The Possibility of The Vikings RBs Lining Up More at Receiver

Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball in the fourth quarter against Chicago Bears defensive back Kyle Fuller (23) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have an abundance of talent among their RBs. In the past, the team has given the vast majority of the snaps to Dalvin Cook. C.J. Ham, the team’s fullback, received a lot of snaps (33% of the offensive snaps in 2022) while RB2 Alexander Mattison also got quite a few opportunities. In 2022, Minnesota will have even more talent to work with given Kene Nwangwu’s upside and the recent addition of Ty Chandler in the draft.

Recently, I was looking at some of the snap breakdowns on PFF. I found it notable that Cook, who is extremely dangerous when he gets into some open grass, only had 15 snaps in the slot and 24 out wide. Mattison, an underrated receiver, had 17 snaps in the slot and 10 out wide. Perhaps unsurprisingly given how little has was used on offense, Nwangwu had 1 lonely snap in the slot.

Last season, the Rams – with Kevin O’Connell as their OC – allowed their RBs to line up as receivers with more regularity. Darrell Henderson had 64 snaps in the slot and 54 out wide. Sony Michel had 49 snaps in the slot and 51 out wide. The crazy thing is that the PFF grades don’t suggest that either were very good receivers. Henderson had a 49.6 receiving grade and Michel had a 42.7 receiving grade. Both Cook and Mattison had better grades.

A closer look at some of the statistics (courtesy of PFR) suggest that Henderson and Michel weren’t dominant pass catchers. Neither had as many receiving yards as the two Vikings RBs. Both Cook (8.2 yards) and Mattison (7.4 yards) had a better YAC average than Henderson (6.2 yards) and Michel (6.3 yards). Given that each back’s average depth of target was very near the line of scrimmage, it’s supremely important to pick up yards after the catch. While the two LA backs didn’t get as many receptions, they also weren’t as efficient with their opportunities.

The point I’m trying to make, folks, is that LA put their RBs in different positions than Minnesota did last season. Given that the Vikings have so much talent among their RBs, perhaps it’ll be worthwhile to explore finding unique and creative ways to use them. O’Connell certainly has some experience with his running backs lining up as receivers.

I’m not expecting Cook, Mattison, Nwangwu, and Chandler to suddenly start getting huge snaps at receiver. It’s possible, though, that each could do more in this area. Finding ways to keep defenses off balance is a good thing, and lining up talented players at different spots can help accomplish this goal.

Minnesota’s offense features a lot of talent, so it’ll be important for Kevin O’Connell to find ways to effectively integrate the team’s various weapons. If successful, opposing defenses will always feel like they’re in a no-win scenario. It’s tough to slow down a the team can find unique ways to get the ball to Cook, Mattison, Irv Smith Jr., Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen.

As training camp gets going, keep an eye on the running backs. Putting the RBs into the slot and out wide may allow the Vikings to find even more room for their various skill players.