As normal people, none of us have to really worry about a younger generation sweeping in on a yearly basis fighting to take your job. I’m sure there is an exception or two out there but the general rule of thumb is if you have the experience and are doing your job, you’re probably pretty safe. That’s not the way that it works in professional sports and the NFL might be the one professional sport with the shortest shelf life of them all.
So what do you suppose was running through the mind of Vikings 4th year running back Jerick McKinnon when his team goes out to sign a veteran running back in free agency and then selects another one early in the 2017 NFL Draft? This coming right on the heels of an opportunity seemingly opening up after the team parted ways with the one thing that stood between him and touches, Adrian Peterson. It couldn’t have been a comforting feeling, but he’s taken it in stride.
Still, we’re left to ask the question of McKinnon’s future. He was the “incumbent” and by the time the season starts it looks like he’s going to be the third string running back? What then is his future with the Vikings and/or in the NFL?
The only data that we really have to look at when attempting to weight the value that McKinnon would have for the Vikings or another team in the league is to look at the two seasons in which Adrian Peterson was out of the picture. In 2014 Peterson was sidelined with off the field issues and then again in 2016 Adrian was out with injury so McKinnon had his best shot to put some tape out there showcasing what he could bring to the table and it was just okay.
Albeit he was a rookie, Jerick took 113 carries and turned them into 538 yards and no touchdowns on the ground. Most of the scores were pilfered by the bigger Matt Asiata that season who tallied 9 that year, but some nagging injuries and adjustment periods from McKinnon left more to be desired by the team.
It then was slightly worse in 2016. He got more carries (159) and found the end zone twice that season but his yards per carry dipped down below 3.5 yards per carry. Those numbers didn’t impress the fan base and judging by the offseason moves made by the squad they weren’t enough to impress the front office either.
So McKinnon has taken a bit of a different route this offseason. He already knows the playbook, he’s already made an impression on the coaches, so he went out and added 12 pounds of muscle to the fold hopefully to help him remain durable and avoid injury.
But where does that put him mixing into the crowded Vikings backfield?
On paper, it would appear as if the battle for starter is a two man race between Latavius Murray and Delvin Cook with Murray being the much bigger and experienced back while Cook brings the quick cutting pass catching skills to the table. That kind of covers everything that Jerick brought to the table which paints the 2017 season as an interesting crossroads for the 25 year old running back.
The team that drafted you appears to be heading in a different direction, yet you head into a contract season looking to carve out some sort of role hopefully with this team but more importantly somewhere in the league. To date he’s doing the important things to set the table…get stronger, more durable, find a specialty and continue to be the good teammate he’s always been.
Week to week, we’ll continue breaking down players with situations like Jerick McKinnon as we get closer to Training Camp and the regular season. Position battles are the best part of camp and the preseason and there’s often times more to the situation than meets the eye.