It'd be easy to dismiss a fifth-year NFL running back as not being a candidate for a "breakout season," but that's exactly what Jacksonville Jaguars newly signed starter Toby Gerhart should be considered entering the 2014 season.
For the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, Gerhart carried the ball just 36 times for 283 yards, good for a 7.9 yards per carry average.
While it's not much in terms of production, which tends to happen when you play behind a player as talented as Adrian Peterson, there also wasn't a lot of wear and tear put on Gerhart's body with the few amount of carries.
This is an important characteristic for all running backs, but especially for Gerhart considering he's a bigger, more physical running back whose style warrants contact and punishment.
Gerhart signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Jaguars back in March, which included $4.5 million in guaranteed money.
The Jaguars' running back depth chart includes Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and rookie Storm Johnson.
All signs point to Gerhart as getting the lion's share of the carries within this Jaguars offense next season.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said as much according to a transcript from the Pro Football Writers of America, via ProFootballTalk.com.
“He (Gerhart) has the ability to play all three downs,” Bradley said. “How many carries he gets — we would like to run the ball over 40 percent of the time. There might be 28-30 carries in a game and there aren’t more running backs that carry more than 20 times a game.
“If he’s a guy that is carrying it 15-16 times and with third-down reps, 18 times. That’s feasible. A strong possibility.”
For Gerhart, this kind of a workload is going to be new, and that's going to present its own challenges in terms of staying healthy and fresh.
Here are Gerhart's season-by-season numbers throughout his career.
|Toby Gerhart's career numbers (All with Vikings)|
Now if what coach Bradley is saying comes true, Gerhart averaging 18 carries per game would come out to 288 carries during the 16-game regular season, which is 12 more than he has in his entire four-year career thus far.
Those numbers from Bradley are just guesses, obviously, and anything can happen to change the number of carries Gerhart will have.
But the physical style of Gerhart's run game combined with a sharp increase in carries will make his season-long health something to keep an eye on.
Gerhart seems ready for that challenge, via Jaguars.com.
“I’ve been working hard to get my body back in shape for that kind of beating and cardio-wise and all that stuff, Gerhart said. "I’m excited for the opportunity."
A leading role, more carries and high expectations aside, let's take a look at what Gerhart brings to the Jaguars offense from a skill set perspective.
"Power" backs are known for their strong lower-halves and their ability to run with a low pad level.
Simply put, they don't allow tacklers an easy lane to their midsection and they force the defensive player to power their way through their shoulder pads while attacking a smaller target.
Here's what that looks like from an overhead perspective.
Late in the game against the Ravens, Gerhart takes the handoff on the inside draw and rumbles for a touchdown.
Getting into space was fairly easy considering the defensive alignment the Ravens were running late in the game, having just two players inside the two Vikings offensive tackles.
But once Gerhart got into the open field he was approached by three defensive backs, all of whom had a shot at him. But Gerhart protected the ball with both arms and lowered his pads upon contact, rumbling his way through the attempted tackles and down the field for a touchdown.
Gerhart showed a little bit of speed to get out and down the field, but more so displayed the strength to stay balanced and drive through these attempted tackles.
On this next play you'll see just enough burst from Gerhart that he picks up an extra five yards. It's not a highlight-reel play, but it's a good indication of him having "just enough" quickness and burst to get those extra few yards when a lane presents itself.
Gerhart takes the handoff and follows his fullback outside of the right tackle. The interior offensive line does a good job initially of stonewalling the defensive tackles to give Gerhart a downhill angle to get to the outside.
Any penetration that would cause Gerhart to stop his feet in the backfield would be difficult for him to recover, but on this particular play he kicked it to the outside before seeing the Green Bay Packers outside defensive back (No. 31) force him back to the inside.
He cuts it back inside, and then shows enough burst to get up the field before the backside pursuit catches up with him and doesn't allow any more yardage.
It's his ability to plant that right foot and burst forward that gets him through running lanes already starting to close.
It's not a highlight play you'll see on a Gerhart YouTube video, but it displays the relative quickness of this "bigger" back that can turn a two- or three-yard gain into seven or eight, with the vision to get downfield.
Again, Gerhart covers the ball and lowers his pads before contact, dragging a couple of defenders down with him.
If he can stay healthy in 2014, Gerhart should have a breakout season for the Jaguars and will finally come out of the shadow of Adrian Peterson, whose legacy would have followed Gerhart anywhere.
People will most associate him with his time in Minnesota until he's given them a reason to think otherwise.
The stage is set for Gerhart to change that perception, and don't be surprised when he does exactly that in Jacksonville.