The Minnesota Vikings’ offense has been a world of extremes through 12 games this season, with the struggles of quarterback Christian Ponder in recent weeks falling on one end of the spectrum and the outstanding season running back Adrian Peterson is having as he defies the odds after tearing multiple ligaments in his left knee less than a year ago on the other.
What has largely been lost in that shuffle is the diminished role of running back Toby Gerhart, who has just 33 carries all season and just five total carries in the last seven games combined. He does have eight of his 14 receptions on the season over those same seven games, but after seeing a fair amount of touches early in the season Gerhart has moved into an insignificant role in the Vikings’ offense.
Peterson’s outstanding performance, as he has topped 100 rushing yards in six straight games and is the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,446 yards right now, has certainly played a role in Gerhart’s reduced role. Taking Peterson off the field is purely foolish at this point, especially with wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) being placed on injured reserve this week.
Does Gerhart have a long-term future with the Vikings? It’s a worthy question, and one that may have a complicated answer.
Gerhart has been productive when given the opportunity to be Minnesota’s workhorse back, including 85 carries for 413 yards with 18 catches for 129 yards and four total touchdowns (three receiving) over the final six games of the 2011 season. Of course Peterson missed all or part of five of those games with an ankle issue and then his knee injury, but Gerhart made the most of his opportunity and proved he could handle a significant workload if Peterson was eased back into action early this season.
But that did not come to fruition, as Peterson had 17 carries for 84 yards with two touchdowns in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and basically has not looked back. Gerhart may not have done himself any favors with the coaching staff with some late-game fumble issues in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers, but there is just no room for him right now in the Vikings’ backfield mix.
2013 will be the final season of Gerhart’s rookie contract, and he is due to make just $575,000 in base salary. Trades are rare in the NFL outside of leading up to and during the draft in April, but a team that is looking to bolster their running back depth may be willing to offer a draft pick for him.
Gerhart has the ability to be an asset for the Vikings on the field, but without the promise of a bigger role behind one of the league’s best running backs he may be best used as a potential trade chip heading toward the 2013 season. Peterson’s injury issues at times during his career may make may Gerhart a valuable piece for the Vikings going forward, but I think trading him is something general manager Rick Spielman and the personnel department needs to think about as the season winds down and an offseason plan is formed.