Vikings Running Back Rumor Sheds Light on Path Forward & Possible Free Agency Approach

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Minnesota’s running game has been nowhere close to good enough since Kevin O’Connell became the head coach.

Last offseason, O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah seemingly took the running deficiency seriously. Rather than being cut, C.J. Ham was brought back, and with a new extension to boot. Josh Oliver became Minnesota’s opening move in free agency, yet another indication that the Vikings were going to be committing themselves to pounding the rock. After all, Oliver is a bully in shoulder pads, so the thinking was that he could partner with Ham to clear running lanes for Alexander Mattison & Friends.

Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) reacts with tight end Josh Oliver (84) and guard Dalton Risner (66) after a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

What’s wild is that Minnesota apparently had their eye on someone else to ratchet up the production coming out of the backfield: Lions RB Jahmyr Gibbs.

On The Athletic, Alec Lewis describes the situation: “according to a league source familiar with the Vikings’ thinking in the lead-up to last year’s draft, the Vikings adored Gibbs. Had he fallen to Minnesota at No. 23, he would have been a serious consideration. The team believed his speed, vision and receiving ability would have aligned nicely with its high-powered offense.”

Vikings RB Rumor Sheds Light on Path Forward

Fast forward to the end of the 2023 regular season and things weren’t excellent for Minnesota’s rushing attack.

Mattison finished his season by averaging 3.9 yards per carry and didn’t score a single touchdown on the ground. He finished with just 700 yards but did battle injury, partly explaining the modest output. Ty Chandler provided a spark, but he can be a streaky runner. So far, he has oscillated between dominant and non-existent from week to week.

As a team, Minnesota was 29th in the NFL for total rushing yards.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) celebrates his touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Putting Gibbs into the mix would have given the Vikings a much greater chance of finding success on the ground. After all, his rookie season finished with a sizzling 5.2 yards-per-carry average and 10 touchdowns. All together, he had 182 carries for 945 rushing yards. Even more impressive is that he turned 71 targets into 52 catches, 316 receiving yards, and 1 TD.

So, a dynamic weapon who helps to move the ball via air and land.

Returning to scene of the crime, so to speak, does very little in the present moment. The 2023 NFL Draft is done and so too is the 2023 season (unless you play for the 49ers or Chiefs). Detroit made their controversial decision to snag the RB and were rewarded for doing so. Why the intrigue with Gibbs and Minnesota’s interest?

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs (26) runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) defends during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

For starters, drafting Gibbs would have further reinforced the idea that Minnesota’s main men were serious about amping up the running game. A couple of bruisers in Ham and Oliver would have partnered well with the elusive Gibbs.

Perhaps more importantly for right now, the desire to work with Gibbs suggests that Minnesota sees a missing element within their offense.

Notable running backs who are heading toward free agency: Tony Pollard (26), Saquon Barkley (26), Josh Jacobs (25), Derrick Henry (30), AJ Dillon (25), Austin Ekeler (28), and certainly many others. Personally, I’ve got my eye on Pollard and Ekeler, but Kwesi doesn’t consult me before making a personnel decision (or any of his decisions, for that matter).

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (left) hugs running back Alexander Mattison (2) after losing a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There is no downside to improving the run game. Actually, the exact opposite is true.

Running the ball more frequently and more explosively will help to keep the QB — whoever he ends up being — on his own two feet and with open receivers down the field. A dynamic running game will create more room for Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Addison to torch overwhelmed corners. Picking up yards on the ground will allow the Flores Fiends — a.k.a. the defense — to be more successful since they won’t need to be on the field for as a long.

So while the Jahmyr Gibbs tidbit from Alec Lewis appears to be just a fun fact, there could also be a hint about how the Vikings will venture into the current offseason. Don’t be surprised to see them put together a deal for a talented runner capable of running the pigskin and plucking passes out of the sky. Better yet, the Vikings could even sink one of their higher selections into a running back.

Free agency gets going on March 11th. The NFL Draft begins on April 25th.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap 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.