Previewing the Minnesota Vikings Running Backs

Minnesota Vikings Running Backs

By now you’ve heard that the Minnesota Vikings want to run the ball more next season. Mike Zimmer publicly stated that the team’s lack of a rushing attack hampered the offense. The roster has changed since last season, and running back is no different. Latavius Murray left in free agency to join the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings drafted a potential Murray replacement in Alexander Mattison. Here is a preview of the 2019 Minnesota Vikings running backs.

Looking at the 2019 Minnesota Vikings Running Backs

The Current Roster

The Minnesota Vikings will enter training camp with a handful of running backs on the roster. Dalvin Cook holds the keys as the starter. His first two years can be described as unfortunate given his injury history. He will look to bounce back and be the back that he was expected to be when the Vikings drafted him in 2017. Cook is joined by Ameer Abdullah, Roc Thomas, and Mike Boone as guys with experience in the backfield. Abdullah joined the Vikings during the 2018 season and had just one carry on the year. Boone and Thomas both showed promise as rookies in 2018, but not enough to cement themselves as contributors.

Questions surrounding the depth at running back prompted Minnesota to select Alexander Mattison in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Mattison was a star at Boise State for three seasons before entering the draft. He is expected to contribute next to Dalvin Cook right away.

As training camp plays out, we will get a better feel of what to expect from these backs. The Vikings have a deep unit and could use exactly that heading into 2019.

What to Expect

The first step in running the ball more efficiently is paving roads. Minnesota addressed the offensive line in both the draft and free agency. First-round selection Garrett Bradbury should start from day one and clear the way up the middle. Fellow draft pick Dru Samia can also make a huge impact as a rookie if given the chance. Both are powerful, athletic interior lineman with a mean streak. Free agent acquisition Josh Kline fits that same mold. He is a violent run blocker with a knack for finishing plays with power. Kline is not as athletic as the others, but his experience and raw strength will give him an advantage.

It also helps that the Vikings have a deadly passing attack in place. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are arguably the best receiving duo in the league. Kirk Cousins is in a make-or-break season after signing a huge contract last March. Defenses have to keep a close eye on the passing attack, which should open the running game a bit. Of course, that was expected last season and things did not work out. An improved offensive line might be the missing piece.

Dalvin Cook will carry the load in 2019, but he has help behind him. The pressure will ease off his shoulders as the team looks for a more committee backfield. Injuries have plagued his career. Spreading the ball is a must this season. Now that things are set up a bit, let’s look closer at the roster.

Taking a Closer Look

Dalvin Cook

The Vikings spent a second-round pick on Dalvin Cook two years ago. Character concerns pushed Cook out of the first round and right into Minnesota’s lap. His rookie season was brutally cut short after he tore his ACL in week four. He was on pace to be one of the best backs in the league prior to the injury. In 2018, Cook played in 11 games but still dealt with health issues. In the games Cook played, he was timid at times. He favored his knee as he approached contact early in the season. Hopefully, a full summer to rehabilitate will propel Cook to a better 2019 season.

Cook stepped up after Zimmer criticized the team’s rushing attack. He finished the season strong, playing in each of the final seven games. Cook’s best game came in week 15 against the Miami Dolphins. He ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns, his only two rushing scores of the season. Watch here as he put the defender in the spin cycle on his way to the end zone. This is the type of play fans came to expect from Cook in college.

Dalvin Cook has great vision with the ball. He uses that vision with his superb explosion to create big plays for himself. He is incredible in and out of cuts. This play shows how Cook reads the hole and punches through the gap. The cut inside is quick and fluid, making it tough to stop.

We can see another example here. Watch as Cook sees the first and second gaps close before bouncing all the way outside. This was missing last season. If Dalvin gets it back, he can be a top-tier back in the league.

Finally, Dalvin Cook showed a ton of upside as a receiver. Getting him the ball in space is crucial. He is deadly with the ball and he has good hands to help him out. The more he can contribute to the offense, the further they will go.

Ameer Abdullah

Ameer Abdullah re-signed with Minnesota this spring. His 2018 season was a huge let down as he ran the ball just one time. That carry came as a member of the Detroit Lions. Abdullah was primarily a return man as a Viking. He can be a very productive spell back now that Latavius Murray is gone.

Abdullah is a shifty back that is dangerous in the open field. He leaves defenders searching for their ankles after his cuts. This play from 2016 sums up Abdullah perfectly. He shakes the first tackler and accelerates into space before fooling another defender and fighting through the tackle. The Vikings need to find ways to get Abdullah the ball. He can be great in the screen game and short passing situations. Getting him in one-on-ones will be lethal for the offense.

If we flash all the way back to his rookie year, we see more of Abdullah’s potential. He bursts through the hole and hits the second level at speed. A quick shimmy on the safety opens up the running lane for an easy score. If Abdullah still has this juice, he may be a sleeper in the Vikings offense.

Mike Boone

Mike Boone came to Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He only played sparingly as a rookie with just 8 appearances and 11 carries. Boone did see a good amount of time in the preseason and he made the most of it. The rookie fought for every last yard on his way to earning a roster spot. His performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars caught everyone’s attention in the organization. This carry showed his will to win as he shrugged off multiple defenders. He followed that run up by bouncing off a tackler at the line and picking up extra yards yet again.

You can watch all of Boone’s touches from that game here. As you’ll notice, he constantly ran through tackles. Mike Boone has the heart to be the primary backup to Dalvin Cook.

Roc Thomas

Mike Boone was joined by fellow undrafted free agent Roc Thomas last season. Thomas was once a big-time recruit coming out of high school. After transferring from Auburn, Thomas wound up at Jacksonville State. He dominated the college scene before heading to the NFL. Much like Boone, Thomas showed flashes in the preseason last year. His 78-yard touchdown against the Denver Broncos was the highlight of his campaign. He was patient in waiting for blocks before turning on the jets and taking it to the house.

That patience and speed were always on display in college. He sat behind the line while lanes opened up then shot through gaps for large gains. Thomas has some burners in the second level.

Roc Thomas only played in five games for the Vikings last season with just eight carries. With Abdullah, Boone, and now Mattison in the mix, Thomas will really have to prove himself this camp.

Alexander Mattison

The selection of Alexander Mattison caught some fans by surprise. There were a plethora of impactful backs on the board when Minnesota picked at 81. But Mattison is the piece the Vikings needed. He racked up over 3,300 yards from scrimmage in three years at Boise State. Mattison also reached the end zone 34 times in college, 33 of which were on the ground. He gives his all on every touch. The engine on Mattison seems to never shut off.

Fresh legs make the backfield dangerous. Mattison is the type of back to come in and wear out the defense. His constant effort will tire out tacklers and help out his fellow running backs. This simple goal-line carry is the perfect example of Mattison’s demeanor. He scores through seven defenders on the first play of this clip.

Mattison blends power and speed well. Just as defenders prepare to get run over, Mattison leaves his feet and goes up and over. He hurdled countless defenders at Boise State. His bag of tricks is too deep for defenders to be comfortable as they approach the ball.

The Vikings have a deep running back room this season. Training camp will separate the men from the boys. Regardless of who wins the jobs, competition breeds excellence. The Minnesota Vikings running backs as a unit should be much-improved in 2019.

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