Vikings Training Camp Sneak Peek: Running Backs

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
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It was a fascinating stretch between 2007 and 2022 when, for 16 straight seasons, the Minnesota Vikings had one of the league’s most explosive running backs on their roster. Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook were the faces of some outstanding rushing attacks and focal points in many Vikings offenses. By releasing Cook in the 2023 offseason, the era of workhorse runners ended.

Who’s in the Room Entering Vikings Training Camp?

The official depth chart shows six running backs at the time of this writing, but re-signing Cam Akers is rumored to be on the team’s wishlist.

1. Aaron Jones

What to Expect from the Running Backs in Vikings Training Camp?
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) tackles Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) during their football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

Following the disastrous running attack in 2023, changes had to be made. The Vikings released a longtime backup and last year’s starter, Alexander Mattison, one year after signing a two-year contract. To take his place, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acquired Green Bay’s former top rusher, Aaron Jones.

The 29-year-old has been one of the better rushers of his generation, averaging excellent 5.0 yards per carry. He’s also a dual threat with at least 30 receptions in five straight seasons. A hamstring and a knee injury slowed him down in 2023, but he returned late in the year, posting over 100 rushing yards in five consecutive contests. An age-related decline is possible, perhaps even likely, but he was still explosive last season.

2. Ty Chandler

Syndication: The Enquirer
Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) dives for the end zone as Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt (57) and Cincinnati Bengals safety Dax Hill (23) defend in the first quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

Running back Ty Chandler was a fifth-round pick in the regime’s first draft in 2022. He possesses exciting athleticism, especially his 4.38 40-yard dash showcased his speed. A fractured thumb and the crowded backfield with Cook and Mattison limited his output in his debut season.

With the continued struggles last year, Chandler slowly earned more carries. When Mattison missed the contest in Week 15, Chandler started and became Minnesota’s first 100-yard player in the rushing column. While he didn’t get the nod to be the RB1 in 2024, an increased snap count is possible.

3. DeWayne McBride

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks linebacker Levi Bell (98) tackles Minnesota Vikings running back DeWayne McBride (37) during the first half at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s seventh-rounder was viewed as a potential steal right after the draft. DeWayne McBride produced jaw-dropping numbers in college, but it turned out that the level at UAB helped him. When he had the chance to compete in training camp, Chandler easily beat him, and in the preseason, McBride looked slow compared to him.

He did not get a chance to prove himself in the regular season despite the problems of the remaining players in the room. Still, after producing over 3,000 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns in the final two college seasons, there might be some hidden potential.

4. Myles Gaskin

Dec 16, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Myles Gaskin (37) pushes against Cincinnati Bengals running back Trayveon Williams (32) during a punt in overtime at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Following the roster cuts, Minnesota acquired free agent Myles Gaskin. Once a college star at Washington with 5,323 rushing yards, Gaskin was selected in the seventh round by Brian Flores’ Dolphins in 2019. He became the starter in 2020 but has barely seen the field in the last two seasons.

At age 27, it is unlikely that he will suddenly be a big factor in the backfield, but he provides some experience.

5. Kene Nwangwu

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
Dec 16, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle BJ Hill (92) tackled Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) for a loss in the second quarter at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

After three seasons, the 2021 fourth-rounder is who he is: A phenomenal kick returner who doesn’t provide much value on offense. Through those seasons, the former Iowa State runner rushed 27 times for 88 yards. The theory of some added snaps on offense returns annually, but it doesn’t seem likely.

6. C.J. Ham

Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (30) looks on prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Fullback C.J. Ham is one of the rare fullbacks in the league. The 30-year-old had the fewest touches of his career in 2023, and O’Connell’s offense doesn’t rely on the fullback as much as the previous staff. However, he received a lot of snaps as the lone running back on third downs to showcase his fantastic pass-blocking skills. Releasing him would free $2.5 million in cap space, but his leadership skills would be missed. He went to the Pro Bowl as an alternative after his 2023 season.

Competition Overview + Prediction

There won’t be competition for the starting job. Jones is RB1 after signing a one-year contract for $7 million. Chandler will back him up. The duo will get the vast majority of touches from the backfield. If Chandler performs well, he might get some additional touches.

NFL: Preseason-Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings
Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back DeWayne McBride (37) runs the ball as Tennessee Titans safety Mike Brown (rear) and cornerback Tre Avery (23) make the tackle during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Behind them, the Vikings will have a competition between McBride, Gaskin, and possibly another acquisition for perhaps one roster spot. Nwangwu will try to make the case for some workload on offense.

The club will keep the duo of Jones and Chandler, as well as a third running back who is currently not on the team. Nwangwu stays in his special team role, and team captain Ham will remain on the roster.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap and Pro Football Reference helped with this article.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and prefers Classic rock over other genres. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt