Jerick McKinnon’s potential is flying under the radar


When people think of the running back situation for the Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson is really the only name that seems to matter. His return to the Vikings this season should spark some major improvement on the offensive side of the ball, there’s no doubt about that.

However, all of the hype surrounding Peterson’s return has left Jerick McKinnon’s incredible natural ability and potential flying under the radar this offseason. No, I’m not saying McKinnon is a threat whatsoever to take Peterson’s starting job (because that only happens in an alternate universe). What I am saying, though, is that McKinnon has some serious natural talent and he seems poised to take over the full tailback duties once Peterson either retires or is no longer effective.

First of all, McKinnon is an absolute freak of nature. Not only did he run a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine (which ranked 2nd among all running backs), but he also bench pressed 32 reps, which is tied for 2nd-best in the last 10 NFL Combines. McKinnon also ranked second in his draft class at his position in the vertical jump (40.5) and the broad jump (11’0″) while ranking third in the 3-cone drill (6.83). Needless to say, McKinnon is an elite athlete. Below is his NFL Combine workout video.

You’re right, just because a player had a phenomenal camp doesn’t mean he’ll be a great football player. But for those who watched the Vikings in 2014, McKinnon seemed to definitely impress when he got the chance.

In 2014, the Vikings played 15 games without Peterson which forced Matt Asiata and McKinnon to step up and split the workload at the running back position. It didn’t take long before McKinnon impressed coaches and fans alike, and he soon began to win the starting job over Asiata.

In Week 4 last season against the Atlanta Falcons, McKinnon had what many will call his “coming out party”. He rushed for 135 yards on 18 carries, including a 55-yard burst as he danced through the Falcons defense.

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As the season progressed, it became clear that McKinnon was the Vikings #1 running back aside from short-yardage situations, which is where Asiata thrived. McKinnon registered a few other notable games before a back injury put an end to his season after Week 12. These included another 100-yard effort against Buffalo (19 carries, 103 yards), 16 carries for 83 yards against Tampa Bay, and 82 total yards on 17 touches against Detroit.

Overall, McKinnon ended the season with 113 carries for 538 yards and an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. According to ESPN, among players with at least 100 carries last season, McKinnon’s 4.8 YPC ranked 9th in the NFL. (By the way, the Vikings’ offensive line last season was hardly professional level)

Here’s my short take on McKinnon as a runner, using what I saw in games last season. He has pretty good vision and has decent, but not excellent, burst once he sees the hole. Additionally, McKinnon has excellent speed and he’s not the type of runner that will dance around trying to make a guy miss. He’s more of a make-one-move-and-go type of runner, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Yes, there are things that McKinnon needs to improve upon. The two things most noted when talking about McKinnon’s weaknesses are his route running out of the backfield and his pass protection. Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson has been praising McKinnon this offseason on his improvement on these areas, and it seems as if the Vikings will try to keep McKinnon involved in the offense despite the return of Peterson.

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  • In this article from Marc Sessler of, Wilson is quoted as saying the “sky’s the limit” for McKinnon.

    “I think (McKinnon’s) going to continue to improve and grow and mature, not only as an NFL starter-caliber runner, but as a premier, dynamic playmaker that you can count on every Sunday for X amount of plays,” Wilson said.

    Another article from ESPN 1500’s Andrew Krammer includes comments from Wilson on McKinnon’s improvement as a pass protector and offensive coordinator Norv Turner on McKinnon’s potential going into 2015.

    “It really comes down to your block willingness and I knew we could teach him what he needed to know from a physical standpoint,” Wilson said. “But if the willingness isn’t there, then we can’t give him that. We knew he’d improve rapidly because he was a willing protector.”

    Turner seems to be on board with McKinnon, giving him some praise.

    Nov 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) hands off to running back Jerick McKinnon (31) in the first quarter of their game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    “I think he’s building on what he did a year ago,” Turner said. “He’s healthy, he’s 100 percent. It’s unfortunate he got hurt late in the year because he was having a very good rookie year. He looks quick, fast, he’s going to be a good change-up guy.”

    According to Krammer, the Vikings plan to monitor Peterson’s snap count at least to begin the season, which should allow McKinnon to get some reps in passing situations. If McKinnon can be an effective pass blocker, there’s nothing holding him back from becoming a compliment to Peterson similar to Chester Taylor in the late 2000s.

    Looking more into the future, McKinnon seems destined to be the running back of the future for the Vikings (not sure if that’s a thing, but I’m just plugging it in for fun). There’s no doubting that McKinnon has all the physical tools necessary to make it happen, and if he can improve on a few intangibles the sky is indeed the limit for McKinnon.

    So, while it’s okay to pay attention to Adrian Peterson has his career inevitably winds down (he’s still really good), let’s not forget what Jerick McKinnon could bring to the table for the Vikings once Peterson’s time is up. It seems as if the running back position in Minnesota is definitely in good hands for years to come.

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