Are Vikings Fans Already Questioning Toby Gerhart?
After they lost backup running back Chester Taylor(notes) to the Chicago Bears last year, rookie running back Toby Gerhart(notes) out of Stanford was expected to take his place. The Vikings were so confident in his abilities that they traded up in the second round to make sure that he ended up in purple and gold. Unfortunately, his rookie year didn’t pan out quite as well as they had hoped for.
What the Vikings missed in 2010 was a running back of Taylor’s caliber and experience to help spell Peterson and keep the opposing defenses on their toes. Taylor was a huge asset as a third-down back in 2009, but left Minnesota in hopes of earning a starting spot in Chicago (Matt Forte(notes) had other plans). That’s not to say that Gerhart isn’t a talented and versatile running back, but he hasn’t yet reached that level where he can properly compliment a superstar like Peterson. More than anything, he hasn’t yet adjusted to the speed and physicality of the NFL.
Throughout his career at Stanford, Gerhart made a living out of bulldozing defenders and picking up yards after contact. Now that he’s in the NFL, doing the things that made him the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2009 hasn’t been as effective.
The 2010 NFL season saw him get off to a slow start. He looked lost like a freshman walking around campus on the first day of high school. However, as he got more familiar with his surroundings and started receiving more reps while Peterson rested, things started to click. Apart from a few fumbles, he picked up his yards-per-carry average in the second half of the season and even scored his first NFL rushing touchdown against the Washington Redskins.
His most impressive game of the year came against the Chicago Bears during Week 15. On 16 carries, he racked up 77 yards for a 4.8 yards-per-carry average, including a 21-yard scamper. He also caught three passes for 18 yards. Despite his fumble in the game, he ran strong and showed good vision when the offense put the ball in his hands.
By season’s end, Gerhart had tallied 322 yards on 81 carries (four yards-per-carry) while scoring one touchdown. He also caught 21 passes for 167 yards as he tried to fill the Vikings’ third-down back role. He has room for improvement in that role, but the 13 first downs he picked up throughout the seasn are promising. Despite some struggles in the pass blocking department, he has the strength and size to become an effective protector as he continues to grow comfortable with the NFL’s speed.
Toby Gerhart raised some issues in the draft last year for being a ‘white running back’. Surprisingly it caused enough of a stir to cause him to fall to the Vikings in the second round. I imagine the fans that aren’t happy with his production are unfairly comparing him to NFL phenom Adrian Peterson. Petereson is such a rare talent that its simply unfair to expect that type of productivity out of both your backs. Gerhart is a solid third back down that is needed to spell Peterson and gain short yards. Assuming he works on his pass blocking Gerhart will continue to add value to this team for years.