Over the past few weeks, Zone Coverage has broken down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group and taken a stab at which players will make the team.
Today’s focus: Running backs
The Vikings made the most of a two-headed running back tandem last year after rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4, but with one half of that tandem departing when Jerick McKinnon went to San Francisco, Minnesota will be in search of another running back to shoulder some responsibility behind a healthy Cook and Latavius Murray.
Departures: Jerick McKinnon
Additions: Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, Johnny Stanton
Returning: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham (fullback)
THE WORKHORSE: Dalvin Cook
The former second-round pick is ahead in his rehab schedule following a disappointing knee injury in early October last season. The rookie was averaging 111 yards from scrimmage per game at the time of his injury and already touching the ball over 20 times per game.
By all indications Cook will be ready to roll come September. It’s unknown at this point whether the Vikings will give him a similarly massive workload or if he’ll ease his way back into bell cow status.
THE BACKUP: Latavius Murray
The former Oakland Raider was serviceable in his first Minnesota season, rushing for 842 yards after expanding his role following Cook’s injury. He wasn’t necessarily efficient, though, posting the lowest yards per carry of his career at 3.9.
The Vikings asked Murray to restructure his deal, and he obliged, eliminating the final year of his three-year contract and making him an impending free agent after this season. Murray should get decently regular reps as the chief backup, assuming he doesn’t get passed but the trio of backs vying for the opening left by McKinnon.
THE FULLBACK: C.J. Ham
There is question each year whether the Vikings will keep a true fullback. Despite their decreasing role in the league, Minnesota has continually hung onto one, whether it’s been Jerome Felton, Zach Line or, most recently, C.J. Ham. Vikings fullbacks have seen their snaps reduced each of the last two seasons, with Ham getting just over 18 percent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Ham ranked 18th in run blocking amongst fullbacks but finished third in pass blocking.
It’s worth considering that John DeFilippo’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, did not use a true fullback, but that decision likely came from head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
Unless we see DeFilippo fazing out the fullback in the preseason, there’s still a strong chance Ham survives roster cuts.
THE THIRD-STRING CANDIDATES: Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, Mack Brown
As we broke down a couple weeks ago at Zone Coverage, this trio will likely compete for a roster spot this preseason, though undrafted rookie free agents Boone and Thomas should have the edge — both put up monster measurables during offseason pro days.
Boone had a fantastic start to his career at Cincinnati but struggled in his final two seasons. Thomas’s career took off after he transferred from Auburn to Jacksonville State and rushed for nearly 2,000 yards combined in two seasons.
Brown re-signed this offseason as an exclusive rights free agent, but he hasn’t done much since landing on his first NFL roster three seasons ago. Boone and Thomas have much higher upside.
THE LONG SHOT: Johnny Stanton
Stanton was a college quarterback. He then attended rookie camp on a tryout basis as a tight end … and made the team. He participated in the Vikings’ first OTA session as a fullback. Now he’s listed on the team’s official website as a running back.
At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Stanton has good size for an athletic player. The Vikings are simply trying to figure out how to best utilize it.
Stanton was a pretty active runner as a college quarterback, but considering he’s not a natural pass blocker, he might have a hard time emerging from the pack as a running back.
Making the roster: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham (fullback)
Released: Roc Thomas, Mack Brown, Johnny Stanton