It's never easy to be a change-of-pace running back behind a workhorse like Adrian Peterson. He's a player who thrives on staying on the field and wearing opponents down. But with third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings get the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.
A triple-option quarterback at Georgia Southern, McKinnon spent about 50 percent of his time taking snaps and the other 50 percent playing running back. In the 24 games he played in his final two seasons, he rushed 430 times for 2,867 yards and 32 touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt.
But it wasn't until the Senior Bowl and the Combine that he put himself on the radar of a lot of teams. As a runner, an option QB, a return man and even a defensive back – Houston, Baltimore and Buffalo talked to him over the last couple of months about potentially playing defense – he got his foot in the door by showing his skillset during Senior Bowl practice and lit up the competition at the NFL Scouting Combine. His 4.41-second 40 time was the best among running backs, not to mention a massive 32 reps of 225 pounds and a 40½-inch vertical jump.
It gave McKinnon an opportunity to raise his stock from being a late-round prospect to going in the third round to the Vikings. He knew a strong performance at both events would raise his stock and he couldn't have been happier with the results.
"I think it helped me tremendously," McKinnon said. "I felt the whole process – from where I started to where I am now – paid off. The hard work that I put in, I got a chance to open eyes and for the coaches to see me doing different things. I think it paid off."
While he didn't spend an inordinate amount of time with the Vikings, McKinnon said he got a positive impression from the team representatives he talked to and the prospect of playing with the NFL's pre-eminent running back was a goal and a dream.
"I got a really good feel from them," McKinnon said. "It was definitely one of the places I was wishing that I had a chance to play, coming in and learning from Peterson and all the running backs and soaking their knowledge like a sponge."
Asked if he was a fan of Peterson, McKinnon gushed about the opportunity to play with A.P.
"For a long time – just the way he plays the game with passion and physicality," McKinnon said. "I think he's the best in the game. It's definitely a dream come true to come in, be able to watch him and learn from a guy like that."
What role McKinnon will play with the Vikings is still up for debate. Over time, his role might expand, but in the short-term the plan will be to use him as a third-down and change-of-pace running back. He said he is willing to take on whatever role the team wants and will do it willingly.
His strong performance in the postseason showcases got his foot in the door. Now he wants to push his way through.
"Words can't express how happy I am right now," McKinnon said. "I'd like to thank the entire Vikings organization for seeing something in me and giving me an opportunity to come up there and contribute to the team as much as possible."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
McKinnon looking forward to backing up A.P.
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