Evaluating the Competition for Minnesota's Third Running Back

Photo Credit: Crystal LoGiudice (USA Today Sports)

When the Vikings lost Jerick McKinnon in free agency to the San Francisco 49ers, many expected them to find another running back in the draft to replace the four-year veteran.

Instead, it appears the Vikings will invite a training camp competition to see who will play alongside Dalvin Cook — returning from a torn ACL — and Latavius Murray — back on a restructured deal after rushing for 842 yards in 2017.

Let’s take a look at the candidates:


At 26 years old, Mack Brown is still looking for his first NFL break. After a nondescript college career, Brown went undrafted out of Florida before latching on with the Washington Redskins. He got 16 carries in two seasons before getting waived in October and claimed by the Vikings, who had lost Cook earlier in the month.

Brown only touched the ball once for the Vikings — a 17-yard kickoff return against Carolina. Nonetheless, he stayed on the 53-man roster through the season and was re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Vikings were the only team with whom he had the right to negotiate.

Considering Brown doesn’t possess overwhelming speed and has put very little on tape over the last three years, it may be an uphill climb for the former Gator to make the team.


Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

With a new offensive coordinator in town in John DeFilippo, maybe it’s finally the year the Vikings save a roster spot by lumping their fullback in as their third running back. C.J. Ham had seven catches and seven carries last year, playing 18.3 percent of snaps as the primary fullback.

Ham rushed for over 1,000 yards as a running back his final year at Division-II Augustana (S.D.), so he’s capable of getting a few carries.

That being said, at 235 pounds, Ham may not resemble the type of running back the Vikings are looking for as a replacement to the shifty McKinnon.


At 22 years old, 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Roc Thomas was signed by the Vikings April 30 as an undrafted free agent after he went unpicked.

Thomas was highly recruited out of high school but struggled to gain traction in a limited role in two seasons with Auburn. He then transferred to Jacksonville State, where he carried for 1,857 yards combined in his final two seasons and notched 6 yards per carry as a senior. He also averaged over 200 receiving yards each of his last three collegiate seasons.

Though he ran a pedestrian 4.56 40-yard dash, Thomas has explosive measurables with a 35.5-inch vertical and 125-inch broad jump.

He could be a factor if given a fair shot in the preseason.


Photo Credit: Aaron Doster (USA Today Sports)

Mike Boone will look to become the second straight Cincinnati Bearcat to make the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. Last year, it was linebacker Eric Wilson.

And Boone should have a good shot.

As profiled by Mark Craig in the Star Tribune, Boone is one of the strongest potential running backs on the roster, having given first-round pick Taven Bryan a run for his money when they lifted together before the draft at Landow Performance in Colorado.

Boone’s 42-inch vertical and 139-inch broad jump at his Pro Day would have led all running backs at the combine, making him one of the top analytical specimens in undrafted free agency.

He amassed 650 and 749 yards, respectively, his first two years at Cincinnati but tailed off as a junior and senior, likely hurting his draft stock in the process.

Boone holds a few more pounds than Thomas, his fellow competitor, but the two have similar builds with similarly explosive measurables, perhaps giving a hint as to what the Vikings look for in their running backs.

Don’t be surprised if Thomas and Boone duke it out throughout the preseason.

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