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This year is the perfect opportunity to do it, as it is a deep draft class for the running back position. The Vikings will likely only be looking to bring in a bigger back that has the ability to be an every down runner and not just a change-of-pace back. They just drafted Jerick McKinnon a year ago to fill that role.
With multiple holes to fill on the team and this being a deep running back class, the Vikings probably won’t use their first-round pick on a running back. Instead, look for them to address the position in one of the later rounds.
“As far as talking about running backs in later rounds, I mentioned it’s a really good draft,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “You start getting into the third and fourth round; I think David Johnson from Northern Iowa is really intriguing. T.J. Yeldon from Alabama could be a late two to mid three. David Cobb from Minnesota is a tough, downhill back, can take the carries. Very physical. Same with Cameron Artis-Payne. I think the Boise kid, (Jay) Ajayi, I think he’ll be gone in the second round, as will Kevin Johnson, Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah.”
In college, both Abdullah from Nebraska and Duke Johnson from Miami had the ability to be game changers. However, they are more styled as running backs that play like a Reggie Bush does. It is still possible that the Vikings would target these players, but they might be too similar to McKinnon for them to use a second- or third-round pick on.
“(Johnson)’s got great hands. He runs routes. He made a couple stutter moves on the linebacker at Iowa that were just awesome,” Mayock said. “Then he comes to the Senior Bowl and he played really well, did everything well. My one nitpick with him would be given his size at 225, 230 pounds, I’d like him to be more consistently physical instead of just kind of bracing for contact. I’d like to see him embrace contact. I’d like to see him be more physical and finish. But I think at this point I’ve got a third-round grade on him, and he could go even higher.”
Another big, strong back that the Vikings could target would be Tevin Coleman from Indiana. He has drawn comparisons to Darren McFadden in Oakland who has phenomenal speed. The only thing is that he is being thought of as a second-round talent. That might be higher than what the Vikings are thinking they want to use on a running back, especially if they are planning on having Peterson return to the team.
“I’ve got a second-round grade on Coleman,” Mayock said. “… Upright style, runs angry, tough. His deal is kind of if he gets a seam, he hits it and he’s gone. His speed is phenomenal when he gets a seam. I’m not sure he’s quite as patient or as natural a runner at some of the other guys, but his speed, toughness, aggressiveness, et cetera, he’s a difference-maker. He’s a home run hitter and I have a second-round grade on him. I think he makes a lot of sense there.”
Javorius Allen played his college ball at USC, and he is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round, which could be a perfect time for the Vikings to go after a running back. He is a talented kid, and one reason he is expected to fall to there is because he only had one year with a lot of production.
“One year of heavy production, strong, big kid, downhill, I think (Allen’s) a middle-round guy,” Mayock said. “I have him in the fourth or fifth round, but he could go earlier than that because he’s so big and strong.”
Another late-round talent that the Vikings could target is Artis-Payne out of Auburn. Throughout the pre-draft process it will be important to see if he is able to distinguish himself from other running backs similar to himself.
“Quick feet, strong kid, upper body,” Mayock said. “I think sometimes the only thing I don’t like is he goes down a little too easily on stuff around his legs. But aside from that, it’s important to see how he works out in comparison to his peers this week, because there are a bunch of those guys that are kind of jumbled together in the third, fourth, fifth round range, and I think some of those guys will start to distinguish themselves this week.”
A couple other running backs that could be in discussion are Mike Davis from South Carolina, Ajayi from Boise State, and Cobb from Minnesota. Davis has talent but has had durability issues in college and has been described as an underperformer. Ajayi is likely to be a second-round pick, which again could be too high for the Vikings to pick. After playing for the Gophers, Cobb is a favorite among Minnesotans and would likely be a welcome addition to the Vikings.