For the next several weeks I will be breaking down the Viking’s roster, evaluating the players and letting you know what to expect from each position.
By Jordan Wright
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For the second of my 10-part series, I’ll be focusing on the running backs. Personally, I am extremely excited that Adrian Peterson is back because it makes this article a lot easier to write. While I could go on and on (and have in the past) about Peterson’s situation, and how he handled it, this article is simply looking at the talent on the field and how that projects for the season. Currently the Vikings have six running backs on the roster and two full backs, and they will probably keep four of them total.
The obvious starter is none other than the best running back in the NFL. Peterson has shown up to Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and looks to be back like he never missed a day. After missing all but one game last year, I’m sure Peterson is chomping at the bit to get on the field. If he can stay healthy, I have no doubt he will be among the league leaders in rushing yards and could possibly get close to the 2,000 yard mark again.
The other two running backs I see making the roster are last year’s draft pick Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. McKinnon was drafted to be a project after playing quarterback, running back and defensive back in college, and after touching the ball 140 times for 673 yards his rookie season he proved he is extremely athletic. Last season he was forced into a starting role, but this year he will be able to fill the role he was originally drafted for, and that’s to be a change-of-pace back from Adrian. In a perfect world, we would never have to see Asiata run the ball again. He is what he is, a slower running back who is pretty good near the goal line but doesn’t have what it takes to be a starter in the league, as evident by his 3.5 yards per carry last season.
While McKinnon is a shoo-in for the second running back spot, Asiata is without a doubt on the bubble, and there are three running backs out to prove they deserve to be dressing up on Sundays. Joe Banyard is entering his third season in the NFL after playing in 15 games for the Vikings last year. While he only touched the ball 30 times, he showed explosiveness and an ability to find open space. DuJuan Harris is entering his fifth year, his first with the Vikings after spending his first four with the Green Bay Packers. He brings with him a little experience and kickoff returns abilities, but not much else. I believe he was only brought in to be another training camp body. Dominique Williams is another running back on the roster. Williams is entering his second year after playing on the Viking’s practice squad last year. From the limited amount of highlight film I could find on him, he looks impressive, but it’s hard to tell because he was going up against FCS level competition. Out of all these running backs, I think Joe Banyard has the best chance to take the third running back spot from Matt Asiata. Asiata is great around the goal line, and that’s about it. With Peterson back, the Vikings should have no problem in the red zone, thus greatly reducing the value Asiata brings to the team.
The Vikings have two full backs on the roster after letting Jerome Felton go in free agency this offseason. Zach Line is the favorite to win the fullback spot, but the Vikings could always go without a fullback and keep an extra tight end. The other full back on the roster is Blake Renaud, an undrafted back out of SMU. Renaud is a training camp body and that’s about it.
The starter at running back was settled as soon as Adrian Peterson walked through the doors of the Viking’s practice facility, and with McKinnon being a recent high draft pick who has shown excellent athleticism I don’t see him relinquishing his back up spot. So that leaves the third running back spot and the full back position up for grabs, and while I think Asiata has the edge over Banyard, this will all come down to how well each back performs in training camp. I expect the full back spot to come down to either Line or keeping an extra tight end. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner does not use a full back very often, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Line signed to the practice squad in favor of a more versatile tight end, but we’ll get into that when I break down the tight end position in two weeks!