself," Childress said. "I don't have a crystal ball. I'm sure Chester will be pleased to take a little bit of the load off of him. He will stay fresher and both of them will be happy."
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