Saturday, January 17, 2015

Grading the Roster: Running Backs

Photo Courtesy of FanSided
The Vikings turned to young and unproven players at the running back position and found results. Daniel House grades their performances and discusses how the Vikings should structure this position moving forward.

Updated: January 11th, 2015 11:09am 

By: Daniel House

After Adrian Peterson was suspended, the drama surrounding the entire process shifted to grooming young running backs to fill his void. The Vikings found several young players who can contribute to the future of this team and with plenty of questions marks surrounding Adrian Peterson's status, it is very encouraging the coaches have options at this position.

*Note: In order to receive, a grade, the player must have been active for a least six games during the 
2014 season.*

Running Backs: 

Matt Asiata

Grade: B+

Analysis: Matt Asiata was asked to carry the load after Adrian Peterson was suspended early in the season. He did an admirable job and proved that he will pound the ball between the tackles, while fighting for extra yards. Asiata is an extremely tough runner, but he definitely doesn't have a massive amount of acceleration. However, Asiata was a reliable target in the passing game and was a safety valve check down on frequent occasions. He did have some issues with being consistent catching passes and his hands contributed to three tipped interceptions. However, his ability to run with a head of steam after catching passes, helped the Vikings move the chains on a frequent basis. He was demoted for a short period of time and the coaches took a look at running back Jerick McKinnon. Nonetheless, McKinnon suffered a back injury and Asiata returned to the starting role several weeks down the road. Asiata still managed to lead the Vikings with 570 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Only Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray rushed for more touchdowns than Matt Asiata and he definitely lived up to the title of "goal-line vulture." He is a free agent this off-season and the Vikings will have to decide whether they see him in the future plans of a complicated running back position group.

Projected 2015 Status: Returns as depth at running back

Jerick McKinnon

Grade: B

Analysis: Jerick McKinnon left the Vikings coaching staff with some very high optimism heading into next season at the running back position. The team spent a third round pick on McKinnon and with minimal experience as a pro-style runner, his insane athletic ability and intelligence were on full display. After being the third-string running back for the majority of the off-season, he cracked the lineup following the Adrian Peterson suspension and average performances by Matt Asiata. He finished the season with 538 rushing yards and led the team with 2.6 yards per carry after contact. McKinnon injured his back lifting weights in the middle of the season and wasn't as effective after this injury. It later led to him being placed on injured reserve after he had surgery. He needs to improve as a pass protector, but his overall upside is extremely high. McKinnon likely can provide roughly 20 carries per game as a change of pace back. With work, he could become an every down running back for this team.

Projected 2015 Status: Second-string running back

Joe Banyard

Grade: B

Analysis: Joe Banyard was placed on the practice squad after having another solid preseason campaign. He was promoted following the Adrian Peterson suspension and primarily played a role on special teams coverage and return teams. However, Banyard did see some action when injuries struck the running back group. He showed a nice burst and patient vision, but his liability came as a pass protector, which was the primary reason he witnessed a limited amount of snaps. He wasn't particularly perfect on special teams and Banyard will likely be the odd man out when the Vikings add a running back in the draft.

Projected 2015 Status: Not on roster

Adrian Peterson

Grade: N/A

Analysis: We all watched Adrian Peterson play in one game before he was suspended by the league for using a 'switch' to discipline his son. For the entire season, Peterson was trying to be reinstated from the Commissioner's Exempt List and after he lost his appeal, there was no chance of him returning to the roster. Now, the 2015 offseason will be the interesting period of time for the former MVP. Will the Vikings bring him back following his reinstatement, or can they find a trade partner who is willing to take on his contract? In my opinion, with a deep running back class and a proven commodity like Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings could easily pull the trigger on a trade involving Peterson. The organization is building the future of this team around Teddy Bridgewater and Peterson has indicated that he has desires to start his career elsewhere. The Vikings could save money, get younger, at the position, and accumulate more draft picks. On the other hand, if he does return, the Vikings can have an MVP running back in the backfield. Either scenario will work, but I firmly believe that Adrian Peterson will be a member of the Dallas Cowboys when the season kicks off next September.

Projected 2015 Status: Traded

Jerome Felton

Grade: A-

Analysis: Jerome Felton played very well this season and he was laying massive blocks in the second level of opposing defenses. He did lose a significant amount of playing time in Norv Turner's offense, especially after the Adrian Peterson's suspension. Felton finished with 175 snaps, down from 304 in 2013. He already told the media he will opt of his deal, which signals he will likely be heading in a different direction. Felton performed very well in his limited amount of snaps, but he just simply does not fit into a Norv Turner scheme that features a heavy amount of three wide receiver sets.

Projected 2015 Status: Opts out and hits free agency

Zach Line

Grade: N/A

Analysis: Zach Line was waived early in the season, but returned to the practice squad. When injuries started to run through the Vikings, Line was promoted to the 53-man roster, but he was not active until the final game of the season. He has shown flashes in his preseason and with Jerome Felton leaving, the fullback position could be handed to Zach Line. However, the fullback position might not be a priority when the coaches trim the roster in August.

Projected 2015 Status: Fullback

Henry Josey

Analysis: Henry Josey is a very attractive name to watch during the Vikings offseason activities. His athleticism and running style are very impressive. He was signed off the Jaguars practice squad during the final week of the season. Josey spent the early part of the season with the Eagles and left college early out of Missouri. He suffered a knee injury that hurt his value, but his athletic ability and playmaking capabilities will be something to watch for during training camp and the preseason.

Projected 2015 Status: Training Camp competition

Dominique Williams

Analysis: Dominique Williams was re-signed to the Vikings practice squad on November 19th after he was released in the final cutdowns after training camp. He spent a week on the Cardinals practice squad before he was released with an injury settlement. Williams showed a motor on his runs and his patience really stood out in the preseason. He needs to become a better pass protector and frankly needs more game action at this level. Williams is a nice change of pace running back that the Vikings will bring into training camp for some competition.

Projected 2015 Status: Training Camp competition

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