The Jaguars made a surprising splash on the first day of free agency after signing running back Toby Gerhart to a three-year, $10.5 million contract with $4.5 million guaranteed. Yes, that Toby Gerhart suddenly finds himself as a hot topic at every fantasy water cooler in America right about now. With Maurice Jones-Drew likely on the move and a depth chart that includes the likes of Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson at the moment, Gerhart suddenly finds himself in a situation few thought he’d be in tonight – he could be a starting running back in the NFL.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back.
Gerhart is best known for being an incredibly productive college player while at Stanford. In fact, his Senior season is still almost folklore as he rushed for 1,871 yards and scored 27 touchdowns on a healthy 5.5 yards per carry. Gerhart also impressed at the NFL Draft Combine as he posted a 4.47 40, 20 reps on the bench press, a 38″ vertical leap and the highest score in the Wonderlic with a 30. As a result, Gerhart was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft as the 51st overall selection by the Minnesota Vikings. He played out his four year contract as the backup to Adrian Peterson and posted an admirable 1,305 rushing yards on 276 attempts (good for a 4.7 yards per carry average) and five total touchdowns as a Viking.
If you were playing in dynasty leagues back in 2010, you’ll remember Gerhart was one of the most polarizing players in rookie drafts that season, much like Johnny Manziel is this year. Nobody really knew if he could produce at a higher level and he landed in a borderline awful situation when it came to playing time, so drafting Gerhart required someone with patience. Realistically, most people who drafted him likely gave up him already as he’s been good, but not great at the NFL level. He can punish people at the line of scrimmage, but he hasn’t shown the ability to break many tackles or make a play out of nothing, In short, we haven’t seen that “it” factor from Gerhart thus far.
In Jacksonville, Gerhart suddenly sits on top of the depth chart. When the news of his signing hit, Twitter practically did an Ellen DeGeneres photo explosion as people starting anointing him a great fantasy option. I’m on record as being a tad more skeptical for a few reasons.
First, while Gerhart landed in a great spot for playing time, the Jaguars are likely going to have a rookie quarterback playing at some point in the season. Opposing defenses will be stacking the box and daring the Jags to throw the ball. In fact, they’ll do that with Chad Henne right out of the gate. Gerhart will undoubtedly find the sledding a little different when defenses aren’t gassed from chasing Peterson around.
Second, it’s very early in the off-season. The Jags could easily add another running back during free agency or the NFL Draft. They also still have Jordan Todman on the roster who showed some ability last season and was a bright spot during an abysmal season. I could see the depth chart look a little different when September rolls around. In short, this is a dangerous time to start putting labels on any player not named Peterson, Megatron or Rodgers.
Finally, Gerhart has never shown that unique ability to truly be elite. In fact, he’s looked quite average during major stretches in his career. There’s no guarantee he’ll get the bell cow touches in Jacksonville and even if he does, there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll do a lot with them. In fact, even though he’s likely going to be a goal line back, the Jags aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut that reaches the red zone every possession. Again, we just haven’t seen anything dynamic from Gerhart thus far.
This is a great landing spot for Gerhart, there’s no doubt about that. Time will tell if he will truly reach his potential, but it looks like he’ll get his best chance. Owners of Gerhart should be ecstatic, but grounded at the same time. He’s currently the RB71 in our March ADP and you can expect that to skyrocket over the next month. When I look at this situation and think of all the things working against Gerhart being incredibly successful, my gut says to sell him if you can get RB2/3 or WR2/3 value for him. The hype train will go off the tracks over the next few months, but is the starting running back in Jacksonville (if he even truly earns that title) right now an incredibly desirable position in fantasy football? Regardless, this is at least a moderate win for his owners because he’ll have a puncher’s chance to be successful. Gerhart has known nothing but spot duty in his time with the Vikings, but now the Jags hope he earns his spots in a different way.
Free agency always throws us a curveball and this one was a serious knee buckler.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK