During the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected Toby Gerhart to back up superstar running back Adrian Peterson. Since then, the Vikings have had the luxury of entering training camp each season knowing that the running back position was solidified. Following Gerhart’s offseason departure, the Vikings will enter training camp not knowing who Peterson’s backup will be for the first time in five seasons. After an impressive showing late in 2013, Matt Asiata will be one of multiple players competing to be listed behind Peterson on the Vikings’ running back depth chart.
After spending the majority of his relatively short NFL career on either the Vikings practice squad or sidelines, Asiata finally got his chance late last season. With both Peterson and Gerhart sidelined with injuries, Asiata was given the starting nod Week 15 last season against the Philadelphia Eagles. Asiata made the most out of his opportunity, rushing for his first three career touchdowns. He would receive another start in Week 17, finishing the season with a total of 175 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
While Asiata played well in his two starts in relief of Peterson and Gerhart last season, the Vikings still felt the need to add running back depth during the 2014 NFL Draft. As a result, Asiata will compete with electric rookie Jerick McKinnon, as well as third-year running back Joe Banyard and versatile fullback Zach Line for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
In 2013, the Vikings opted to keep four running backs on their 53-man roster, which included Asiata. Given his impressive minicamp showing and high round draft status, McKinnon should join Peterson and fullback Jerome Felton as roster locks. As a result, one spot will remain on the roster for Asiata, Line or Banyard, assuming the Vikings choose to once again keep four running backs.
McKinnon may be the favorite to be the No. 2 listed running back behind Peterson on the Vikings depth chart, but Asiata’s skill set offers much more certainty in this role. Asiata is more of a between-the-tackles rusher, while McKinnon projects more as a situational, change-of-pace running back in his rookie season. Simply, McKinnon and Asiata will likely share the role of backup running back, being used in positions that best suit their respective skill sets.
Expect for Asiata to be the Vikings’ early down backup to Peterson, while McKinnon receives most of his playing time on third down and in clear passing situations.