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.
[expand title=”DALVIN COOK”]
After “falling” in the draft to the second round despite his status as the top back for a number of evaluators, Dalvin Cook had the additional misfortune of missing the last 12 games for the Minnesota Vikings as a result of an ACL tear. He could have had the opportunity to compete for Rookie of the Year and was on pace to be competitive for the award, but will have to settle for being a big part of a newly aggressive offense under John DeFilippo.
Strengths: Cook demonstrates incredible balance as a running back, and the rest of his skills flow from there. He’s probably best known for highlight reels with elusive play, and he does a good job breaking tackles with quickness and balance. Fluidity and balance go hand in hand, and he can create difficult angles for tacklers, making straight-ahead power less relevant. Slides off indirect contact. In the same way that speed was a trump card for Chris Johnson and power a trump card for LeGarrette Blount, balance and fluidity are trump cards for Cook. 0.19 missed tackles per rush would rank ninth among all running backs with at least 100 carries. Comfortable in muddy situations and had to overcome abysmal run blocking at FSU, and then occasionally with the Vikings. Despite that, understood risk/reward and when it was better to bite a short gain and avoid freelancing for the possibility of a large one. Phenomenal vision paired with excellent patience. Quick feet, loose hips and vision can turn small gains into big ones despite long speed issues. Seeks physicality. Good hands and excellent on bog-standard running back routes.
Weaknesses: Upright running style robs him of power in straight-ahead situations, though was very successful at the goal line in his few short-yardage snaps in NFL. Surprisingly poor hands in his first season in the NFL – mostly a product of concentration rather than technique when focused. Statistically quite poor in pass protection in college and the NFL – limited pass pro snaps showed one of the worst pass blocking efficiency rates in NFL – despite willingness to meet up with blitzers in the pocket, didn’t consistently demonstrate leverage or power when rolling through a defender and forced to cut block. Entered the league with a number of injury concerns that have been exacerbated by his ACL injury. Worries about both the health of his hamstring and his shoulder dogged him in predraft process. Even without that, scouts question his long-term durability given a lack of “body armor”—or adequately built muscle to protect his ribcage and joints. Will need to watch ball security; though only one fumble in the NFL (on the play he was injured on), he had a number of them in the ACC.[/expand]
[expand title=”LATAVIUS MURRAY”]
A former first-round pick, Murray hasn’t lived up to his hype or athletic profile, and was on the constant verge of a ‘breakout season’ in Oakland before they decided to move on and invest in a different solution at running back. Though Murray may have initially signed with the Vikings expecting to start for the team, he didn’t get his wish until injury forced their hand. Even then, he formed a split backfield with Jerick McKinnon, who grabbed big money in free agency. Murray is once again relegated to the role of a backup, but still serves a useful role as a short-yardage back. With eight touchdowns last year and 12 the year before, Murray finds a way to keep himself valuable to the team.
Strengths: Efficient at the goal line, and has a career goal line success rate above league average, regardless of the run-blocking prowess of the line in front of him. Premier pass-protecting running back and could be the best among regular backs in the NFL at protection—he meets contact with aggression but remains patient enough to force them to declare, and rolls contact through his hips. Experience running out of “I” and shotgun with equal success. Extremely athletic—with combine-best or near-best scores in the 40 (4.38), 10 (1.48) and three-cone (6.81) at 223 pounds. Pulls away in the open field. Solid hands and decent route-runner. Willingness to run through contact. Excellent ball security.
Weaknesses: Runs differently at goal line than in other situations; upright running on standard running downs robs him of power, and he has difficulty generating yards after contact. Vision is adequate, but he’s not a creative runner. Ability to pull away in open field hampered by his inability to see the open field, and he needs more patience to find those breakaway runs. Has some balance issues that limits his power and breakaway potential.[/expand]
[expand title=”MIKE BOONE”]
Perhaps reminiscent of Ty Montgomery of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Boone demonstrates uncommon receiving ability for a running back, and indeed was a receiving prospect before being asked to switch to running back because of his body type by his college coach. Some have already tasked him with replacing Jerick McKinnon and though he’s an incredibly impressive physical specimen, he has more obstacles ahead of him than McKinnon had a few years ago to claim a role.
Strengths: Fantastic workout numbers; 42” vert, 11’7” broad jump with a 4.44 40-yard dash. Not afraid to seek contact and punish tacklers. Doesn’t stop on contact; loves getting extra yards. Aggressive runner with home-run potential. Excellent route-runner and should have been used more as a receiving option in college. Good hands and looks ball into frame when catching. Can line up in the slot or even outside. Good at changing angle of attack to force indirect contact, somewhat like Dalvin Cook. Kick return experience means he’s another potential kick return option behind Mike Hughes and Marcus Sherels. Has the weight room chops that McKinnon demonstrated, with incredible strength – was defensive tackle Taven Bryan’s lifting partner in predraft workouts.
Weaknesses: Didn’t see the field often for Cincinnati; never had more than 110 carries or 24 receptions in any year of college. Limited college production when given the opportunity – only 4.2 yards per carry his senior year and 640 total yards from scrimmage. Has the wrong playing style for his body type; runs into piles instead of bouncing out and doesn’t have the vision to be a creative runner; relies solely on the blocking ahead of him. Doesn’t read second-level very well. Speed on-field is only average despite testing. Significant injury history throughout college career.[/expand]
[expand title=”MACK BROWN”]
Recently claimed off of waivers from Washington, Mack Brown is one of a few running backs competing for the third such spot on the roster, alongside rookies like Roc Thomas and Mike Boone as well as – potentially – fullback C.J. Ham. Though only 209 pounds at the combine (and now listed at 213), Brown profiles more like Latavius Murray than former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon, so his value to the team might be in more flux than people might have initially thought. With only 37 snaps in the NFL, most of what we can tell of him comes from his time in college.
Strengths: Brown is a powerful, direct running back that seeks out contact and, in college, won more often than he lost. Good pad level on contact, and keeps legs churning to eke out additional yards. Very good balance. Also supplements it with evasion moves that take advantage of power, like stiffarms. Can string together some elusiveness moves, too.
Weaknesses: Already 26 and will turn 27 early in the season – all without having taken more than 40 NFL snaps. Also had extraordinarily poor combine testing, especially for someone who weighed under 215 pounds. He ran a 4.61 40-yard dash and only jumped 32” in the vertical – about as good as a number of offensive linemen. Interestingly, average quickness scores don’t correlate to performance on the field, where his elusivity suffers from awkward footwork and stiff hips. There haven’t been many instances where he’s earned receiving targets, so it’s been difficult to evaluate his receiving ability.[/expand]
[expand title=”ROC THOMAS”]
A five-star recruit in college, Roc Thomas was Alabama’s high school player of the year and the number two running back recruit in the country, ahead of Sony Michel and only behind Leonard Fournette. Unfortunately, Thomas ended up third on the Auburn depth chart and couldn’t find a way to get more time, requesting a release so he could find playing time in the FCS. While he demonstrated that he’s much better than his FCS peers at the position, his ability to earn NFL playing time is up in the air.
Strengths: Quick feet and integrated movements make him a shifty and elusive runner. Good balance. Solid patience as he reads blocks. Good second-level vision and intuitive ability to press lanes. Should fit in zone or power blocking schemes. Faster long-speed on field than his tested time (4.56 seconds). Solid receiver with decent route-running and good hands.
Weaknesses: Ball security problems both from a technique perspective and statistical perspective – leaves ball free to be torn out and had a number of fumbles in college. Poor pass protector; got beat up and pushed into the pocket. Goes down on first contact as a runner and doesn’t deal well with straight-ahead contact; bigger linebackers in the NFL will be a big problem and will have to consistently go east-west to meet better matchups. Has to lower pads at the point of contact. Not great testing numbers might mean that his long-speed only looked good compared to FCS competition.[/expand]
Check out the rest of the training camp guide:
Sam Ekstrom’s Position Battles
Sitting Brian O’Neill: Have “Developmental” Day Two Offensive Linemen Succeeded?
Pay Attention to Tryout Players
How to Watch Training Camp Drills
Can Kirk Cousins Be the Savior? (COMING SOON)