The Jacksonville Jaguars took an aggressive step toward relevance in the NFL this offseason.
They signed former Seattle Seahawks’ Chris Clemons and Red Bryant to help the defense and former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles to solidify the offensive line during free agency. These three signings caught the media headlines because of the recent Super Bowl experience each of these players had. However, the most important signing of the offseason was running back Toby Gerhart. Here, I take a look at Gerhart’s past, his importance to the Jaguars offense, and project his stats for the upcoming season.
College and Early NFL Career
Toby Gerhart looked like the next great running back as he tore through Pac-12 defenses at Stanford University during his collegiate years. In 2009, he ran for 1,871 yards and scored 28 touchdowns on the ground as he led Stanford to national relevance. Stanford upset #7 Oregon behind 223 yards from Gerhart, beat #11 Southern California (sorry Trojan fans, the real USC is located in Columbia, South Carolina) in the LA Coliseum, and finished the season 8-4. Gerhart finished second in the Heisman trophy voting. Mark Ingram won the award by a mere 28 points making the 2009 Heisman voting the second closest vote ever. He had all of the skills and abilities that NFL scouts and general managers look for in a running back: power, agility, athleticism, and a good work effort. As a Stanford guy, no one had any questions about Gerhart’s intelligence and capability to learn an NFL offensive scheme. Just ask Notre Dame if they thought Gerhart was NFL ready following this run during the Stanford vs. Notre Dame game in 2009.
Unfortunately for Gerhart, he fell into a difficult situation that happens to a handful of players each spring during the NFL Draft. This situation can be simply described by being drafted by the wrong team at the wrong time. Minnesota selected Gerhart with the 51st pick in the 2010 NFL draft. It is always fantastic for a player to reach the NFL, but Gerhart was now stuck behind
work-horse, bulldozer, Hercules-in-disguise Adrian Peterson. Peterson was coming off of his third straight season with over 1,300 rushing yards and 10 or more touchdowns and showed no signs of slowing up. This meant that Gerhart was relegated to holding a clipboard and getting only the occasional third down opportunity to be productive.
2014 Season Projections
This offseason, as an unrestricted free agent, Gerhart jumped at the chance to be a feature back in the NFL and signed with Jacksonville. Jacksonville is looking to establish itself as a run-based offensive team. So, needless to say, Gerhart is expected to be productive. Both quarterbacks the Jaguars may play this season (Chad Henne or Blake Bortles) are
praying hoping for a solid running game to help open up the passing attack. Gerhart is a power running back who can run between the tackles and break through weak arm tackles. He will be expected to carry the offensive load, especially early in the season. Although he is already 27-years-old, Gerhart only has 276 total carries in the NFL which is equivalent to about one full season for the average NFL running back. As long as he is in shape and stays injury free, Gerhart should expect to be the Jaguars running back for the next three or four years.
As for this season, Gerhart may have a tough time getting things going early on. With the lack of a proven passing attack, defense coordinators will likely stack the box with eight or nine defensive players to stop Gerhart. As the offensive line begins to gel and the quarterback play progresses, I predict that Gerhart will begin to see larger holes and more running lanes. Most running backs get nicked up for a game or two during a full season, so I predict that Gerhart will play in 14 of 16 games. He will have around 285 carries for 1,226 yards and 8 TD’s. Gerhart’s 4.3 yards-per-carry average will be a solid go-to for Jacksonville’s offense. However, he will not quite be able to lead the Jaguars to the playoffs. It’s time for Toby Gerhart to show the NFL what he’s got, and I predict that Gerhart will not disappoint.