Absent injured starting running back Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings turned to slow-footed Toby Gerhart, a short tight-end in fullback's clothing, to carry the ball on Sunday. For the season, Peterson had averaged 87 yards on 18 carries per game with just over one touchdown per game rushing. On 17 carries yesterday, Gerhart mustered 44 rushing yards. He was also stopped for a two-yard loss on a 4th and goal attempt.
Gerhart's numbers on Sunday were consistent with his career numbers of 484 yards on 122 carries. Peterson's are 10 yards per game below his career average but two carries below his career average, as well.
Gerhart's numbers, both Sunday and over his career, support the general impression of Gerhart as half the back--or less--than Peterson. That's not necessarily a bad place to be in the scheme of things and does not necessarily make Gerhart unworthy of an NFL roster spot on some team, but it does make clear that Gerhart is neither the number two, or even the number three back on the Vikings' roster--those roles rightly belonging to Percy Harvin, no matter his roster designation, and Lorenzo Booker. And it demonstrates, yet again, the Vikings' poor recent draft approach, obvious picks of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin aside.
Gerhart, through no fault of his own, sits directly in the middle of one of the Vikings' most quickly discernible draft-day debacles, the 2010 NFL college entry draft. In that draft, the Vikings traded out of the first round to select Chris Cook early in the second round and then ceded a second-and a third-round pick to move up in round two to select running back Toby Gerhart. Both moves proved poor in all respects.
Trading down to the second round, the Vikings passed on two players that would have greatly improved their roster--running back Jahvid Best and offensive tackle Rodger Saffold. Both Best and Saffold were projected as middle to late first-round picks, with some mocks having each player going off the draft board in the first third of the draft. In short, there was no mystery surrounding either Saffold or Best with both regarded across the league as strong prospects.
Passing on Best was somewhat understandable as the Vikings already had a starting running back in Peterson, but Best was the change-of-pace back that the Vikings sorely needed given the loss of Chester Taylor. Moreover, the Vikings demonstrated their own belief in the need to identify Taylor's replacement by trading up to take Gerhart in round two.
Far more discouraging than the Vikings' decision to pass on Best, however, was the team's decision to pass on Saffold, a player that the Vikings expected the Rams to take one pick before them in round two. Saffold became an immediate starter for St. Louis and was named to the NFL's All-Rookie team.
The Vikings' decision to pass on Best and Saffold was magnified by the team's subsequent decision to select cornerback Chris Cook. Cook had demonstrated physical ability at the University of Virginia, but he also demonstrated his significant short-comings in the mental realm, having been suspended not only for the Cavalier's 2007 Gator Bowl, but also the entire 2008 season, as a result of failing grades. For a team purportedly all about talent combined with good character, Cook seemed to fall short in at least one regard. Nearly unintelligible interviews ought to have tipped the Vikings' off that Cook was not second-round worthy, at the least; two arrests since arriving in Minnesota, however, still have not cemented that notion.
Compounding their problems, the Vikings traded up to take Gerhart in the hope that Gerhart would more resemble John Riggins than Gino Torretta. Unfortunately, but predictably, Gerhart looks far more like a college player than he does an NFL back. Worse yet, however, is the fact that the Vikings utterly blundered in any respect in taking Gerhart. Though the team needed a change of pace back, Rick Spielman and company viewed Peterson as a speed back and Gerhart as the change of pace brute back. Clearly, Peterson is not a speed back. Rather, he is a very strong back with very good, not great speed. Gerhart merely represents an utter downgrade of a similar style back.
In trading up to take Gerhart, the Vikings essentially passed on all players taken from 52 to 99 in the 2010 NFL draft. That's a failure of epic proportions when the team's first two picks of the draft are Cook and Gerhart. That failure is magnified when the entire draft produced zero starters for the 2011 team, and the likelihood of zero starters in 2012, and the additional very real possibility that none of the Vikings' 2010 draft picks ever starts a game for a team again after this season. In contrast, the Green Bay Packers drafted four starters in the 2010 draft, Bryan Bulaga (OT), Morgan Burnett (S), Marhall Newhouse (OT) and James Starks (RB).
And if the Vikings' 2010 draft is not deflating enough, consider that since Rick Spielman became the Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel five years ago, the Vikings have drafted an average of one starter per season--Harvin, Peterson, Brian Robison, Phil Loadholt, and Christian Ponder--with Kyle Rudolph a notable non-starter. After this season, there very well could be zero draft picks from the 2008 and 2010 draft classes, combined, left on the roster. In a league with team turnover of nearly twenty percent per year and a constant need to address starting positions, clearly the Vikings' current draft scheme is untenable and destined to decimate a team that is unable to land free agents. With declining play, that latter issue will more greatly affect the former.
Up Next: Defense.