A couple weeks ago I wrote about Chris Johnson and what I expected from the running back with his new squad, the Jets. Today I turn my attention to another running back that changed teams in the offseason, Toby Gerhart. The hard charging runner was often glued to the bench with the Vikings serving as Adrian Peterson‘s backup for the last four years, but now he becomes the lead back with the Jaguars. I’m a fan of what the former Stanford Cardinal brings to the table.
The bowling ball back was the Heisman Trophy runner up in his final season with Stanford in 2009 when he carried the load for then head coach Jim Harbaugh totaling 1,871 yards rushing at 5.5 yards-per-carry with 28 touchdowns. It was Gerhart’s second consecutive 1,000-plus yard rushing season as he’d carried the ball 210 times for 1,136 yards at 5.5 yards-per-carry the season before. His bruiser running style earned him a second round selection, and one that cost the Vikings a steep price to make having moved up 11 spots to grab him. In his four seasons in purple Gerhart made six starts in which he totaled 90 carries for 405 yards rushing at 4.5 yards-per-carry with one rushing touchdown and 18 receptions on 21 targets for 143 yards receiving and one score. That breaks down to just over 90 yards-per-game from scrimmage as a starter which isn’t too shabby. In his career as a Viking he carried the ball for 1,305 yards at a healthy 4.7 yards-per-carry and five rushing touchdowns. After barely being utilized in the passing game in college, he showcased some pass catching skills catching 20 or more passes in each of his first three years in the league despite being the backup running back. The biggest blemish on Gerhart’s NFL resume is seven fumbles.
After serving as a bell cow in college, he hasn’t worn off much tread from the tires in the NFL, and he’s something of a young 27-year old back with the Jaguars. Maurice-Jones Drew has moved on from the club that drafted him and is now back home in Oakland with the Raiders, and the show is Gerhart’s in an inexperienced backfield. Unfortunately Gerhart goes from a top-10 run blocking team with the Vikings, according to Football Outsiders, to a team that ranked next to last in adjusted line yards with the Jaguars. The men in black and teal figure to improve upon that rank this year, since Luke Joekel will be in his second year, the team spent a third-round pick in this year’s draft on guard Brandon Linder, and they also added signed guard Zane Beadles. The Jaguars still figure to be a below average unit, though, and have concerns at center and right guard according to Michael DiRocco of ESPN.
The Jaguars offense as a whole should be better this season as they’ve jettisoned quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the three starts he made last year off the roster. They’ve also added playmaking wide receivers Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson, who I wrote about in a draft review for Fantasy Sports Live earlier this offseason, and they should help improve a stagnant Jaguars passing game regardless of who is under center. Speaking of the quarterbacks on the roster, Chad Henne will not be asked to pull a Peyton Manning impersonation, and even if Blake Bortles knocks the club’s socks off and takes the job at some point this year, look for head coach Gus Bradley to go ground-and-pound with his new toy in the backfield.
Feature backs are a dying breed in the NFL, with many teams going to running-back-by-committee to take advantage of varying skills from a mix of different backs. Drafting a back that can be counted on for steady touches can be invaluable, and in Gerhart’s case, if the offense in Jacksonville gels quicker than expected, he’ll provide a monstrous return on his fantasy owner’s investment. Even if the offense doesn’t immediately put it together, heavy usage should make Gerhart a steady contributor and provide him a relatively high floor.
Fantasy Football Calculator has Gerhart’s average draft position at pick 49 in standard drafts, and pick 51 in PPR leagues. I would take him a full round ahead of both average draft positions, and I’d rather have him than similarly ranked backs such as Ben Tate, Frank Gore, and Ryan Matthews. In the case of Gore and Matthews, both are better backs than Gerhart on better clubs, but they are now in crowded backfields thanks to offseason additions such as Carlos Hyde and Donald Brown. I would much rather spend a third or fourth round pick (which both would be ahead of his projected top of the fifth round ADP) on Gerhart than burning a late one or second round pick on LeVeon Bell, Zac Stacy, or Giovani Bernard.
In 2013 Jones-Drew rushed for 803 yards and added 314 yards receiving for a total of 1,117 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns in 2013 in 15 games. On an improved Jaguars squad I think Gerhart will best Jones-Drew’s numbers and eclipse 1,300 yards from scrimmage and a half dozen touchdowns. Something in the neighborhood of 1,100-1,200 yards rushing with 200-300 yards receiving and eight touchdowns feels right to me.