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OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Running Backs

Happy Groundhog Day!

I am continuing my effort to look at the Vikings roster position-by-position before the offseason gets into full swing.  This is the second installment, and my take on the quarterback situation can be viewed by clicking here.

It has been a while since the Vikings have had any real questions as to who would be their running backs.  This offseason, things are a little different however.  Let’s take a look at what is going on.

2009 SEASON

2009 was a great ride, but was marred by a few glaring mistakes by Vikings running backs.  Chester Taylor’s tipped pass returned for a touchdown to seal their first loss against the Steelers, Adrian Peterson’s fumbles costing them the game in Chicago and also a big part of why they failed to advance past the NFC Championship, and just a weekly struggle to gain the yardage that this team was used to seeing.

Despite the “down” year, Adrian Peterson still managed to rush for 1,383 yards, a 4.4 yard average, and 18 touchdowns.  Chester Taylor had 338 yards, an average of 3.6 yards, with a touchdown.  In limited reps Percy Harvin averaged 9.0 yards per carry and Albert Young averaged 4.4.

When it came to pass catching, Peterson was much improved.  He had a career high 43 catches and 436 yards.  Taylor had 44 catches for 389 yards and a touchdown. 

Adrian Peterson’s fumbles have become a concern but his improvement in pass catching, short yardage situations, and pass protection makes him a more complete back and should get fans pretty excited about the future.

Overall, the Vikings had a productive season on the ground, but seemed to lack the dominance that fans had come to expect.

CURRENT ROSTER

Adrian Peterson will undoubtedly continue to be the featured back of the Vikings for quite some time.  He plans on addressing his fumble issues during the offseason, and should continue to improve.  There is no reason to expect anything other than him being “the guy” in 2010.  In fact, a contract extension is not out of the question for this offseason.

Chester Taylor is another story, however.  On March 5th, he becomes one of five Vikings to be unrestricted free agents.  At age 31, there is some question as to whether or not the Vikings will take him back.    There is no doubt that he has meant a lot to the organization and that they would make him a fair offer to return, but Taylor may choose to take one last stab at becoming a featured back elsewhere. 

The fact that 2010 is shaping up to be an uncapped year means there are all sorts of funky rules that us fans are not used to.  As a team that advanced to the Conference Championship game, the Vikings will face many restrictions in free agency.  One of those limitations will be the number of free agents they can sign.  By rule, the Vikings cannot sign a free agent until after one of their own unrestricted free agents signs with another team.  Furthermore, they cannot offer a player more money for the 2010 season as what the player that left their team receives.  Given that the Vikings only have five unrestricted free agents ready to hit the market, and that Taylor would probably make the most money should he sign elsewhere, the Vikings may want to let him go just so they can have some freedom in free agency to address another roster need.

Percy Harvin has solidified his role as the slot receiver for the Vikings.  However, he does bring a change of pace to the running game when the coaches opt to use him there.  This only occurred an average of about once per game but his presence saves a roster spot.  What I mean by that, is the Vikings don’t really need to activate three running backs when they know they could rely on Harvin to carry the ball if the need arose.

Albert Young has been impressive in pre-season that last two seasons.  He is no slouch, and one has to wonder how confident the coaching staff is in him.  Behind him is perhaps the most famous practice squad player I’ve ever seen in Ian Johnson.  These guys seem to have the talent and smarts to make an impact if called upon to do so.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENCY

In my opinion, Chester Taylor is the best unrestricted free agent that could be available in free agency this year.  Other options include Willie Parker, Tatum Bell, and Larry Johnson.  Bell and Johnson could potentially ruin a locker room, and Parker hasn’t looked like the player he used to be for quite some time.  Despite his age, Taylor is still considered a fairly “fresh” running back who cannot be under-valued on third downs and when it comes to catching passes out of the backfield.

If the Vikings let Taylor go, don’t expect them to look to fill the void with any of the other guys mentioned in regards to free agency.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENCY

If a team is looking to give up a draft pick in return for a young and semi-proven running back, then this may be the place to do it.  Darren Sproles, Jerome Harrison, Pierre Thomas, Leon Washington, Jerius Norwood, Lendale White, and Mike Bell are just a few of the talented backs that could be available for certain offers.

I really don’t see the Vikings giving compensation to another team for a running back.  I have always thought Sproles would be a great addition to the Vikings offense, but the presence of Harvin provides that “extra something” that made me think that.  Mike Bell could be used as the bruising back, but not in exchange for picks.

DRAFT POSSIBILITIES

Should Chester Taylor be allowed to walk, I expect the Vikings to carefully consider prospects in the middle to late rounds of the 2010 draft.  Guys like Joe McKnight (USC), Toby Gerhart (Stanford), and James Starks (Buffalo) are just a few prospects that come to mind as possibly being available after the third round.

The point here is that if the Vikings lose Taylor to free agency, don’t panic.  Right now, decent backup running backs are a dime-a-dozen in the NFL.  Sure, any rookie will likely be an immediate downgrade from Taylor, but if letting Taylor leave means they can find an answer to another roster problem (i.e. cornerback) then it may be worth it.

PROJECTIONS

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Adrian Peterson is the starting back in 2010.

I’m going to go out on a less obvious limb, as well.  I think all the evidence points to Chester Taylor playing with another team in 2010.  Having Taylor sign with another team is the Vikings only real shot at being able to sign a quality free agent at another position.  Given his age and the fact that he could be replaced with significantly less investment makes me believe this.  The presence of Percy Harvin would also help to ease the transition.  If Taylor decides to give the Vikings a generous home town discount, however, then that could change things.

I also expect that the Vikings will try to retain Albert Young and Ian Johnson at least until the training camp cuts come around.  If Taylor leaves, don’t be surprised if the Vikings spend a draft pick in the mid to late rounds to bring in some youthful legs.


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15 Responses to “OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Running Backs”

  1. krugjr says:

    Adam, thanks for the info on who can or can’t sign who…….and based on that, I agree, we’ll have to let Taylor go because we need to sign an impact def player……

    Lurtsema said what we’re all thinking, forget the whole game up to the 12 man huddle…..when you throw away your chance to go to the big dance, it’s on the coach…….. players, as well as fans, will never get over it!

    also…..for those bashing Brett’s last INT (fran t) I say Brett didn’t let his team down……several players let the team down, and they have to live with that……twice the offense and a shut down def and you lose?????

    why I’m thinking Favre won’t come back…..this year was the window with everything in place, and now it gets real tough with schedule, indoors, outdoors, players, injuries, etc…….and one of the biggest question marks to me…..does this team really believe in Childress????? I see a let down, because Brad is not a motivator of men, and a rebuilding philosophy will once again come into play (ie Denny Green) coach your team well enough to keep your job, but never make the risky calls to win it all…………that’s why I think Brett is DONE!

    my JEFF, krug, have another coffee!!!!!

    • Fragile Freds says:

      Krugs,

      “coach your team well enough to keep your job, but never make the risky calls to win it all.”

      Never make the risky call? This wasn’t risky enough for you ?

      On third-and-15 from the New Orleans 38, Favre knew the Vikings needed to get closer to give Ryan Longwell a legitimate shot at a game-winning field goal in the final seconds….

      Childo went high risk just like you wanted! Trying to put the “nail in the coffin”.

      Krugs is that the kind of risk your talking about? Or only kind of risk that works? The reason it’s risky is because sometimes when it doesn’t work you look like a jackass and you miss a Superbowl appearance.

      • krugjr says:

        freds, freds, freds (my ‘ol pal)

        looks like I struck a nerve here…..given, you’re less a Brett fan than me and more of a Brad supporter than me…….my comments on Brad are more “big picture” than one play, I still say he plays “not to lose” rather than playing “to win”….that’s his coaching style, much like Denny (we let ’em off the hook) Green…..to be more specific:

        risk #1…don’t go conservative in the Car game
        risk #2…don’t go conservative in Chicago game
        until halftime
        risk #3…bench AD after his 2nd fumble
        risk #4…get the ball to Harvin, even after
        his fumble, and ESPECIALLY on 1st
        down on the 35 at the end of the game
        because if ANYTHING defines Childress
        it’s AD up the middle with the game
        on the line (place finger in throat)
        risk #5…grand daddy of all risks…NFC title:
        Brett signed for this, Brett got you
        there, forgive me football purists,
        but I say let Brett call his own game

        freds, something happened right after Brad signed his extension between him and Brett….I think it was all about control and ego, and I think it cost us home field advantage in the big game, and ultimately, a chance for the title…..I’ve never been a Childress fan, don’t believe I’ll ever be….Brett gave us a great year, not Brad, and when Brett’s gone I think you’ll see mediocrity raise it’s ugly head once again……it didn’t start with 3rd and 15, freds, it started the day the Wilfs hired BC!

        GO VIKES!!!!!

  2. Todd Flaxton says:

    My sources told me that the twelth man in the huddle was Mister Random Thoughts Guy.

  3. Purple Charlie says:

    Adam, Thanks that makes sense about Chester…Krugs, Glad you told what Lurtsema said, No surpise there. Everything was lined up this year, even with the mistakes in the season that cost games…The new schedule is brutal compared to this year, I have a gut feeling Brett won’t be back, I really hope I’m wrong!!!

  4. bigjohnny84 says:

    Thanks for the link Lost. Wow I cant believe he finished that game. One tough SOB.

  5. Purple Charlie says:

    Thanks for the link too Lost, I hope the Colts flatten Brees and Company…

  6. Lost Viking says:

    “Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in his first season with the Vikings in 2006 after signing a four-year, $14.1 million deal. That contract included $5.6 million in guarantees and made Taylor a No. 1 running back for the first time in his career.”

    Good article. CT is going to be a difficult decision and I believe Vike may try to attempt to restructure. Could result in an unhappy departure. Vike want to keep him but $ 4m. makes for expensive insurance policy.

  7. G.P. says:

    Okay, so this comment has nothing to do with running backs but everything to do with the shady Saints. As I sit here going through my daily ritual of ESPN checking they once again show a highlight reel of the Vikes game including all the Saints sketchy tactics. Really they are a dirty bunch those boys! It’ll be nice to watch them get tore up Sunday!

  8. CO Vike Fan says:

    I’ve got a feeling that Chester will want to be “the guy” on another team, but what other team will want him? As Adam said, running backs are a dime a dozen and it’s pretty easy to get immediate contribution from the draft at RB. I don’t see a lot of teams lining up to pay 31 year old Taylor big money. So, I expect he’ll be back at mid range money playing for the Vikes, a team that values his talent and where he has a shot to win.

  9. […] is why I believe (check out my running backs analysis for more) Taylor will not be retained.  Of the Vikings five potential unrestricted free agents, […]

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