This is the second in a series of position-by-position looks at the Vikings' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. We continue with an analysis of Minnesota’s RB situation.
Overview: If there was a bright spot for the Vikings last season, it was that Adrian Peterson had yet another strong season and seemed to curb the fumbling issues that plagued him in 2009. Peterson is the Vikings' best player, and he ran for 1,298 yards with 12 touchdowns despite a faulty passing game and injuries to the offensive line.
There was little other support at the position, but Peterson remains one of the few backs in the NFL capable of carrying a full load almost by himself.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the running backs on the roster:
Adrian Peterson: He again was a hard-charging, tackle-breaking force, often carrying an offense that had become too reliant on Brett Favre's arm after the success of '09. Although Peterson didn't break a ton of runs, he gained a lot of his yards after contact and helped wear down defenders when he was used properly. He also emerged as a solid pass catcher, though his blocking needs work — even if it might never be above average. Ankle and knee problems did take their toll through November and December, and there were some examples of Peterson not getting through on goal-line runs. Still, he was a force during a lost season.
Toby Gerhart: It took awhile for the highly touted second-rounder to make his mark, and when he did, it wasn't always positive. Gerhart lost three fumbles — two more than Peterson, despite having 202 fewer carries — and was not a big factor in the passing game. But he eventually carved out a role in the offense and ran through some would-be tacklers, so there is some hope for him next season. The problem is that Gerhart appears to be a poor man's version of Peterson with similar types of traits, just at a far lesser degree of proficiency. They run hard, but both struggle right now in pass protection and are relative nonfactors on special teams.
Albert Young: He barely saw the field most of the season, making his biggest impact against the Bills (10-27-0 rushing). In that game, however, he suffered a knee injury that put him on I.R. It's likely he won't be back, and if he is, it will be an uphill battle to make the roster.
Lorenzo Booker: The UFL export was a mild surprise, more so on special teams as a returner than as a runner. But Booker has some excellent quickness and explosion, and he could find a role as a change-of-pace third back behind the two slobberknockers. If Booker wants to win the third-down role, he'll have to — guess what? — get better at blitz pickup. One of the return spots could be his to have.
Naufahu Tahi: It remains to be seen if Tahi will have more or less of a role in Bill Musgrave's offense. He was signed initially as a prime fit as a West Coast fullback in Brad Childress' offense, but Tahi eventually gave way to more one-back sets. The Vikings also used their tight ends and H-backs as lead blockers more frequently. In limited time, Tahi was just OK last season and could be in a battle for his job in 2011.
Ryan D'Imperio: The college-linebacker-turned-NFL-fullback has some work to do to make a pro transition, having spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. But he's regarded as a hard-nosed gamer and could stick if he stands out on special teams. He has more of a classic fullback's shape and size.
Bottom line: Peterson lacked some of the big-play explosion he had in his first three seasons and still has issues in pass protection. But he remains one of the few reliable weapons on the team, and he'll be playing for a new contract, entering the final year of his deal. The Vikings want to be a run-first operation with the combination of outstanding talent in Peterson and uncertainty at quarterback, but it will be interesting to see if Gerhart can enter the mix more. The depth is a bit thin, but Peterson is one of the best in the league.