The Minnesota Vikings have the best running back in the NFL. Behind Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have very little.
Peterson is a big back with big play potential. He can do everything expected from a running back. His only weakness is in the passing game.
Peterson was consistently replaced on third down by Toby Gerhart. Gerhart left via free agency and a void has opened in the Vikings backfield.
The other running backs are inexperienced or are better suited for other roles. Matt Asiata got a taste of being a primary ball carrier late last season, but take away one 39 yard run and he averaged 2.9 yards per carry. The others include a second-year player with three games and no carries under his belt (but did have one catch) and a diminutive first-year player.
Right now, Asiata would probably be the backup, but he is more valuable as a special teams player. Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle would battle for the other spot. Banyard has the experience advantage, but Randle has the skill set advantage.
The Vikings also have a fullback that may be better suited to fill Gerhart’s role than any of the running backs. Zach Line was signed as an undrafted rookie last summer. He wasn’t a very good lead blocker as a fullback for the Vikings last season after playing running back for SMU in college. He is a good receiver and is the best fit on the current roster to do what Gerhart did.
Jerome Felton remains as the lead blocker for Peterson. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has talked about getting Peterson more involved in the passing game, which would limit Felton’s role and opportunity to play.
The Vikings are likely to add another running back before training camp, whether or not that comes in the draft is to be seen. Here are the top five running backs in the draft.
Running Back No. 1 - Tre Mason, Auburn
Mason has been making an impact since joining the Tigers. He was primarily a kick returner as a freshman, but took over the starting job midway through his sophomore season.
Last season, he took his game farther and became a Heisman Trophy candidate. He has small-back skills, but has the power and strength to handle starter carries. He is compactly-built with one-cut quickness that can turn short gains into long ones.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 207-pound former Tiger finished his junior season with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in 13 games. He added 121 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Running Back No. 2 - Bishop Sankey, Washington
Sankey burst on the scene as a sophomore after barely playing as a freshman. He earned All-Pac 12 honorable mention in 2012 with nearly 1,500-yards and over 15 touchdowns.
He is not a big back, but has all the skills to be a very good NFL running back. He is not a change-of-pace type of guy, but has durability question marks over getting a lot of between-the-tackles carries. He could be a very good NFL third down back with adequate pass blocking ability that can improve.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 209-pound former Husky finished his junior season with 1,775 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns on 306 carries. He also had 298 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown on 25 catches.
Running Back No. 3 - Andre Williams, Boston College
Williams burst on the scene in 2013 with over 2,000 yards after failing to reach 1,600 yards in his first three years combined. Williams was one of two Heisman Trophy finalists that played running back.
He has the size, balance and power to be a bell-cow running back in the NFL. However, a few weaknesses in his game may make him a short-yardage back. He lacks the first step quickness and acceleration to carry the ball outside the red zone and does not have the receiving skills (both pass protection and catching) to be a third-down back.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 230-pound former Eagle finished his senior season with 2,102 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns on 329 carries. He also had 34 receiving yards on four catches.
Running Back No. 4 - Jeremy Hill, LSU
Hill is a big, powerful back that runs north/south. He was a highly decorated running back coming out of high school and spent most of his two seasons on the field in a running back rotation. Even though he was in a rotation, he still managed to earn first team All-SEC honors last season.
He makes a decision and attacks the hole. Despite having bigger than ideal size, he is a good receiver with soft hands, long arms and hand-eye coordination to makes plays downfield.
He does not come without flaws. He often runs high and lacks the balance to break tackles. He also has off-the-field red flags that include separate incidents in college and in high school.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 233-pound former Tiger finished his redshirt sophomore season with 1,185 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns on 175 carries. He also had 181 receiving yards on 18 catches.
Running Back No. 5 - James White, Wisconsin
White continued the long line of very good Wisconsin running backs. He has the speed, vision, agility, acceleration and strength to take the ball to the house on every play.
He is not a between-the-tackles runner and lacks the ideal size to be an every down back. He is a slasher that could excel as a change-of-pace and third down back.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 204-pound former Badger finished his senior season with 1,484 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 221 carries. He also had 300 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 39 catches.
Underrated Running Back - Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Carey has seen his draft stock slip since posting unimpressive numbers at the combine and his workout. The most shocking result was his 4.7 second 40-yard dash time.
However, when watching him play, he is an NFL running back. He is strong with good instincts, feet, drive and balance. He consistently falls forward when being tackled and can make defenders miss in space.
He often runs with a reckless abandon that may lead to injuries in the future. He must also overcome off-the-field issues as well as the stigma about running backs that were successful in Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez’s college system. His running backs have not fared well in the NFL.
The 5-foot-9-inch. 207-pound former Wildcat finished his junior season with 1,716 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns on 322 carries. He also had 173 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown on 26 catches.
Overrated Running Back - Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Hyde is a big back that runs with power. He runs north/south runner and looks for contact. When he gets into the open field, he can pull away from defenders.
However, at times he can be easy to tackle and tries to run like a scat back. He also had an off-field incident prior to last season that resulted in a three-game suspension.
The 6-foot, 230-pound former Buckeye finished his redshirt senior season with 1,527 rushing yards. He became the first 1,000-yard rusher for an Urban Meyer-coached team.
Sleeper Running Back - Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
There are not many players from the Football Championship Series that enter the draft early, but Crowell is not like most FCS players. He began his collegiate career at the University of Georgia. While there he earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors and was set to be the workhorse back for the Bulldogs. However, a failed drug test and weapon possession charges forced him out of the Bulldog program.
He re-emerged at Alabama State the following season and took the Southwestern Athletic Conference by storm. He earned the conference’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2012.
He is a dynamic athlete with good speed, shiftiness and balance to be a big threat back. He lacks the durability to be an every down or between-the-tackle back, but can be a solid change-of-pace ball carrier.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 224-pound former Hornet finished his junior season with 1,121 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on 170 carries. He also had 27 receiving yards on seven catches.
Fullback No. 1 - Jay Prosch, Auburn
Prosch is a pure fullback. He is a blocker first and foremost. He does not have the athleticism, speed or agility to get more than a carry here and there.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 254-pound former Tiger has proven to be a strong blocker at multiple programs and multiple conferences during his collegiate career. He began his career at Illinois, but transferred after two seasons to be closer to his ailing mother.
Fullback No. 2 - J.C. Copeland, LSU
Copeland is another pure fullback in this class. He is a massive fullback with long arms and big hands. He is a bowling ball that can blow up defenders at the second and third levels. He is not a ball carrier, but can get a yard or two if needed.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 271-pound former Tiger was a defensive end recruit that was committed to Tennessee for a long time before switching to LSU on signing day.