2014 Vikings draft preview: Running backs
FOX Sports North’s Brian Hall provides complete coverage of the Vikings and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. Today is the third day of his Vikings draft previews. You can find the entire series here.
TODAY’S POSITION: RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 3
On the roster
There’s been a coaching change, but don’t expect the Minnesota Vikings to sway far from their tenets of a strong running game. And why would they? Adrian Peterson is aging — he turned 29 last month — but he’s still one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL.
Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season even while playing through a groin injury, which later required surgery, and dealing with a sprained foot. His 90.4 yards per game ranked second in the NFL behind LeSean McCoy’s 100.4 per game. The injuries are a concern, as he had offseason surgery for the third straight season, but Peterson has also shown little signs of slowing down as he nears the dreaded age-30 threshold for running backs.
With Norv Turner taking over as the Minnesota offensive coordinator, Peterson should still be a big part of what might still be a run-first offense. Turner’s had a lot of success with running backs over his career and it should continue with Peterson.
The Vikings need someone to step forward as Peterson’s backup with Toby Gerhart signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency and getting his first-ever chance at being an every-down back in the NFL. Gerhart’s departure, and Peterson’s age and injuries, could force Minnesota to look at the position in the draft.
There’s also Matt Asiata, who surprised many with two effective performances late last season in filling in for Peterson and Gerhart. Asiata had a three-touchdown game in Week 15 and had 115 yards rushing on just 14 carries in Week 17, both Vikings wins. Minnesota has speed in unproven young backs Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle.
Jerome Felton made his first Pro Bowl while blocking for Peterson’s MVP campaign in 2012 and will lead the way again this season. The Vikings have undrafted fullback Zach Line to compete for a spot, as well.
Philosophy at the position
The league has maybe changed, but Minnesota is still run-first. Turner’s philosophy, at least in terms of running the ball, shouldn’t change much from what the Vikings did in the past. But Turner has spoken about getting Peterson out in space more and maybe making more use of Peterson as a receiver. As long as he’s healthy, Peterson will get the ball.
But the future has to be in consideration at this point. Peterson is under contract through the 2017 season, but some younger backs could start to enter the picture. Minnesota could look to the third day of May’s draft to possibly add another back to the mix, someone to take Gerhart’s place as Peterson’s backup and third-down back capable of blocking and receiving. For all of Peterson’s talent, he’s still has trouble pass-blocking. The Vikings could find a hidden gem in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, especially with the decreased significance of running backs in the draft, and find an addition who could help save the wear and tear on Peterson.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Carlos Hyde, senior, Ohio State (6-foot, 230 pounds): For the second straight season, it’s looks as if no running back will be selected in the first round. The former premier position has been devalued and teams feel they have the ability to find capable running backs in the later rounds. Of course, as teams pass on backs, the quality is pushed down the draft. If a running back finds his way into the late first round, it will likely be Hyde, generally considered the top running back option throughout the draft evaluation period.
Hyde is a big back and ran a 4.66-second, 40-yard dash at the combine. Getting his first chance to be the full-time back last season, Hyde had 208 carries for 1,521 yards, averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns for Ohio State. In the process, Hyde became the first back to go over 1,000 yards in Urban Meyer’s time as a head coach. He wasn’t used much as a receiver, only catching 16 passes. But he’s a well-built, powerful runner who can break tackles, and would likely stand up as a workhorse ball carrier for an NFL offense.
Said Hyde: "I feel like teams expect us to run the ball. We’re running backs. You have two big-time backs in the Super Bowl playing. You can’t just pass the ball the whole game. At one point, you have to hand the ball off to make the defense play the run. You start passing the whole game, the defense can just play off and interceptions, that’s when that happens."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Terrance West, junior, Towson (5-9, 225): The "riser" of the draft process, West comes from a small school but has certainly caught the attention of NFL teams. West reportedly visited the Vikings during the team’s annual top-30 visit. Short in stature but powerfully-built, West also has good quickness. He registered a 4.55-second, 40-yard dash at the combine. Despite his size, West thrived with a heavy workload and showed he can be trusted even in a power running system.
West also has the credentials and game film to prove his worth to the NFL. In 16 games last year for Towson, West ran for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns. He added 26 catches showing off his versatility. He finished third in voting for the Walter Payton award, given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He finished his NCAA career with 86 total touchdowns and 4,849 yards.
Said West: "I score touchdowns and make people miss. I always had great hands. I always caught the ball. It’s a natural thing. I’m just blessed with it. Every team loves a running back that can catch the ball. It’s turning into a receiving game, so you got to also catch the ball too if you want to be an every-down back in the NFL."
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Charles Sims, senior, West Virginia (6-0, 214): For a short time during the early portion of the offseason draft period, Sims’ name was being talked about heavily. Sims was considered the top back at the Senior Bowl in practices following a final season for West Virginia in which he ran for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sims only played with the Mountaineers one season, having transferred from Houston where he played for three seasons. Sims wasn’t forced to sit out a year in transferring because he had already graduated from Houston. He finished his four years between the two schools with 3,465 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Sims perhaps could fill Gerhart’s role as a third-down back, in part, because of his experience catching the ball. He had 203 catches in his four years with West Virginia and Houston, adding another 2,108 yards through the air with 11 receiving touchdowns, finishing with 5,625 all-purpose yards and 51 touchdowns. While not a small back, he does have good athleticism and ran 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
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