Over the last two weeks we've taken a position-by-position look at the performance and production of the Vikings roster in 2013.
The best running back in the NFL did not have his best season, but Adrian Peterson was still pretty good. The reigning MVP's effort in 2013 spearheaded a stable of running backs (and a fullback) that was a strength of the Vikings roster all year.
Peterson finished 2013 with 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, ranking fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for fourth in scores. The vast majority of running backs don't sniff Top 5 rankings once in their careers, but Peterson made that cut in both yards and scores in what was a "mediocre" (by his standards) season. On top of it all, Peterson did all of this despite playing through injury and pain and even missing two games and parts of others.
The absence of Peterson from the lineup late in the season gave Matt Asiata an opportunity to shine. And did he ever. Asiata, who has gritted out a two-year career so far in Minnesota after going undrafted in 2011, shouldered the load for the Vikings in a Week 15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, a game in which both Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart were unavailable due to injury. In that game, Asiata carried the ball 30 times and scored three touchdowns, helping the Vikings to a season-high and team Metrodome record 48 offensive points.
Gerhart's time to shine in Peterson's stead came at Baltimore in Week 14. He did not start the game, but finished it well with 15 carries for 89 yards, including a dramatic 41-yard scoring run late in the 4th quarter that gave the Vikings a lead. Aside from that, other high points in Gerhart's season were 67 yards on just seven carries in Seattle and 91 yards on just eight more carries the following week in Green Bay.
Joe Banyard and Jerome Felton did not record any rushing statistics, but that doesn't begin to tell either of their stories. Banyard went undrafted in 2012 and after time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints was signed by the Vikings and has bounced from the Practice Squad to the active roster. He is a solid special teams player and will continue to develop as a runner this offseason. Felton is a Pro Bowl fullback, and his absence for three games early in the season was a factor in the team's 0-3 start. Once he returned to the lineup, though, so did the Vikings physicality in the running game. His first game back was the Vikings Week 4 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, the club's first win of the season. Ask around the coaching hallways and the locker room after that game and it was quite apparent Felton's return coming at the same time as the team's first win was no coincidence.
Just as is the case with the defensive line, the running back position for the Vikings is in good shape thanks to the presence of solid veterans and young talent. But Felton and Peterson can't do it alone. Expect Asiata and Banyard to be part of the mix this offseason as they continue to compete for positioning on the depth chart. The A Topic this offseason at running back, though, will be Gerhart. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see several NFL teams chase after him, including a Vikings team that surely understands the value of having a capable backup such as Gerhart in the fold.
On the Roster
Matt Asiata: *166 yards and 3 TDs on 44 attempts in 11 games (1 start)Joe Banyard:No rushing statistics in 3 games (0 starts)Jerome Felton:No rushing statistics, 6 receptions for 37 yards in 13 games (9 starts)Toby Gerhart:283 yards, 2 TDs on 36 attempts in 14 games (0 starts) *Adrian Peterson:1,266 yards, 10 TDs on 279 attempts* *in 14 games (14 starts)