Mitch Linsley, Dump and Change Sports | July 6th, 2017
EDEN PRAIRIE, MN – It’s the middle of the summer and OTAs are in the rearview with training camp on the horizon. As the Vikings prepare to make their final end of summer trip to Mankato, a few number one spots on the depth chart remain unsolidified. The most intriguing of these spots? Running back.
As of now, the Vikings have 3 capable running backs on the roster capable of getting the starting job against the New Orleans Saints week 1 on Monday Night Football.
First is Jerick McKinnon, who has spent the last three years with the team backing up Adrian Peterson. Next is Latavius Murray, acquired in free agency after spending three productive seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Finally we have Dalvin Cook, taken by the Vikings with their first pick in the draft at 41 out of Florida State. Although the style and skillset of these backs vary, a legitimate case can be made for each to win the starting job. Because of this versatility in the backfield, I believe all 3 of the players will make the final 52 and stay with the team headed into the regular season.
Let’s start with McKinnon. In the past 3 season, McKinnon has played in 43 games, starting just 13 of them while splitting time with Matt Asiata as co-number twos. In his 43 appearances he’s rushed the ball 324 times for 1,348 yards and just 4 touchdowns. These are typical backup numbers. His longest single rush was 68 yards (which he’s done twice) and he has never fumbled the ball in his career. What makes a strong case for his versatility are his above average receiving abilities. In 3 seasons, “Jet” has caught 91 balls on 123 targets for 563 yards and 3 touchdowns. These numbers aren’t astronomical by any means but they indicate that he is indeed a dual threat back. What also intrigues me about McKinnon is the fact that team personnel have raved about his progression throughout the offseason and OTAs. Although nothing has been seen yet, it’s clear that Jerick expect to make a push to get a significant share of touches at RB this season. Jerick does have some downside. Although he works hard, his size limits him. He stands at 5’9”, 205 lbs. Which means his blocking can be somewhat inefficient and he’s fairly easy to tackle and get by; not ideal in a passing league. Here are some of his highlights: Jerick McKinnon Highlights
Now we have Latavius Murray who the Vikings picked up back in March. Murray was a good pickup for many reasons. The primary reason is his short yardage efficiency. People who follow the Raiders closely can attest to the fact that in short yardage situations, like 3rd and 1, 4th and 1 or goal line offense, Latavius was always the go-to guy. That’s why he was able to accumulate 12 touchdowns last season and put up formidable fantasy numbers. A goal line rusher is something this team needed badly last season. I don’t know about you but whenever we got inside the 10 yard line, I automatically assumed we were going to kick a field goal. Having Murray will give this team the downhill rusher we desperately need in short yardage situations. In 3 seasons with Oakland, he’s appeared in 45 games. On 543 carries he’s picked up 2,278 yards and found the endzone 20 times. Keep in mind 12 of those came last season so he’s coming off the best statistical year of his career. Although not knows as a pass-catcher calling Murray 1 dimensional would not be doing him justice. He has 91 receptions on 119 targets for 639 yards but has yet to find the end zone. These numbers indicate that he’s often available to catch a quick dump pass, something that’s important for teams with a bad offensive line. Murray also has a reputation of of being a good pass blocker (something AP was terrible at) which makes sense because he stands at 6’3”, 230 lbs. Having a running back that can block in the passing game is something this team has lacked for years which has limited the offense immensely. Sam Bradford won’t have to worry as much about getting drilled from the blind side when he drops back with Latavius in the backfield. I think Murray will make an instant impact on this team but he does come with some downside. He had surgery on a broken ankle in the offseason which could lower his workload capacity and limit his production. It also needs to be taken into account that he was rushing behind one of the best offensive lines in football. After having an awful O-Line the past few seasons, it is unlikely the Vikings’ line will come close to that of the Raiders’ in terms of productivity. His highlights from last season can be seen here.
Last we have Dalvin Cook, who I believe has the highest ceiling of the 3 players but will be least likely to start heading into the regular season. In 38 games at Florida State, Cook rushed 4,464 yards with 46 touchdowns on 687 carries. He was also a huge passing threat, gaining 935 yards and 2 touchdowns on 79 receptions. He was the centerpiece of a pro style, ACC offense that often faced some the of the best talent the NCAA has to offer.
He broke every rushing record at Florida State and was always the go-to guy in big games. He led the ACC in rushing twice and was a consensus All-American in 2016. He has also never fumbled the ball which is insane for a player who got as many touches as he did. Cook was explosive in every facet of the game and is was considered to be a steal in the 2nd round of the draft by many experts. He was durable throughout his college career and his numbers improved every season. He is no stranger to a massive workload and is stellar in both rushing the ball and receiving passes of any kind. Standing at 6’0″ and weighing 209 lbs., Cook is as versatile as they come which means if his game translates to the NFL, he could be the biggest offensive threat on this team in the near future. Dalvin Cook has all the upside in the world but running backs don’t always find success in the NFL like they do in college, just ask Reggie Bush. Here is his ridiculous college highlight reel, but before watching, keep in mind these are NOT NFL defenses.
My guess is that when this team starts the season, the depth chart reads: 1. Murray, 2. McKinnon, 3. Cook, with all three splitting the workload. By season’s end it will read: 1. Cook, 2. Murray, 3. McKinnon with Cook taking on the majority of the workload and Murray getting the nod short-yardage scenarios.