Good things come to those who wait, or so the expression goes. It certainly came true for Aaron Rodgers, who shared that wisdom with Geno Smith during the 2013 NFL Draft. The same can be true for backup running backs. Michael Turner was LaDainian Tomlinson's capable backup for four years before getting a chance to shine on his own in Atlanta in 2008, and boy did he shine brightly. Turner finished second in fantasy scoring among running backs, posting 272 fantasy points thanks to his 1,699 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.
As fantasy owners turn their attention toward the 2014 season, Toby Gerhart appears poised for a breakout now that he has emerged from Adrian Peterson's shadow to serve as the bell-cow back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But what's in store for Gerhart as he assumes his first leading role since he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in his final year at Stanford? Will he enjoy a Michael Turner-esque breakout? Or will he become the latest "buyer beware" fantasy bust story? Using GameRewind, I dug into Gerhart's limited NFL snaps to divine what sort of fantasy future is in store for the bruising running back.
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Don't know Toby Gerhart? Don't worry, you're not alone. Aside from an off-hand reference on FXX's The League and a handful of fill-in starts for an injured Adrian Peterson (six career starts in four years), Gerhart is a relative NFL and fantasy unknown after his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings. Yet as I mentioned above, he was a highly productive collegiate athlete and really should have won the 2009 Heisman Trophy instead of Mark Ingram, but that's neither here nor there.
Gerhart is a 6-foot tall, 230-pound sledgehammer of a back who will now lead the Jacksonville Jaguars stable of rushers. He lacks lateral speed, but has great burst when steam-rolling between the tackles. He routinely breaks arm tackles and is a beast at getting yards after contact. Last season, he led all backs with a ludicrous 3.8 yards per carry after contact (minimum 199 carries), and has a career average of 2.8 yards per carry after contact. That equates to extra fantasy points every time he touches the ball. With only 276 rushes to date in his career, Gerhart has fresh legs and is ready to prove he can be a top-tier NFL running back.
When it came to running the football in 2013, the Jaguars ranked 31st in yards (1,260) and yards per attempt (3.3). In fact, there were five individual running backs who accumulated more yards on the ground than the entire Jaguars team in 2013. To help solve the problem, the Jaguars brought in talented guard Zane Beadles along with Gerhart. Last year's top pick Luke Joeckel will return from injury to solidify the right side of the line with Beadles, and while 14-year veteran center Brad Meester has retired, the athletic Mike Brewster has been waiting in the wings and should fill in just fine.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch likes to keep the tempo high in his offense, as he did while coaching the University of Miami Hurricanes from 2011 to 2012. He also mixes in a fair amount of both zone-blocking and power-rushing concepts, sometimes one play after the other.
While in Minnesota, Gerhart excelled running these between-the-tackles plays. He embodies all of the classic running back clichés such as "keeping his legs churning," "running angry" and "falling forward." He's a tough hombre to bring down once he's past the line of scrimmage. But he's not just a bruising fullback who lines up at tailback. Gerhart doesn't have the quickest feet, but he's very good and planting his foot and driving through the hole. Take a look at the video to the right, from the end of 2011 when Gerhart was filling in for an injured Adrian Peterson. Gerhart shows patience following his blocks, planting his foot, and driving through the hole. He even drags two tacklers for an extra few yards.
Fantasy impact: The Jaguars admittedly aren't a dream fantasy team for any skill position player. However, they have some talented pieces in place, and with a coach and coordinator who want to run the ball more effectively, Gerhart should be given every chance to succeed in the offense. That means plenty of touches should be coming his way, and hopefully plenty of fantasy points as well.
Tale of the tape
Gerhart has the skills to be a three-down back in the NFL. He is powerful, has good vision, surprising straight-line speed and soft hands to catch passes out of the backfield. After watching him fill in for Adrian Peterson in various situations, Gerhart showed the ability to thrive in all types of downs and distances. The Jaguars may have found themselves a steal in free agency, but more importantly, they could have netted fantasy owners a steal in drafts.
This isn't to say Gerhart's game isn't without its flaws. Chief among them is his deficiency at reaching the corner on stretch plays and off-tackle runs. Gerhart has speed, and if you need proof check out his 41-yard touchdown run against the Ravens last season in the video to the right. However, that speed doesn't translate when he's running east and west. I routinely saw Gerhart getting caught from behind or stymied at the line when trying to get outside. Not only is he not as fast moving laterally, but he loses his greatest asset, his strength and power, when defenders can hit him from the side. If the Jaguars try to run him outside repeatedly, they're going to have a bad time. So too will fantasy owners when they see Gerhart posting 10 carries for 14 yards at halftime.
Fantasy impact: Gerhart's combination of size, talent and fresh legs should net him solid fantasy output next season. While watching his game tape, I was frequently reminded of Gerhart's former NFC North rival, Eddie Lacy. Both are big backs, with surprising quickness. Gerhart isn't going to be a highlight show staple, nor is he going to juke people out of their shoes like LeSean McCoy. What he will do is very rarely run for negative yards, and when opportunity strikes gash opponents for a big gain (see the highlight above). He's not going to be the sexiest pick in fantasy drafts, but at the end of the year, who cares how a running back racked up 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns? As long as those points are heading to your fantasy bank, it doesn't matter if they came spectacularly or on a barrage of four-yard face plants.
Gerhart has fallen into a perfect storm of talent, size and opportunity, which means his draft stock will most likely be rising as the fantasy season approaches. In Michael Fabiano's latest five-round, one-man fantasy mock draft he doesn't have Gerhart cracking the first five rounds. That's not wholly surprising, but after what I watched Gerhart put on tape, I'd likely take him over either Shane Vereen or Chris Johnson, who Fabiano has going in the middle of Round 5 as a rock solid RB3.
If Justin Blackmon returns from his indefinite suspension, or the Jaguars add a dynamic pass-catcher in the upcoming NFL draft, Gerhart's value will rise accordingly. Bringing it full circle, Michael Turner had an ADP (average draft position) of around the fourth or fifth round back in 2008, and those owners bold enough to take the risk and draft the unproven rusher that high were richly rewarded. Good things do come to those who wait. Just don't wait too long to draft Gerhart this fall.
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