McKinnon made most of Combine impression

A year ago, Jerick McKinnon was looking to prove he could play running back at the NFL level. He made quite the impression with his speed and strength, going from a huge question mark to a third-round pick.

There are certain players who are heading into this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis aware that their future could hang in the balance by how they perform in individual drills, interview requests, workouts and top-30 visits.

Few players embody that spirit and sense of urgency as running back Jerick McKinnon. Last season, as McKinnon was named the starting running back, Viking Update asked him to reflect on the importance of the Combine on his status as a third-rounds draft pick in the 2014 draft.

His response was unequivocal and profound.

“If not for the Combine, I don’t think I would be here – or at least I would have been drafted later than I was,” McKinnon said. “I knew it was my one chance to show everyone what I could do and get them looking at me not just as an athlete, but as a football player.”

McKinnon had reason to be concerned. At Georgia Southern, he was an option quarterback who ran more than he threw. It was clear he was going to be a running back at the NFL level, but, without the essential experience at the position, to be a Day 2 draft pick, he was going to have to make a big impression on NFL decision-makers at the Combine.

Did he ever.

McKinnon was at or near the top of every statistical category for the individual drills, including the most important ones in terms of comparative analysis. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, had a 40½-inch vertical jump, an 11-0 broad jump and an incredible 32 reps of 225 pounds – more than most linemen that tested.

McKinnon seized his opportunity and went from being a developmental prospect to a starting running back playing in front of veterans that had played the position for the entirety of their football careers.

His Combine performance got him on everyone’s Day 2 radar, but the Vikings were the team to pull the trigger and make the move with the 96th pick in the draft. The Vikings saw something.

That something turned into 113 carries for 538 yards and 27 receptions for 135 more – numbers that would have been better had he not missed the final five games of the season.

In the three games the Vikings played in which they gave him more than 15 carries, he rushed 53 times for 318 yards – a 6-yard average per carry.

Prior to the Combine, McKinnon was just a kid with a dream looking to make an impression on a team to give them the confidence to invest a high draft pick based on his potential.

Starting Thursday, more than 300 NFL hopefuls will be stating their case to demand the attention of the shot-callers of NFL war rooms. Many of them already know their selection is assured, whether it’s part of the spectacle that is the first round or a selection made during an NFL Network commercial on Day 3. All they’re looking for is the chance to prove what they can bring.

McKinnon knows what those “bubble” types are going through in anticipation of what they’ll face in Indianapolis. It’s their chance to showcase their athleticism in front of the most influential people the NFL has to offer in draft analysis.

McKinnon made a name for himself at the Combine and hasn’t looked back since.

“It was huge for me,” he said. “I came in there with a chip on my shoulder looking to prove myself. I left pretty happy with how I did. I got my chance and now I have to prove myself all over again to show the Vikings were right when they took me.”

You may not know their names yet, but there are going to be a handful of McKinnon types that shine in Indy over the next week. Sometimes, dreams do come true, and for some relative unknown talents, the Combine is going to be their coming-out party.

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