A Young Viking’s Debut May be Creeping Closer

Syndication: The Tennessean
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Cam Akers is done for the season, an unfortunate reality following his Achilles tear in Week 9 against Atlanta.

The former Ram commonly showed off some good burst in his legs, the kind of explosiveness that has sometimes been lacking in the backfield. Can Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu give the team’s offense what it needs or will a different young Viking be given a chance to pick up the slack? There’s a rookie RB who hasn’t yet gotten onto the field.

To be sure, Alexander Mattison will become more important than ever. The issue, of course, is simply that the fifth–year veteran is averaging a modest 3.6 yards per carry, the kind of average that doesn’t inspire too much optimism (especially when a backup is taking over at quarterback).

Can DeWayne McBride help? Will he get elevated from the practice squad?

DeWayne McBride: Is the Young Viking Nearing his NFL Debut?

Janik Eckardt took on the topic for Vikings Territory. In Eckardt’s mind, McBride could see his role increase because of the Akers subtraction.

“What made McBride an intriguing prospect,” Eckardt explains, “are his college statistics. He racked up over 3,000 rushing yards and 32 rushing scores in his last two seasons at UAB alone, averaging 7.3 yards per carry in his final year.”

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back DeWayne McBride (37) scores a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

During the preseason, though, McBride wasn’t able to replicate the same level of explosiveness and efficiency.

The trio of preseason games involved seeing McBride put together 20 carries for 70 yards, a 3.5 yards-per-carry average. He did run for a pair of touchdowns while adding a single catch for 11 yards. In the end, Kevin O’Connell decided to move ahead with Mattison, Ty Chandler, and Kene Nwangwu (who began the year injured) at running back while having C.J. Ham at fullback. In short order, the Vikings would add Myles Gaskin into the mix, further solidifying the depth.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah (1) during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Fast forward a couple months and things look quite a bit different. The team opted to bring Akers aboard via trade, but he’s now done for the season. Gaskin was stolen away by the Rams. Nwangwu has struggled to get and stay healthy. Chandler saw his role minimized a touch before slowly being reworked back into the mix over these past few weeks.

Keeping track of all of that?

The focus lately has been on Josh Dobbs, who is now affectionately known as The Passtronaut. The Vikings’ freshly-minted QB1 is being tasked with leading Minnesota’s unlikely playoff push, a possibility that seemed ludicrous following the Week 5 defeat at the hands of Taylor Swift Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and a very underrated Chiefs defense. At 1-4 and without Justin Jefferson, the Vikings were being left for dead.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after the catch against the Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting at 5-4 is a surprisingly marvellous outcome for Vikings fans, especially given the bevy of injuries that could have so easily been used as an excuse for failing (Jefferson’s foremost among them). These Vikings are charging ahead with the aim of getting into the final tournament. Will the running game help or hinder?

Earlier in the week, we learned that Minnesota made a (necessary) move to solidify the quarterback depth by onboarding Tanner Morgan. The former Gopher has been a Vikings employee before, so agreeing to a deal with him makes sense. In theory, he should be able to slide into the roster as the emergency QB3 pretty easily.

Somewhat surprisingly, no addition has been made to help out at running back.

Mattison will continue hanging onto his role as the lead back. Chandler gets a promotion to being the RB2, which offensive coordinator Wes Phillips confirmed in his press conference earlier in the week. Safe to say, though, that Minnesota will be hoping to have more than just a pair of capable runners. Maybe Nwangwu can be that #3 option, but his struggles to stay healthy and inability to contribute toward the offense in previous seasons raises reasonable skepticism.

Questions Answered: Kene Nwangwu Health, Kicker Empowerment, Booth or Evans?
Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

DeWayne McBride was brought to Minnesota with the 222nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The college football nerds praised the move far and wide, explaining that there’s potential for the pick to age incredibly well since the rookie runner had such a marvellous career at the collegiate level.

The path forward for McBride hasn’t been without pitfall or error. His placement on the practice squad suggests that the team values him while nevertheless acknowledging that he hasn’t been ready to contribute toward the team just yet.

At times, though, what a team doesn’t do is important as what a team does do. Minnesota’s inaction hints at some confidence in the young Viking. The Vikings have not brought in a new running back, so let’s see if that means McBride finally gets a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.