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Vikings by position, Day 8: Backfield issues? Only Peterson's contract

Vikings by position, Day 8: Backfield issues? Only Peterson's contract

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 28, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 8

Running backs.

On the roster (4)

HB Lorenzo Booker, FB Ryan D'Imperio, HB Toby Gerhart, HB Adrian Peterson.

Unsigned (2)

FB Naufahu Tahi, HB Albert Young.

Breakdown

The numbers weren't as eye-popping, but Peterson (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) remained as explosive as ever last season, despite ankle and knee injuries that slowed him down the stretch. In 15 games, he finished sixth in the NFL with a career-low 1,298 rushing yards on 283 carries (4.6 average) and 12 touchdowns, plus another score on one of his 36 receptions for 341 yards (9.5 average). Perhaps most important, Peterson lost the ball only once after fumbling 18 times over the previous two years (including playoffs). It's hard to imagine him playing the final year of his rookie deal -- even for a team-high $10.72 million base salary -- and team officials have acknowledged a lucrative contract extension for the 26-year-old is a priority. Gerhart (6-0, 231) can be an effective grinder, but he hasn't shown much burst and must improve ball security after fumbling three times in 102 touches (2.9%) as a rookie. He's at his best when getting fed (see: 22 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown in Washington), and that just doesn't happen much with Peterson playing 68.9% of the snaps. Even if Gerhart improves his strength in blitz pickup, he appears better suited to spelling Peterson on first and second down than third, where Booker (5-10, 191) might have some upside. The former United Football League standout has 39 receptions in 21 career NFL games and figures to factor on kick returns, too, if brings the same juice he did after joining the Vikings in December. Young (5-10, 209) didn't factor in 2010 before landing on injured reserve (knee) and didn't receive an exclusive-rights tender. He won't be back. The Vikings also passed on giving Tahi (6-0, 254) a restricted tender that would have been worth $1.325 million, but they've expressed interest in bringing him back for less. A linebacker at Rutgers, D'Imperio (6-3, 214) spent all of last season learning his new position on the practice squad. He has the size to be a real thumper, but can he become consistent enough in his technique to get underneath people? The Vikings' decisions there will be telling about new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's plans for blocking backs in his offense.

One scout's take

"(Peterson)'s deal is obviously always going to always be staying healthy, protecting the football and just how productive he's going to be catching the ball. But hey ... if you made me put a gun to my head and tell me to pick one (halfback), I'd take that one. It's amazing, because when he came out of school, there were a bunch of teams that were quaking in their boots about taking him because there was a little hump on his collarbone. There were people that said, 'Yeah, well, he's going to have to rebreak it, reset it' and all that kind of stuff. With a guy with that kind of talent, you take him and ask questions later."
-- AFC personnel director

Draft outlook

Of all the positions on the Vikings' roster, this one seems least likely to be addressed. If anything, a change-of-pace back with return ability could be an option on Day 3. A late-round fullback/H-back also is another possibility, but those players also can be found in rookie free agency.

Last 10 drafts

• 2010: Gerhart (second round, 51st overall), D'Imperio (seventh, 237th).
• 2009: None.
• 2008: None.
• 2007: Peterson (first, seventh).
• 2006: None.
• 2005: Ciatrick Fason (fourth, 112th).
• 2004: Mewelde Moore (fourth, 119th).
• 2003: Onterrio Smith (fourth, 105th).
• 2002: None.
• 2001: Michael Bennett (first, 27th).

Linked in

The Vikings have held no known workouts or visits with halfbacks. They reportedly have hosted visits with two potential H-backs, Tulsa's Charles Clay and North Carolina's Ryan Taylor.

High fives

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Halfbacks -- 1. Mark Ingram, Alabama. 2. Mikel Leshoure, Illinois. 3. Daniel Thomas, Northwestern. 4. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech. 5. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State. Fullbacks -- 1. Anthony Sherman, Connecticut. 2. Henry Hynoski, Pittsburgh. 3. Owen Marecic, Stanford. 4. Clay. 5. Stanley Havili, Southern California.

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: 1. Ingram. 2. Thomas. 3. Leshoure. 4. Williams. 5. Hunter.

Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Halfbacks -- 1. Ingram. 2. Leshoure. 3. Williams. 4. Thomas. 5. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma. Fullbacks --1. Havili. 2. Marecic. 3. Hynoski. 4. Clay. 5. Shaun Chapas, Georgia.

Up next

Specialists.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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