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Projecting the Vikings' 53-Man Roster: Running Backs

In our quest to project the 53-man roster for the Vikings, thus far we've filled three spots with quarterbacks.  Continuing along with the offensive theme, we're going to take a look at the guys that the Minnesota offense really revolves around, our running backs.  Here's everyone that's currently listed as being part of the Vikings' roster at the running back and fullback positions.

Number Name Height Weight Experience College
24 Arkee Whitlock 5'9" 205 1 Southern Illinois
28 Adrian Peterson 6'2" 215 2 Oklahoma
29 Chester Taylor 5'11" 215 7 Toledo
34 Albert Young 5'8" 205 R Iowa
38 Naufahu Tahi 6'0" 255 3 Brigham Young
43 Maurice Hicks 5'11" 205 5 North Carolina A&T
44 Thomas Tapeh 6'1" 245 5 Minnesota
83 Jeff Dugan 6'4" 260 5 Maryland

There they are, folks. . .the best and most talented group of running backs in the National Football League.

We start with the best of the best, or at least the best of the conference.  We knew going into the 2007 season that Adrian Peterson was talented. . .I started calling him the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year about five minutes after we drafted him. . .but nobody could have realistically expected what we got from AP last season.  1,341 rushing yards, 13 total touchdowns, two of the most electrifying single-game performances in franchise history, numerous Viking records. . .and he just turned 23 years old.  He might be the most exciting offensive player in the league, and if he's not, he's certainly a part of that conversation.

In a recent article, Peterson stated that his goal was to rush for 2,000 yards in 2008.  Do I think that it's an achievable goal for him?  Certainly, it is.  I don't think that there's any goal that #28 could set for himself that he couldn't possibly achieve.  But there's at least part of me that hopes that it doesn't happen.  Why?  Because I want AP to be productive for the long-term and not potentially shorten his career in any way.

If AP could maintain his 5.6 yards/carry average from last year, he would need 358 carries in order to break 2,000 yards.  I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect even a guy with Peterson's talent to keep up that sort of pace. . .LaDanian Tomlinson currently has a career average of 4.5 ypc, and has never had a season where he averaged as many yards per carry as Peterson did last year (his best was 5.3 ypc in 2003).  So 358 would be the minimum number of carries that he'd need to get to 2000, and would probably be closer to 400.  Looking at a very well-done article from the folks at FootballOutsiders, they have a rule called the "370-carry theory."  As it says in the article, the 370-carry theory basically says

A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or loss of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson.

Some of the examples of this would be Curtis Martin in 2005, Ricky Williams in 2003, Shaun Alexander in 2006, and Larry Johnson in 2007. . .not to mention the careers of Terrell Davis, Earl Campbell, Gerald Riggs, and numerous others.

As much as I love me some Adrian Peterson, I don't want him getting 350 carries or 375 carries or 400 carries, even if it means him not getting 2,000 yards in a season.  I want the guy to remain healthy and fresh for as long as possible.  I want him to be in a Vikings uniform for a long time, and to contradict the great Neil Young, I'd rather see him fade away than burn out.  Besides, if we give Adrian Peterson all of the carries. . .

. . .it would keep us from exploiting the fact that we have the best backup running back in the NFL on the team.  Yes, Chester Taylor went from being, basically, the only competent skill position player on the team in 2006 to being a backup for most of 2007, and he did it without whining, crying, complaining, or anything else that could have hampered the Vikings.  He still ran for 844 yards (which would have made him the leading rusher on 12 NFL teams) despite only getting 157 carries, scored eight touchdowns, managed to go over 100 yards twice, and it was he. . .not Peterson. . .who had the Vikings' longest run of the season with his 85-yard sprint against San Francisco.  Taylor is an extremely vital part of the Minnesota offense, and I'm quite happy to see him still with the team.

The more I think about the signing of Maurice Hicks, the more it puzzles me.  I realize that he's the third RB on this team, but I'm really trying to figure out what purpose he serves.  For his career, he has 869 rushing yards on 205 carries, 75% of which came in his first two years in the NFL.  His strength is, apparently, on kickoff returns. . .in 2007, he had 63 returns with a 23.8 yard average, a long of 55 yards, and 4 returns of 40+ yards.  But, considering that we have a guy in Aundrae Allison that averaged 28.7 yards a return with 3 returns of 60+ yards and a team record 105-yard return for a TD, I kind of fail to see where he fits in on that front, either.  But, until I have a reason not to trust what this front office is doing, I'll roll with it.  It's not like we're going to have to rely on him heavily at any point this year. . .I hope.

Arkee Whitlock has been on the practice squad for the Vikings for a few years, and has yet to see a single NFL carry.  Albert Young was brought in as an undrafted free agent.  Honestly, I don't see either of them being a factor for the Vikings in 2008.  And that's about all I've got to say about that.

The Vikings carried three fullbacks in 2007, and with the run-heavy schemes that the Vikings' offense is centered around, I don't see any reason why that won't be the case again.

Thomas Tapeh comes back to his hometown team, as he grew up in the Twin Cities and matriculated at the University of Minnesota before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Tapeh is basically Tony Richardson minus 10 years.  He's a very good lead blocker, and might catch the occasional pass.  I look forward to seeing him open up holes for Peterson and Taylor this season.

Remember when we all thought Jeff Dugan was just some guy that Mike Tice drafted because he went to the same college and played the same position?  Well, as sad as this is going to sound, Dugan is now one of only six players left on the team from the Tice-era drafts of 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 (the other five are Bryant McKinnie, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Marcus Johnson, and Kenechi Udeze).  With those kind of drafts in such recent history, it's a big surprise that this team is competitive at all, but that's another post for another time.  Dugan is listed as a TE, largely because of his uniform number, but lines up at both FB and TE, so we'll include him here.  His versatility makes him a nice addition to the team, and since he signed a long-term extension a few years back, I'm sure he'll continue in the same capacity he's been in for the last five years.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Naufahu Tahi.  Why?  I love the "bowling ball" type of running back, and at 6' and 255 pounds, Tahi certainly falls into that category.  If we didn't already have two very capable backs, I'd like to see him get some carries in goal line situations, but he still serves quite well as a lead blocker and provides good depth if something should happen to Tapeh and/or Dugan.

So, to sum up. . .

Potential League MVP:  Adrian Peterson
Best Backup RB in the NFL:  Chester Taylor
The "Other" RB:  Maurice Hicks
Fullbacks:  Thomas Tapeh (starter), Jeff Dugan, Naufahu Tahi
Cut:  Arkee Whitlock (because I don't think he has any practice squad eligibility left)
Practice Squad Candidate:  Albert Young

Next time, we'll look at the WRs and TEs. . .spots that might have some actual intrigue involved.  Until then, keep enjoying the long weekend, and we'll see you back here tomorrow!