It's no secret that Adrian Peterson is still going to be a critical component of the Vikings offense, new coaching staff or not. Claims by the very talented LeSean McCoy aside, I'll still take AP as the best RB in football, and although he's getting close to the dreaded age of 30 (he turned 29 in March), everyone who cheers for the Purple and Gold can't wait to see him as the featured back in a Norv Turner offense.
Still, with the NFL evolving more and more into a running back by committee philosophy, and assuming the Vikings want to keep Peterson as productive as possible for as long as possible, the primary back up is going to be a critical role in the 2014 Vikings offense. The one thing about Turner and his offenses is that he had, for the most part, a solid relief pitcher who can come off the bench and play effectively. In San Diego, it was Darren Sproles. In Washington, it was Brian Mitchell.
When his offenses have been at their best, he's had a change of pace back like Sproles or Mitchell. Is there a guy who can fill that spot this year? Let's take a look.
Matt Asiata: With the departure of Toby Gerhart (TOBYSMASHTOBYCRUSHTOBYGOTOJACKSONVILLE), Asiata returns as the top sub on the depth chart from 2013. But I don't think that will give him an advantage over anyone else, not with the new staff and offense being implemented. I've mentioned this in other posts on other days, but it bears repeating: Asiata seems to be about the worst prototype for a Norv Turner change of pace back that there is. He's not elusive, he's not a pass catcher, and he's not really a change of pace guy. He's a bull--a between the tackles runner that can get you three or four yards here, but that's about it. Of all the changes in the final 53 between last year and 2014, I think running back might be one of the most dramatic when training camp draws to a close.
Jerick McKinnon: If you look up and down the RB roster, McKinnon's name jumps out at you as a guy the Vikings really want to be their Darren Sproles/Brian Mitchell guy. He has the stature, the build, the speed, and the athletic ability that most closely resembles those guys when they were at the top of their game. He's a largely unkonown commodity, but his combine workout out was freakish, and the natural talent is obvious, once you look at some highlights. The only strike against him right now is that he's a rookie. If he can start producing right out of the gate, I would expect the third rounder out of Georgia Southern to shoot up the depth chart.
Joe Banyard: Banyard is a guy that had a pretty good pre-season last year, made the practice squad, and appeared in three games last season. His career consists of only one catch (11 yards) and no carries, but he flashed as much talent in the games he played during the pre-season as Matt Asiata did. He's got some skills, and if his 2014 training camp is anything like 2013 was, he's going to push very hard for a roster spot.
Dominique Williams: Williams was signed out of Wagner as an undrafted free agent, and of all the backs on the roster, he has the biggest hill to climb to make it. He was a good player at Wagner, but UDFA's traditionally get the fewest snaps, so when he gets an opportunity, he'll have to make the most of it right away. That said, he has the potential to be the 2014 version of Bradley Randle or Joe Banyard, and a good training camp could secure him a spot on the practice squad.
Kain Colter (Admitted Wildcard): Yes, yes, yes, I know Colter is listed as a wide receiver. And yes, like Williams, he's an undrafted free agent. And yes, the way most people know about him is his attempt to unionize college players while at Northwestern. But seriously, I watched Colter, off and on, for his entire Northwestern career...and he's really, really good.
Like McKinnon, he's played multiple positions, to include running back and quarterback, and he's an extremely elusive guy who makes things happen with the ball in his hands. His only knock is his size--he's very generously listed as 6'0" on the depth chart...but yeah, he doesn't look it.I'm not saying Colter is going to make the 53 man roster. I'm not saying he could even make the practice squad. But if you were to ask me to name one guy out of the flotsam and jetsam that is most of the UDFA group that could make the roster, Colter would be my number one choice.
So there you have it, the running backs plus Colter on the Vikings roster as we head ever closer to Mankato. With Gerhart gone, the #2 job behind Adrian Peterson is wide open, and if you're asking me to handicap it, I'd give it to McKinnon, then Banyard, then Asiata. While incumbency normally doesn't hurt a guy like Asiata, it certainly doesn't help him this year, and I see a battle between Banyard and him for the third and final RB slot.
Unless Colter charges from the outside and takes it, of course.