With Alexander Mattison Gone, the Vikings Need to Find a New RB

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) reacts before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, the Vikings officially announced the release of starting running back Alexander Mattison.

Mattison’s release is not shocking. The running back inked a two-year, $7 million extension with the Vikings last offseason, but failed to perform in 2023. Mattison failed to get a single rushing touchdown in 2023 and averaged a measly 3.9 yards per attempt. As a result, the Vikings finished the season 29th in rushing yards per game and turned the carries over to Ty Chandler as the season progressed.

Replacement Options for Alexander Mattison

Alexander Mattison
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) during warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The release of Mattison frees up $3.35 million in cap space for the Vikings, who now have about $37.3 million in cap space. The Vikings will undoubtedly look to add to the running back room this offseason. Luckily, there are plenty of solid options in free agency and the draft. There may even be an answer on the roster already.

While any team would love to have a dynamic back like Josh Jacobs or Austin Ekeler, I don’t foresee the Vikings investing heavily in the position. With Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter slated for free agency, it’s doubtful the team would splurge on an RB.

Here is a look at five realistic options that the Vikings could bring in for 2024.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

Jan 13, 2024; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) runs the ball as Miami Dolphins safety Elijah Campbell (22) attempts the tackle in a 2024 AFC wild card game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has fallen out of favor in Kansas City. The former first-round pick has been leaped in the pecking order by Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. Over the last two seasons, Edwards-Helaire has just 141 carries for 525 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

However, in 2020 and 2021, CEH showed what he was capable of in a larger role. As a rookie, Edwards-Helaire ran 181 times for 803 yards and 4 TDs. The RB also caught 36 passes, demonstrating his ability to help in both phases.

This wouldn’t be the most exciting addition, but Edwards-Helaire is the perfect bounce-back candidate. Spotrac projects the back to land just a one-year, $1.6 million deal, so it would be a low-risk, high-reward move.

Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

Oct 22, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Gus Edwards is coming off of his best season as a pro in 2023. The back rushed for 810 yards on 198 attempts. Edwards also found the end zone 13 times, which should be appealing to a Vikings team that struggled to do so in 2023.

Edwards is a downhill runner who won’t be much of a receiving threat. However, he gets first downs and he finds the end zone. Edwards has never averaged less than 4.1 yards per attempt in any of his five seasons.

Like Edwards-Helaire, Edwards also doesn’t figure to cost an arm and a leg. The suggestion from Spotrac is that Edwards to land a one-year deal for around $3.6 million this offseason. This would be a bargain for the Vikings who desperately need to find more production in the run game.

Braelon Allen, Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers
Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second half of the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here we have our first rookie option. The Vikings have just two picks inside of the top 100, and it’s unlikely that one of those will be spent on an RB. Instead, the team could look in the middle rounds. Enter Braelon Allen.

Braelon Allen starred at Wisconsin for three seasons, going over 1200 yards twice. In 2023, Allen picked up 984 yards on 181 attempts. The power back also found the end zone 12 times.

In each of Allen’s three collegiate seasons, the back had at least 11 scores. While not much of a receiving threat, Allen did have his best receiving season in 2023 with 28 catches for 132 yards.

Allen is expected to go between the third and fifth rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft. The Vikings don’t currently own a third-round selection, but they do have two fourths and two fifths. Using one of those picks on a power back who can find the end zone may be a smart move.

Kendall Milton, Georgia Bulldogs

Dec 30, 2023; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Kendall Milton (2) reacts after the 2023 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Kendall Milton is another downhill runner who has no trouble finding the end zone. Milton had 121 carries for 790 yards in 2023 for the Bulldogs. The back also had 14 rushing touchdowns in 2023.

Milton, like Allen, is a power back who isn’t afraid of contact. Also like Allen, Milton isn’t much of a threat in the passing game. For a Vikings’ team that desperately needs rushing production, however, Milton is worth a mid-round flier. Most projections have the Georgia product going between rounds three and five.

Cam Akers/Ty Chandler, Minnesota Vikings

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 31, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) runs with the ball against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Our final option is that the answer is already on the roster. Technically, Cam Akers is headed for free agency, but he is a restricted free agent. This means that the Vikings can place an original-round tender on Akers for slightly under $3 million. If the team decides not to tender Akers, he would then be an unrestricted free agent.

Chandler is under contract and showed promise in 2023. Chandler finished the season with 461 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 102 attempts. The back also showed promise in the passing game, catching 21 passes for 159 yards.

Akers, for his part, showed some promise well before suffering another serious injury. Akers took 38 carries for 138 yards and one score. The former Ram also caught 11 passes for 70 yards.

I listed both of these backs as possible answers due to the unknown surrounding each. If Akers is healthy, can he be a lead back once again? Akers had 786 yards and 7 TDs as the main back for the Rams in 2022.

What could Chandler prove if given the chance to start from the jump? Chandler looked like the best back on the roster last year, so it’s not a stretch to think he can take a jump heading into 2024. 

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference CFB.