Toby Gerhart: Brute Force
March 18, 2014 | Nathan Miller
Last week, dynasty league managers popped a cork and celebrated the start of the 2014 season with the opening of free agency. The event breaks the doldrums of the offseason and leads into a wave of NFL happenings. One acquisition that intrigued me more than most was the Jacksonville Jaguars signing of Toby Gerhart.
Gerhart, the four year back-up to future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson, has seen minimal work since entering the NFL. He carries with him a stunning statistical past, minimal tread on a 26 year-old frame, and extensive experience working under one of the best in the league. But as with any free agency move, many times the excitement of NFL related action clouds a manager’s judgment. Much like a Dustin Diamond show at your local night club, it’s intriguing, but is it worth the money?
Gerhart’s collegiate career was nothing short of impressive. After missing his first starting season to a knee injury, Gerhart went on to rush for over 1100 yards and 15 scores in 2008, and followed that up his senior year with nearly 1900 yards and a mind-boggling 28 touchdowns. His success led to a Heisman nomination, to which he finished second in voting to Mark Ingram (sad, I know).
First impressions of Gerhart often include his size. As refresher, Toby Gerhart is a big dude. Not “Beep, beep, back-up-the-bus” big, but “Dude, playa don’t play” big. His size can lead misconceptions of slow moving objects that make deliberately wide turns, but this is not the case with Gerhart. Draftniks describe his prowess as vision, lateral agility, power, soft hands, swashbuckling (disclaimer: may not be a real thing), etc. Gerhart’s a talent on the field, and has the size to facilitate his success. A brief look back on combine scores (notably, 40s) revealed some alluring information. Regardless of how much you buy into 40s or cones, it’s a fun experiment in comparisons.
|Year||Name||H||W||40||Press||Vert Leap||B Jump||Shuttle||3Cone|
Not everyone runs their best 40 at the combine (and I have not earned admission into The U of Draftnik yet), but at 231lbs, Gerhart shares company with notable small guys, shifty backs, and situational/3rd down players, as well as a handful of “pounders” that while similar in score, weigh a large infant-to-toddler less than him. He is the heaviest of the bunch, yet performed at or near the top in vertical leap, broad jump, and 3 cone drills while maintaining a respectable (but not flashy) 40 time.
Gerhart was drafted in 2010 by Minnesota in the second round (#4 RB off the board), and spent the next four seasons under NFL great AP/All Day/Superman, which is great for erudition, but terrible for action.
The first thing about Gerhart’s numbers that jumps out are his Yards-per-Attempt (Y/A). Over four seasons (2013 was admittedly weak for attempts) he’s averaged 4.7 yards-per-attempt. Not a pedestrian number, as it averages out to about the 12th best RB in Y/A over the last 4 years.
The next stat that “makes it move” is Gerhart’s receptions. With involvement in only 28% of Minnesota’s offensive snaps through four seasons, Gerhart managed to cross 20 receptions three times. Those numbers are knocking on the door of Peterson, Lynch, and Mathews territory; and crossing the line of Gores and Morris’, all of which are primary backs in their respective offenses. With little competition from the current Jacksonville backfield, Gerhart could easily be seen as a three-down-back.
As tantalizing as that all is, there is a very big BUT hampering the excitement of things to come – The Jacksonville Jaguars. Finishing 31st in rushing, the Jags lacked talent up front, were converting to a new zone-blocking scheme, and suffered some crippling injuries to make matters worse.
In 2013, the Jacksonville O-line finished at, or near, the bottom in rush blocking rankings. Conversely, the Vikings ranked as a top tier unit. In 2013, the Jaguars realized their impending weakness and wisely spent the #2 overall pick on OT Luke Joeckel. Unfortunately, Joeckel was lost for the season before he could help. Jacksonville somewhat salvaged their poor luck by slowly stabilizing the talent on their “Red Rover” line, and found a balance in their zone blocking brought in by Bradley.
In 2014, Jacksonville made early free agency news with the signing of LG Zane Beadles, formerly of the Denver Broncos. Beadle has been a consistent blocker (although down in 2013), and will solidify the blind side with LT Luke Joeckel. They still have a gap at center due to Brad Meester’s retirement after 14 years with the Jags, but as of this writing the Jags are reportedly about $40 million under cap and have the ability to make it rain in free agency and shore up areas of need.
Gerhart’s role in a new offense raised some questions. His contract was an initial indicator of how Jacksonville felt about him ($4.5 million guaranteed), but a resounding high-five occurred when Head Coach Gus Bradley was quoted with an indication that Gerhart would receive 15-20 touches a game, which is plenty to make an impact.
Final take – Gerhart is clearly a baller, with both the stats and skills to be considered a relevant primary back in the National Football League. The landing spot could have been better, but it appears the volume will exist. I feel Gerhart will find initial success on a roster as an RB2, with potential to creep higher in 2015-16 if Jacksonville continues to work on deficits.