Tate to Browns, Gerhart to JaxWednesday, March 19, 2014
The Jaguars shocked the world by giving career backup Gerhart $10.5 million over three years, including $4.5 million in guaranteed money on the first day of free agency.
The deal almost assures Gerhart will be the lead back next season in Jacksonville, and that reality leads to a very important question. How effective will Gerhart be in that role?
Uninspiring was the first word that came to mind. Everything Gerhart has ever put on tape screams plodder that gets what is blocked and not much else. As many people kindly pointed out on Twitter, however, Gerhart’s career per-play numbers are actually impressive.
Gerhart sports an excellent 4.7 average on 276 career carries and has 1,905 total yards with eight touchdowns in only 353 career touches.
Using those numbers alone, it is not crazy to project Gerhart for 1,400 total yards and six total touchdowns in a full-time role. That would make him top-end RB2 and worthy of a pick early in the third round.
The problem is those numbers are horribly misleading.
The majority of Gerhart's career carries came behind a top-five run blocking offensive line. From 2010 to 2013, the Vikings finished third, first, and sixth in ProFootballFocus’ run blocking rankings. Jacksonville, on the other hand, ranked dead last in run blocking last season, and it was not particularly close.
The Jags have signed overrated guard Zane Beadles and should address the position further in the draft, but even a substantial improvement in run blocking would only be good enough to vault them into the middle third of the league.
There is a more important reason than blocking to doubt Gerhart’s per-play numbers, though.
Gerhart spent almost his entire career as a third-down, situational running back in Minnesota, meaning a disproportionate amount of his 276 career carries have come on third down or second and long. These are traditionally passing situations that afford a running back larger running lanes than they get in more traditional running situations.
To see how he might fare as a starter, it is important to pick out games in which Gerhart actually filled that role.
Gerhart played at least half the Vikings' offensive snaps in seven games over his four years with the team. In those games, Gerhart had 132 carries for 552 yards and three touchdowns. That 4.18 yards per carry average is considerably lower than his 4.7 YPC overall and much more in line with the skill set Gerhart has displayed on tape.
In context, then, it is fairly easy to see his 4.7 career YPC is not indicative of his ability as a ball carrier. He is much closer to a four-yard-per-carry plodder, and that makes him nothing more than a RB3 with very little upside in Jacksonville’s underwhelming offense.