There were thoughts that he would be a change-of-pace back for Adrian Peterson or a third-down type of back who would come in during passing situations. But plans changed early in the season when Peterson was put on the commissioner’s exempt list and later suspended.
Matt Asiata then took over the starting job, but McKinnon saw the field a lot more often than he did when Peterson was the starter. He was able to show his ability to create explosive plays both as a runner and a receiver, and eventually won the starting job.
He became the first Viking to rush for 100 yards in the 2014 season and it took place Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. He would break the 100-yard mark on one other occasion when the Vikings faced the Buffalo Bills in Week 7.
Over the course of the season McKinnon ran the ball 113 times for 538 yards. He also recorded 27 receptions for 135 yards. Unfortunately for him, though, he failed to get into the end zone at any point during the season.
Viking Update now takes a look back at McKinnon’s rookie season to see what he did well and where he struggled.
Play No. 1This first play was McKinnon’s longest run of the season. It was a 55-yard run that took place in Week 4 against the Falcons. During the run, McKinnon showed multiple traits of his game that you want your running back to be able to possess.
The first is that when he got the ball he saw a hole and exploded through it with a burst of speed. Once he was in the open field he showed that he was strong enough to break an arm-tackle attempt and continue up field. Then he showed that he could be a patient runner and allow blocks to develop in front of him when he followed Cordarrelle Patterson. After that, he showed his strength and power once again at the end of the run when he finished by running over a defender and falling forward.
All of those skills – speed, power, strength and patience – are important for a running back. Often, when young players first enter into the NFL, they have to learn how to be patient and let the blocks develop in front of them. So seeing that McKinnon already does this on his own is a good sign.
Play No. 2This next play is another example of McKinnon’s toughness and shows that he doesn’t quit until the play is over. He is lined up in the backfield and goes out on a shallow out route. Teddy Bridgewater throws the ball into the end zone but has his pass picked off by Glover Quin.
Quin then takes the ball out of the end zone. McKinnon realizes that he is closest one to Quin for a few yards so he goes in to make the tackle. Running backs are not asked to tackle too often when on offense, but he went low on Quin and was able to trip him up at the 18-yard line.
Making tackles and defensive plays is not something an offensive player is asked to do very often, so it is always a good thing to see that they have the that ability. He did so without hesitation. Sometimes you see offensive players hold back some when running down a defender or just try to push them out of bounce, but McKinnon dove right in and took Quin down. That shows his toughness and tenacity.
Play No. 3One of McKinnon’s strengths is his vision. He has the skill to find a hole to run through even if it is behind where the run is meant to go. That is what happens on this play. The run is designed to go to the left but McKinnon sees a hole open up to his right along the backside of the play.
He was able to cut back and burst through the hole for a 13-yard gain and a first down. It is always important for a running back to have good vision because it allows them to see openings that might otherwise be hard to see.
If McKinnon had not seen the hole on the backside of the play he likely would have been stopped for little or no gain. The hole he was designed to go through closed up quickly, but by using his vision he was instead able to get his team a fresh set of downs.
Play No. 4McKinnon’s athletic ability also makes him a good target out of the backfield. He is not a polished receiver yet because he didn’t have to catch the ball very often while in college. But he is a serviceable target who has the ability to get the ball in his hands and get up field.
In this play he is able to do just that. He comes out of the backfield and runs a short buttonhook and sits in the center of the field. Bridgewater doesn’t see anything open down field so he drops the ball off to McKinnon. Right away he has two defenders on top of him, but he is able to run around them and get up field and pick up a first down.
This is not a big play by any mean, but it always helps a quarterback to know they have a target they can get the ball to who can make something out of nothing and get a few extra yards. If McKinnon is used as a change-of-pace back to Peterson in 2015 or used as a third-down back, these are the types of plays that he will need to be able to make.
Play No. 5However, if that is type of role McKinnon will be taking up during the 2015 season, one thing he still needs to improve on is pass blocking. Being a smaller running back, it would be difficult for him to fill the hole and stop an oncoming defensive lineman or defensive back.
On this play, McKinnon has the job of stopping the blitzing defensive back that is coming from the right side. It is just a one-on-one matchup and McKinnon gets beat to the inside. The defensive back is able to get to Bridgewater and bring him down for a sack.
If a running back is going to be used as a third-down back, he needs to be able to protect his quarterback. Third down is usually a passing down, and the running back doesn’t always go out for a pass. When he stays in, he will need to be able to block for Bridgewater consistently.
Unfortunately for McKinnon, his season ended early when he was placed on injured reserve with a lower back injury. Being a smaller back, one of the questions surrounding him was how he would be able to hold up during the course of an NFL regular season. His first season wasn’t a positive sign there.
McKinnon, however, has said that he is more than able to hold up over the course of a season and that last year was just a fluke injury.
If McKinnon is hoping to keep his role on the team or even increase his role, he will need to prove that he is able to stay healthy and he will need to improve his pass blocking. If he is able to do both of those, then he should be able to be a key contributor for the Vikings offense during the 2015 season.
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