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Even with Murray signing, Jerick McKinnon is still key in Vikings offense

Oct 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) carries the ball in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through the 2016 season, the Minnesota Vikings made an effort to get Jerick McKinnon the ball in the passing game more often.

After seven weeks, the third-year running back had just eight receptions and averaged just 2.9 Yards Per Carry. Then in the final eight weeks, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur noticeably started using McKinnon out of the shotgun more often in the run game in the final stretch of the season and he gained 254 yards on 62 carries (4.1 Yards Per Carry) over the final six games and caught 35 passes on 39 targets for 226 yards and one touchdown.

On runs like this one against Dallas, McKinnon shows his ability to be patient, letting right tackle Jeremiah Sirles open up a hole on the right side, then winning the 1-on-1 with the safety with an impressive jump cut.

Here is another example of the Vikings’ 24-year-old back ripping off a big chunk of yardage out of the shotgun. He explodes upfield, but when the hole closes, he breaks outside for a first down.

From his splits, it seems McKinnon’s numbers weren’t just hurt by failures on the offensive line, but usage in the wrong situations.

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McKinnon’s final third of the ’16 season was much closer to the player that Vikings fans were used to in his first two seasons. In the first 27 games of his career, he carried the ball 165 times for 809 yards, good for 4.9 Yards Per Carry.

The signing of Latavius Murray shouldn’t indicate that McKinnon will be relegated to the bench. In fact, it could open him up to only be used in more favorable situations.

As you can see, the Vikings only ran McKinnon nine times out of a 2-back split, which would have mostly been in the shotgun. Now with Murray in the backfield, Shurmur could use both running backs on the field at the same time more often.

McKinnon lined up as a wide receiver from time to time in his first two seasons in Minnesota, but rarely went out wide or into the slot in 2016. To score a potential game-tying touchdown against the Cowboys, the Vikings finally turned to him as a receiver and it paid off.

Finding ways to get McKinnon the ball should be under the list of top offseason priorities for Shurmur. He was too often used as only a dump off option in 2016, gaining just 4.3 Yards Per Catch on throws behind the line of scrimmage, but 7.1 on throws past the line.With Cordarrelle Patterson gone, McKinnon could be used in his role in the screen game on quick throws that create space for the runner or on routes underneath zone coverage.

Running back rotations worked brilliantly for several teams in the NFL last season, including Oakland with Murray. While he rushed for around 300 fewer yards than in 2015, the Raiders averaged the sixth most rushing yards per game and ranked 10th in Yards Per Carry. The fifth best team in yards per game, Atlanta, used a combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and the Patriots, who ranked seventh, used a ground-and-pound back in LeGarrette Murray and receiving threat in James White.

There are many different ways the Vikings can use McKinnon. Don’t expect him to disappear because they added another running back. In fact, he might even find his most effective role yet.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I believe the Vikings know his value and will make good use of Murray and his talents now that Norv is gone and Shurmur now the OC ~ Plus he will have some new coaches to lean on who bring different things to the table and unlike Tuner ~ Zimmer says Pat has no problem working with other ~ And this is key for everyone being on the same page ~

  • Gordon Guffey

    While things are here is a 4 round mock draft from NFL Network ~
    Reuter four-round mock draft 3.0

    • Craig

      I liked his picks for the Vikings as for positions – 2:G, 3:OLB, WR, 4:RB, TE though Spielman may trade down to get his extra picks.

  • MarkWattsMN

    If the focus of the offense is McKinnon in 2017 then it will be ugly again. He doesn’t break many tackles and has never been a real impact player. I think the Vikings still need to draft a RB in rounds 2 or 3 this year.

  • brian199511

    Two back split set seems to be promising for McKinnon and Murray. Defense won’t be able to key on one of them, run, send both in passing routes or keep one or both in for protection. Lots of options. Good signing.

    • Foreman 44

      I agree Murray & Jet are a solid RB tandem. Both guys can run catch & pass block. Murray is decent in short yardage & Jet is better on 3rd down. Key is both guys make defense play honest run or pass on 1st 2nd or 3rd down. You probably won’t see them in split backs together next year, its not really used much anymore. (9 plays) I agree with you though as tandem both are solid and versatile RBs.

  • Andre Esters

    Sucks having to admit it… but even without looking at the numbers, anyone who tuned in for a Vikes game during 2016 could easily see an extremely poor usage of offensive players and overall game plan.

    McKinnnon has skills, but he’s not meant to be a thumping RB. The idea that his speed and ellusiveness hasn’t been used to fully exploit defenses is heart-breaking. It was even more painful to see 3 major play makers in AP, Patterson, and McKinnon all have the potential to keep defenses guessing, but instead were used like blunt objects.

    Atlanta did justice with the Freeman/Coleman RB combo… hopefully Minnesota doesn’t need the all mighty magnifcient Patriots success thrown in their face all offseason to realize RB’s are a lot more than battering rams.
    With Shurmur leading the entire offense from day one and coach Zimmer supposedly not playing the “I let them do their job” game anymore, they can’t afford to waste this talented group of offense.

  • KennyLL

    Please draft a Good RB. Improvements to the O-line is a must, but u can knock JMcK over with a feather. No yards after first contact

  • MC

    His stength is running option crossing routes out of the backfield. Teddy made him look like darren sproles, Bradford came in and made him look like a short guy with a high pitched voice trying to be Adrian Peterson.


Previous Story With major free agent signings in place, let’s have a look at the Minnesota Vikings roster Next Story Long shot? Veteran? Rookie? What’s the Vikings’ plan at backup quarterback?