Friday, May 29, 2015
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toby gerhart

I mentioned earlier this week that I had my own unique theory on which running back the Vikings should target this offseason.  My answer is a simple one:  The best one available.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is the only first round lock runner in the class, and it just so happens he will probably be selected much, much later.

Lattimore took the college game by storm and is easily the most complete back available this year.  He runs with explosion between the tackles, is dangerous in space, is a fluid pass catcher and capable blocker, and is a smart runner with a patience to follow his blockers that is rarely seen in young backs.  He is also known to be of high character and as a guy that leads by example.

He actually reminds me, at least in part, of our very own Adrian Peterson.

To find Lattimore’s Achilles heal, however, you need not look any farther than his knee.  When the all star runner hit the turf in pain this October, the football watching community collectively expressed their sympathy for a runner they enjoyed watching so much.

Lattimore’s ligament damage in his knee left many wondering if he would ever play football again and his availability for 2013 seemed to be in major doubt, at the very least.  He fell from the top 15 to the fifth round with that one ugly hit.  The snake-bitten running back also suffered ligament damage one year earlier, prematurely ending that season as well.

So why do I think he is such a great fit for the Vikings?  Well, for starters, because I think the Vikings are a great fit for him.

The Vikings are fairly stacked at running back, with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart cemented atop the depth chart for next season, so the Vikings could perhaps be the one NFL team willing to be patient while Lattimore rehabs his knee.

Lattimore would also have a constant source of inspiration and encouragement simply by watching Adrian Peterson, who famously worked his way back from a gruesome knee injury and topped 2,000 yards on the season.  He could be comforted by the fact that Eric Sugarman and the Vikings trainers are the same exact people that helped Peterson not only make his return, but come back even better than he already was.

Even if Lattimore turned out to be facing the worst case scenario, not being able to play in 2013, the Vikings could easily stash him on the injured reserve for a year and get him into the lineup in 2014 after Gerhart presumably becomes a free agent.

At some point I think Adrian Peterson will start to slow down and instead of being a one man show, perhaps a tandem like Peterson and Lattimore could help him elongate his career by being one half of a great backfield duo.

As of right now, with so many worries about the injuries, Lattimore is projected to go no earlier than the fourth round.  The Vikings can’t afford to spend much more money or use too high of a draft pick on the running back position, with other areas in need of help, but the can surely can afford to use a fourth or fifth round pick for a guy that is well known to be a first round talent with Peterson-like problems.

I have some interesting theories (or, at least, I think they are interesting) on what the Vikings should do at running back this year.  The truth is that those theories don’t really involve free agency, however, which probably isn’t all that surprising provided that Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart still sit atop the depth chart at the position.

Still, in the spirit of the offseason, I have put together my free agent ranking at the position.

Top Tier

I would be surprised to see the Vikings spend big money on a running back, as I mentioned already, but there is no denying that the traits of certain pending free agents could be attractive.  A running back that possesses an extra ability to contribute in the passing game or special teams may warrant some consideration, especially if Rick Spielman ends up dealing Percy Harvin to another team.

That is the reason that Reggie Bush tops my running back rankings for the Vikings.  I have long said that Harvin and Bush are two very similar players, despite officially playing different positions, and Vikings fans can remember all too well how Bush is capable of making a difference as a return man and slot receiver.  Besides, in Miami he was really able to come into his own as a true running back and managed to be relatively durable.

When Percy Harvin suffered an ankle injury on November fourth it was the third quarter of a game taking place in Seattle.

Despite the ugly nature of the hit to his ankle, and the obvious pain he was in, the Vikings coaching staff allowed Harvin to re-enter the game and play on.  That decision can possibly be added to the list of questionable ones being compiled by those that would like to see Leslie Frazier and his staff gone for good.

Harvin reportedly suffered a grade three sprain, which means a ligament actually tore, and the team held his roster spot for him hoping he would recover in the four to six week timeframe expected of these injuries.  Each week, however, Frazier strung along the media (and fans) making it seem like Harvin could actually suit up the following game.

As recently as yesterday, Frazier expressed some optimism that Harvin would be able to do some things in practice that would indicate that he might be available to face the Bears on Sunday.

Instead, news broke late in the day on Wednesday that Harvin would be placed on Injured Reserve, prematurely ending his 2012 campaign that had him in the MVP conversation early on.

The news is grim for everyone that enjoys seeing Harvin play, but it perhaps hits quarterback Christian Ponder and his 32nd ranked passing offense the hardest.

As a receiver, Harvin caught 66 passes for 677 yards through nine games, which both still lead the Vikings.  In fact, through 12 games all of the Vikings wide receivers combined have accounted for only 68 catches and 809 yards.  His three touchdowns as a receiver match that of all the others combined, as well.

Plus, those stats don’t even begin to measure the full impact could have on a game as a running back and as a return man.  His ability to pick up yards, scare opposing coaches, and set the Vikings up with excellent field position has been sorely missed in his absence and that will surely continue.

Another thing that bothers me (and quite possibly only me) is that Harvin’s ankle injury occurred on a run play.  Now, I don’t mind mixing it up and getting creative with how you use a talent like Harvin, but I have been harping on something all year long and this now gives me the chance to use hindsight to hammer a point home.

Why sacrifice a third round draft pick to trade up a handful of spots in the second round of the Draft to “steal” a running back like Toby Gerhart if you aren’t going to use the guy?

Through 12 games the Stanford product has only touched the ball 33 times.  After a rough game against San Francisco in week three, Gerhart has seen his role diminish to almost nothing, averaging less than one carry per game over the last seven weeks.

For as creative as the Vikings are in their use of Harvin, and as forgiving of disastrous performances as they are with Ponder, you would think they could find a better way to utilize the backup running back for which they invested so much to acquire.  It isn’t like they didn’t know how dangerously thin they were at wide receiver and that Harvin’s industrial-sized work made him an even bigger injury risk than he normally is.

After an amazing half of a season, however, one of our last images of Harvin’s 2012 season will be him yelling at Frazier on the sideline out of frustration for a series of red zone calls that resulted in a Blair Walsh field goal.

That spat on the sideline sets up perfectly what will surely be a drama-filled offseason for Harvin and the Vikings, previewed last offseason over a brief period of time, as Harvin and the Vikings could very well end up in a stalemate over his contract status.

2013 is set to be the final year of his contract and he is expected to make only about $1.55 million.  Harvin has been rumored to consider 2012 a “contract year,” however, and it is obvious that things could get very ugly very fast if a contract extension cannot be worked out.

And it may not be easy.

Harvin, like many fans, probably views himself as one of the top offensive threats in the NFL.  His agent Joel Segal probably does little to temper Harvin’s expectations of big money, as he is known for getting incredibly robust contracts in place for lesser talents than Harvin, and I would not be shocked to see him demanding top dollar at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have on their hands a temperamental player that came out of college proceeded by stories of his entitled attitude, and that even once hurled a weight at head coach Brad Childress in the training facility.  Oh, and while he had only ever missed three games prior to this injury, he also seems to be a weekly mainstay on the injury report.

Going to the internet and browsing Harvin’s highlight reels will make you think paying the man is a no-brainer, but I just have a hunch the decision will not be such an easy one inside Winter Park this offseason.

Get ready for a Harvin-filled offseason, folks.

The Vikings have officially entered survival mode (which they prefer to call “controlling their own destiny”) and will travel from one daunting task directly to another as they endevour to take down the Packers in their own house.

Let’s take a look around the web at some of the best articles regarding last week’s loss to Chicago, and the upcoming matchup in Green Bay:

  • It could be that the clock is ticking on the Leslie Frazier era in Minnesota already.
  • The Giants may have laid out a blue print for the Vikings to use against Green Bay this week.
  • Jarius Wright has been able to take advantage of his two games on the active roster in ways that the other receivers have not.
  • Christian Ponder was 0 for 10 (including an interception) on passes that went 10 yards or further down the field on Sunday.  More interesting notes right here.
  • Plain and simple:  Jerome Simpson isn’t getting it done.
  • A gallery of photos from Sunday’s loss to the Bears.
  • Perhaps dropped passes are simply the latest excuse for Christian Ponder supporters to point to.
  • Adrian Peterson’s hold on the NFL’s rushing title is now 172 yards strong.  His hold on the football, however…
  • As if the Packers needed more talent, they really struck gold with cornerback Casey Heyward, who should be avoided if at all possible.
  • The Vikings replaced Jordan Todman with undrafted running back Joe Banyard on the practice squad.
  • Toby Gerhart hasn’t been given much opportunity on the field, but that is keeping him from making a difference off of it.
  • Don’t be surprised if Greg Jennings’ return means the Packers use an empty backfield, with four receivers and a tight end, to neutralize the Vikings pass rush on Sunday.
  • The Vikings have an extensive injury report to keep an eye on this week.
  • Jerome Felton’s success has resulted in a fullback lining up in Bill Musgrave’s offense 20% more often than last season.
  • A former Vikings linebacker is running for office in Illinois, hoping to replace the recently resigned Jesse Jackson Jr.
  • Leslie Frazier describes all of Sunday’s drops as “really unacceptable.”  So there’s that.
  • In the last five games Adrian Peterson is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.  So, tell me again why he didn’t get the ball on third and short… or fourth and short.

Percy Harvin has been spotted on crutches this week, following an ugly hit to his ankle last week, but limped slowly through the locker room on Thursday without support.  Leslie Frazier says Harvin will play on Sunday if he can, but all signs point towards it being too big of a risk at this point in the season.

The only playmaker to account for more yards in this offense than Harvin is Adrian Peterson, and it has recently been argued that Harvin should be a candidate for the NFL’s MVP award.

If Harvin doesn’t play then the Vikings have to find a way to make up the 75 receiving yards, 10 rushing yards, and 64 return yards he has been gaining on average per game.  That is not an easy task and a number of players will have to step up and fill his shoes if the Vikings are going to avoid further regression this Sunday afternoon.

Jarius Wright, WR

Wright has proven to be a bit of a mystery this season as he has been on the 53 man roster all year but has yet to be active on game day, after the Vikings selected him in the fourth round of April’s Draft.  There have been a number of theories about why Wright has yet to be on the field, one of which is that he is simply regarded as a Harvin clone in the case of an injury.  Wright is a similar player, albeit not likely to be as dominant, as Harvin is and it is logical to expect that he will not only be active in Harvin’s absence, but that we will actually see him get some action.

Toby Gerhart, RB

I already find it ridiculous how little the Vikings are using Gerhart, even when Harvin was healthy, and I would hope that he will be called on to pick it up this week.

Gerhart had a rough outing in week three, but has otherwise been his normal self.  Strangely, however, his role seems to be gradually disappearing.  In the last four games he has only carried the ball four times, while Harvin has carried it nine times over the same period.

It only seems logical that Gerhart will get some of the carries that would normally go Harvin’s way, and he should arguably get even more than that if the Vikings truly want to embrace their offensive strengths and run the ball with more frequency.

Marcus Sherels, CB

It seems likely that, even if Harvin is active, Marcus Sherels will be the Vikings primary kick returner against the Lions.  The Lions got torched by both Harvin and Sherels in the return game earlier this year, but Leslie Frazier seems to think the Lions won’t be so easily fooled on special teams this time around.

Sherels has only returned two kicks this year, averaging 23.5 yards, and doesn’t seem to have the same explosiveness as Harvin does.  Still, he will need to be ready to take advantage if the Lions decide to revert to early-season form and provide a big chance for a game-changing return at the Metrodome.

Adam Warwas, Hack Blogger

Somebody has to blow up at the coaching staff, like Harvin did last week, if Bill Musgrave calls three horrible red zone plays in a row that are short of the goalline and result in a field goal.

I nominate me.

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