The Vikings have been seemingly set at the running back position for years now, but they shook up the position in the 2014 Draft by taking a runner on the draft’s second day.
While it would be easy to say the Vikings drafted Jerick McKinnon to “replace” Toby Gerhart, who departed in free agency, in reality the two are completely different types of running backs, and McKinnon will fulfill a much different role in Minnesota.
What type of role? Check out the details below to find out!
Jerick McKinnon, RB – Georgia Southern
Taken in 3rd Round, 96th overall by Vikings
Age: 22; Height: 5-9; Weight: 209
40 Yard Dash: 4.38; Bench: 32; Vertical Jump: 40 ½; Broad Jump: 11’; Short Shuttle: 4.12; 3-Cone Drill” 6.83
2010 Stats (10 games, 1 start) – 109 carries, 495 yards (4.54 Y/C); 3 touchdowns
2011 Stats (13 games, 7 starts) – 80 carries, 537 yards (6.71 Y/C); 7 touchdowns
2012 Stats (14 games, 14 starts) – 269 carries, 1,817 yards (6.75 Y/C); 20 touchdowns
2013 Stats (10 games, 9 starts) – 161 carries, 1,050 yards (6.52 Y/C); 12 touchdowns
*Scouting information comes primarily from Dane Brugler of CBS Sports
A one-time triple option quarterback in college, McKinnon’s athleticism jumps off the charts, but he has a lot of adjusting to do to get ready for NFL action.
McKinnon was a top combine performer in multiple drills, including the bench press (first among backs), three cone drill (third overall) and 40 yard dash (second among backs). He also ran a great 40 yard dash, and his speed and quickness are obvious when you turn on the tape.
McKinnon’s college offense was far from a pro-style system, however, and he frequently got the ball in space rather than between the tackles. He needs to develop better instincts when running up the middle and reading his blockers if he wants to receive a few carries this season.
McKinnon projects to get touches as a third down back soon though, in the mold of Darren Sproles, another back Norv Turner developed. Turner will likely scheme ways to get McKinnon in space to let McKinnon use his quickness in the open field.
McKinnon did not catch many passes in college so he could be raw as a receiver, but Rick Spielman mentioned that the Vikings liked how McKinnon caught the ball at the Combine. If McKinnon can show he truly is a “natural hands catcher,” as Spielman said, he should earn snaps fairly quickly on passing downs.
Another aspect of McKinnon’s game that will be important if he wants to see snaps on third down is his blocking. He was not asked to block very often in college, and when he was asked to do it at the Senior Bowl he had some growing pains.
But McKinnon has expressed a willingness to develop his blocking and running backs coach Kirby Wilson said he was a good “high effort” blocker in rookie minicamp. McKinnon reportedly has a good, team-first attitude and if he’s willing to commit to blocking it could help offset the loss of Toby Gerhart on third downs.
One interesting note about McKinnon is that despite playing at a smaller school, he faced some very good competition in his college career. In three games against three SEC schools (Alabama, Georgia and Florida) in college, McKinnon rushed for a total of 282 yards on 33 carries (8.5 yards/attempt) with three touchdowns.
Spot on the Depth Chart:
McKinnon will likely enter training camp third on the running back depth chart, after Adrian Peterson and last year’s third-stringer, Matt Asiata.
McKinnon brings a dimension with his athleticism that Asiata does not provide however, so if he shows enough development as a blocker and receiver he could earn snaps on third down fairly quickly.
While McKinnon may not see many carries between the tackles his rookie season, Turner’s reliance on third-down backs in his system could give McKinnon a role early in the offense.
Odds of Making Roster: Practical Lock
While McKinnon will face a big transition to the NFL, it’s very rare for third round picks to not make their team’s 53 man roster their rookie season. Even if McKinnon fails to impress right away, he’s still going to make the team.
Rookie Season Predictions:
McKinnon doesn’t figure to make a splash right away, with the best running back in the NFL ahead of him and with a big adjustment coming to a pro style system.
McKinnon may even be inactive for the first couple of games barring injuries, as he learns how to be a better runner and works on refining his receiving and blocking skills at the pro level.
A good rookie season comparison for McKinnon could be Seahawks running back Christine Michael, who was drafted in 2013 out of Texas A&M and who McKinnon was compared to by some analysts.
Like McKinnon, Michael also had to sit behind an All-Pro runner in Marshawn Lynch, and ended his rookie season with 18 carries for 79 yards. If AP stays healthy all year (which is impossible to predict at this point), 20 carries seems like an attainable feat for McKinnon.
He could receive more if the Vikings scheme some outside runs for him, but those carries could also go to Cordarrelle Patterson, who excelled when used as a runner last season.
McKinnon will be used more in the passing game than Michael however, who did not catch a pass during his rookie season. Turner likes to have around 60 receptions per season come from his running backs, and McKinnon could have around 25 to 30 of those catches if he shows his hands are up to the challenge.