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Updated: April 30th, 2014 12:55pm
Zulgad: Vikings need a backup RB but overspending would be foolish

Zulgad: Vikings need a backup RB but overspending would be foolish

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Chester Taylor's decision came as no surprise.

The veteran running back left the Vikings as a free agent following the 2009 season, electing to sign as a free agent with the Chicago Bears.

Taylor had joined the Vikings in 2006 with the promise of being the team's top running back, but when Adrian Peterson remained on the board with the seventh pick of the draft a year later, Taylor knew it wouldn't be long before his carries began to diminish.

His rushing attempts went from 303 in 2006, to 157 in 2007, to 101 in 2008, to 94 in 2009. Taylor's primary role by the end had been as a third-down back who was essential in pass protection and could catch passes.

The Vikings' solution for replacing Taylor proved to be somewhat surprising.

They sent second- and third-round picks during the 2010 draft to the Houston Texans in order to move up 11 spots to select Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

No one questioned the Vikings needed a backup to Peterson. Most importantly, the star's issues in pass protection meant that running back often would be used on third down as Taylor had been.

But did the Vikings really need to move up to the 51st pick in the draft to find that guy?

Gerhart's four-year stint with the Vikings came to an end in March when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars to take over as their top back.

Gerhart departed Minnesota with 276 total rushing attempts, including a career-high 109 in 2011. He only reached more than 100 carries that season because Peterson missed time with an injury.

Peterson turned 29 in March, putting him a year away from the magical, or not-so-magical, age of 30 when running backs usually start to decline.

The Vikings will have this in mind, along with the knowledge that Gerhart must be replaced, as the NFL draft begins next Thursday.

What general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer also should have in mind is that using a pick in the first two days of the draft on a running back would be a mistake.

The fact the Vikings offense is built around Peterson isn't an issue - he's one of the greatest of all-time at the position - but this organization has to know that moving forward that spot is one it shouldn't build around again.

Also, the 2014 Vikings have serious needs that Spielman and then-coach Brad Childress didn't have to deal with in 2010.

The Vikings can find a backup running back either late in this year's draft or on the free-agent market. They already have four running backs on the roster, including Peterson; Matt Asiata (a third-year player); Joe Banyard (second year); and Bradley Randle (first year).

The assumption from this end is that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is going to try to find a way to use Peterson more often on third down than Childress/Darrell Bevell or offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave did.

Turner realizes Peterson's pass protection skills still aren't great and knows he likely will have to get him some help in order to keep Matt Cassell upright. But, if anything, Gerhart's replacement probably won't see the field as much in 2014 as his predecessor did.

That means that while the spot needs to be filled, it can't be given the same priority as it was four years ago.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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