After the first two years of Jerick McKinnon’s career, he appeared to be on track to become a star running back.
He showed big-play ability and versatility, averaging 4.9 Yards Per Attempt on 165 rushes and catching 48 passes. After Adrian Peterson went down and McKinnon got a chance to take over the full-time role in the backfield, the former third-round pick saw his numbers slide. But newly released charting statistics indicate that McKinnon’s drop from 4.9 to 3.4 YPA was caused in part by the Vikings’ inability to handle eight-man fronts.
According to SharpFootballStats.com, McKinnon was given the ball 33 times against an eight-man front and gained just 45 yards. He was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage immediately after getting the ball nine times and lost 22 yards on those plays.
On runs with five, six or seven-man fronts, he gained 484 yards on 115 runs – good for an average of 4.2 YPA.
Most running backs, as you might expect, average fewer yards against eight-man fronts. But no running back had more runs stuffed against eight-man fronts than McKinnon’s 27.3%. New Viking RB Latavius Murray, who played behind one of the league’s better O-lines in 2016, had just one of 44 runs stuffed by an opposing eight-man front. Against five, six and seven-man fronts, Murray gained 4.8 YPA.
The number of stuffed runs on McKinnon runs is an indictment on both Vikings’ beat-up offensive line and additional blockers like tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was rated 54th of 63 tight ends in run blocking by Pro Football Focus.
Here’s how the top 10 running backs in the NFL performed vs. eight-man fronts and their stuffed run percentages:
|Player||YPA vs. 8-man front||Stuffed %|
What do these numbers tell us?
– The additions of Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein should make a huge impact on the Vikings’ ability to run with eight in the box.
– Jerick McKinnon didn’t magically become bad. He still performed admirably when given a chance.
– It’s worth questioning why the Vikings ran so many times with McKinnon against eight-man fronts when they were routinely being crushed at the line.
– We should still count on McKinnon being a big part of the Vikings’ offense, even with Murray and Dalvin Cook on the roster.