The Vikings Have Elite Talent and Depth at Running Back
There’s an argument to be made that Minnesota has the deepest running back room in the NFL. There’s an equally compelling argument that Minnesota actually has the most talented RB in the NFL (step aside, McCaffrey). For a Mike Zimmer team, that’s a good thing. Minnesota wants to run the ball. As a result, I think the team will keep quite a few RBs on the final roster.
The Near Guarantees
If you head over to the ESPN breakdown of Minnesota’s roster, you’d see that there are four RBs listed: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, and Kene Nwangwu. I think all four make it, but only two should be considered near guarantees.
There was some nervousness last offseason with the Cook contract extension. For a while, there was very little news amidst the contract stalemate. Fortunately, both sides arrived at a solution.
Cook went on to be arguably our best player, even appearing like an MVP candidate for a portion of the season. By the end of the year, Cook had played 14 games, accumulating 312 rushes to go alongside 1557 rushing yards (5.0 Y/A) and 16 touchdowns. He also had 44 catches for 361 yards and a TD. At this stage, the only real question about Cook rests in whether he can stay healthy for a full season and in how Lil’Kub will balance his workload. Cook has emerged as one of the team’s main leaders and one of the league’s preeminent players.
Mattison is going to be on this team. The third-year Vikings running back will count for just over $1 million against the cap. He is still only 23. Some, like myself, believe that Mattison should be more involved in the offense. Keeping Cook fresh and healthy is a priority, and Mattison is an excellent player. True, he isn’t as explosive, but Mattison is still an above-average player who can thrive as both a runner and receiver. Find ways to get him on the field.
The True Competition
I’m collapsing fullback into the broader category of running back, so let’s begin with arguably the most underrated position in the NFL.
C.J. Ham is a rock-solid FB who should be on the final roster to complement what the Vikings are doing at running back. That said, it’s no guarantee. Designating Ham as a post June 1 cut would save Minnesota more than $1 million on the cap. It doesn’t appear that they need this money, but it’s at least worth keeping in mind that there are some options. At the end of the day, I think Ham makes it.
His competition – Jake Bargas – can be cut with zero financial ramifications. Bargas is unproven in the NFL and already 25. His chances don’t look great, especially if he doesn’t show that he can be a major contributor on special teams.
Speaking of special teams, let’s turn to Abdullah and Nwangwe.
Abdullah ought to be on this team. He is a contributor on specials as both a returner and in coverage. He is really smart and really fast, two attributes that will serve him well as Minnesota’s RB3. I’d be happy to see him more involved on third down. Expect him to make it.
Nwangwu also has a decent shot at making this squad. His most direct competition isn’t Cook or Mattison, but players like Abdullah, K.J. Osborn, and Dan Chisena. Indeed, Nwangwu – the 119th pick – will make this team if he shows that he’s the best option on special teams. It’s tough to take away too much from spring drills, but there have been more than a couple reports of him being super quick. Let’s hope he can catch the ball cleanly and hold onto it when he’s tackled. If he can do these things, he’ll have a home with the purple.
The Vikings’ Running Back Position
There it is, folks. The Vikings find themselves in a really nice spot at running back. I think five players make it: Cook, Mattison, Abdullah, Nwangwu, and Ham. The final three need to show they can contribute on special teams to make the roster, so we’ll see how things shake out in training camp and preseason.
Have a different opinion? Let me hear about it. Next up are the tight ends.