The Minnesota Vikings are one of the most-run heavy teams in the NFL but as physical and old-school as the Vikings want to be, there’s still a problem.
The Vikings had issues getting the tough yards in recent years and while Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the NFL, running between the tackles isn’t his strong suit. Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu are built from the same cloth when it comes to getting into space, which doesn’t leave much when the Vikings need to get a yard.
There aren’t many options that could save the Vikings but the one that makes sense is somehow Adrian Peterson.
The thought of Peterson wearing a Vikings jersey again will seem preposterous to most fans. After a messy divorce in 2017, Peterson has become the most polarizing legend in team history. Although his best days on the field are behind him, Peterson brings a toughness and physicality that can help the Vikings get tough yards.
The first way to consider this is by looking at the Vikings depth chart. Cook is a dynamic threat in the backfield but he’s also had trouble with injuries. While he missed just one game last year, the 17-game schedule could increase his chances of winding up on the sideline.
An injury to Cook would thrust Mattison into a starting role. After a strong rookie season where he posted similar metrics to Cook, fans have bought into the idea that he’s a suitable replacement. But there are hints that the coaching staff isn’t as high on Mattison as the general public.
Mattison had an audition in a starting role last season when Cook went down with a groin injury during a Week 5 game with the Seattle Seahawks. While Mattison collected 112 yards on 20 carries, the Vikings would have settled for one more yard as he hit the wrong hole on a 4th-and-1. The failed conversion gave Seattle life and the Seahawks won the game with a last-second touchdown.
The following week, Mattison started against the Atlanta Falcons. Mattison’s first career start didn’t go well as he collected 26 yards on 10 carries and the Vikings lost 40-23. While Kirk Cousins’ three interceptions didn’t help, Mattison didn’t get the job done.
Vikings’ coaches must not have liked the performance because over the next seven weeks, Mattison averaged 8.1 snaps per game. Not carries. Not touches. Snaps.
The Vikings may have solved the problem with the selection of Nwangwu but he comes into training camp as a mystery. Nwangwu’s workout numbers are some of the best in the class but it didn’t translate to getting on the field at Iowa State. Serving as a caddie behind David Montgomery and Breece Hall, it’s questionable as to what impact he could have during his rookie season.
With Ameer Abdullah suited for a special teams role, that doesn’t leave much, which is where Peterson comes into play. After being released by Washington, Peterson signed with the Detroit Lions and ran for 604 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping but are at least good enough to pick up a short yardage situation.
It would also give the Vikings someone to trust in a league that will put more strain on its running backs. Even if Cook does stay healthy, he’ll be getting a full 17 game workload which could have him push well above 400 touches and might even flirt with 500 by the end of the season.
All of this signals the Vikings will need to have a capable backup and Peterson could be a solid solution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a fit because of Peterson’s goals.
Peterson wants to break Emmitt Smith’s rushing record and with 3,535 yards to go, it’s definitely within reach. But Peterson is entering his age-36 season and signing with the Vikings wouldn’t give him the opportunity needed to make a run at the record.
That could make an argument about signing Peterson moot. But with what the Vikings have in the backfield, it’s worth a phone call.