Stanford's Gerhart answers speed questions
STANFORD, Calif. — Toby Gerhart needed 4.53 seconds to answer whatever questions his 1,871 yards and Heisman Trophy runner-up status couldn't during a brilliant final season at Stanford.
Perceived as a future fullback for much of his college career, Gerhart might finally have silenced his critics with a faster-than-expected 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine.
"It answered a lot of questions in terms of speed," Gerhart said. "For the most part, teams are accepting me now as a running back. It's crazy, but that's what it came down to."
With his speed no longer a question, Gerhart has moved up many draft boards and is expected to be selected in the second or third round this week. Gerhart has visited Denver, Philadelphia, Baltimore and San Diego, as well as working out for the New York Jets.
Now all that's left is the waiting.
"It's been really exciting," he said. "Basically this whole year has been like living my childhood dream."
Gerhart led the nation in rushing his senior season and was also tops with 28 touchdowns as he helped lead the Cardinal to their best season in eight years. He was at his best down the stretch when he averaged 185.5 yards rushing per game, ran for 13 touchdowns and threw another as Stanford won three of four over Oregon, Southern California, California and Notre Dame.
That helped vault Gerhart to the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and the runner-up position in the Heisman Trophy to Alabama's Mark Ingram in the closest vote ever.
"This year really helped me getting on the radar," Gerhart said. "I might have been on their radar as a little blip or something before, but I think this year really got their attention."
Gerhart has been fighting stereotypes most of his career, as many people have a difficult time projecting a 6-foot, 231-pound white guy as an NFL halfback.
There were no starting white tailbacks in the NFL last season, something Gerhart is reminded of every time he is compared to a white fullback like Mike Alstott instead of a tailback like Eddie George or Corey Dillon who he feels are more similar.
Even now that he has answered concerns about his speed, he is facing other criticisms as draft experts nitpick every detail of every prospect.
"His only negative that I see is he's not a real elusive player," said NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt, who praised Gerhart's production and effort. "History tells us that guys who are straight-line guys have harder times being successful than they do in college football because the people you play against aren't as fast or strong as in the NFL."
Gerhart thrives on criticism, using every slight to add fuel to his motivational fire.
Despite setting a California high school record for yards rushing, USC would only recruit him as a fullback or linebacker. After running for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior, Gerhart was still being told his future was as a fullback not a tailback.
"At every level, it's been, 'You can't do this or you can't do that,"' he said. "It just motivates you to be in the weight room, work that much harder and prove people wrong," he said. "That's just part of being a competitor. You want to be the best and just show people you're the best. When you have critics, you just work to prove them wrong."
Gerhart did that in college and now hopes to repeat that in the NFL. One of his loudest backers is his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, who has been giving NFL teams glowing reviews whenever he is asked about his former star running back.
"He's a tailback. He's a 1 or a 2," Harbaugh said. "To a team committed to running the ball I don't think there's a better fourth quarter running back. I think he's going to be a tremendous NFL player. No matter who gets him, they're getting a hell of a player."
While Gerhart wants to prove that he is an NFL halfback, it is his ability to also play fullback that makes him even more attractive to teams.
Many teams value versatility and Gerhart provides just that. He said teams he has met with leading up to the draft have talked about the different mismatches he can create by lining up with another tailback. That would prevent the defense to key in on one back or allow the offense to move one back in motion as a receiver without losing the running threat.
"What I like about him is that I think he can play two positions for you. I'm not going to pigeonhole him into the fullback thing," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "He could play some fullback for you if you needed him to because he's tough enough and I think he'll block, but he can also be an I tailback that can push the pile. And to me the I tailback that can push the pile has more value. So I think you start him there, and I think he can have a dual role depending on what team drafts him."