Green Bay Packers: NFC North RB Grades and Rankings
3. Minnesota Vikings
Over the better part of the last 10 seasons, the Purple and Gold have been able to count on the all-world Adrian Peterson to not only lead the running attack, but perform as the centerpiece of the offense.
Age, injuries and perhaps even his well-documented off-field peccadillos have influenced the Vikings’ front office to reboot the running back position by bringing in new faces in hopes of seeing them come close to replicating what Purple Jesus provided in one of his many outstanding seasons.
Last year’s production in the ground game took a turn for the worse in the North Star State, as the offense went from ranking fourth in yardage the year prior to coming in dead last behind an uninspiring tandem of Jerick McKinnon and (Matt) Asiata following Peterson’s Week 2 season-ending knee injury.
McKinnon’s second year in the league was one to forget with his yards-per-carry average dipping from 5.2 to 3.9 while only twice exceeding 80 yards rushing despite playing in 15 games.
A rotating cast of characters on the offensive line did little to help the 5-foot-9, 205-pound veteran find any speck of daylight, as McKinnon was afforded the third-fewest amount of yards before contact (0.82) in the league, as per PFF.
The coaching staff likes the young man’s toughness and burst in the open field, but they recognize his limitations as well. Look for the converted triple-option quarterback to serve in a change-of-pace role, as he enters his contractual walk year.
Second-round pick Dalvin Cook is the shiny new toy that has the tools to take over the lion’s share of touches in the backfield sooner rather than later.
The former Florida State Seminole’s combination of lower-body explosiveness and vision to read his blocks and the opposition make him the type of rookie that can gain 1,000 yards right off the bat.
With his skill set, it should come as no surprise that the Miami native outpaced all other backs in the nation in missed tackles (90) in 2016, as noted by PFF’s Jeff Ratcliffe.
Cook’s upside is undoubtedly tantalizing, but his success is by no means a given considering his history of multiple shoulder surgeries and ball-security issues that have resulted in 12 fumbles in his three seasons in Tallahassee.
Latavius Murray was also signed to take care of the dirty work on short-yardage and goal-line situations by using his large 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame to plow through defenses.
Despite the fifth-year pro’s impressive physical dimensions, however, he didn’t always run big as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
Murray oftentimes opted to patiently look for an open crease rather than just ramming his pads into opponents head-on.
Ryan Smith of LastWordonFootball.com recently noted how Murray totaled more fumbles (2) than runs over 40 yards (1) despite playing behind a top-5 Raiders offensive line (ranked fourth overall by PFF).
To boot, Murray was thoroughly outperformed by the rookie duo of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in terms of his yards-per-carry average (4.0 versus 5.9 and 5.4 respectively).
Rounding out Minnesota’s depth at the position are C.J. Ham, Tyler Newby and Bishop Sankey.
Ham exhibited the ability to run hard and set up his blocks in the preseason and could stick provided he can also make himself useful on special teams.
Sankey is a retread that lacks the strength to consistently break tackles while Newby (as his surname suggests) is a rookie with intriguing shiftiness and speed.